Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hiking and Navigating at Night

What should the hiker consider regarding hiking and navigating at night?
First, let us decide  that  this is not in a “lost hiker” scenario.  If lost, the best thing to do is to
just stay in place.  This makes the job much easier for the searchers. 
At night the term used to describe our ability to see is “night vision.”   Good night vision is important.  Therefore, avoid bright lighting.   Flashes of bright white light will ruin night vision.  Recovery can take about 30-45 minutes.  Low level white light and low intensity red light are better.
Care should be taken with the use of a GPS.  The normal white backlight function of the GPS receiver will impair night vision. The good news is that the backlight can be adjusted. 
Here are a few recommendations about hiking and navigating at night:
  • Stay on the trail and thoughtfully use flashlights and head lamps. A head lamp may be of more use than a handheld flashlight.  Two free hands are better than one.  Have extra batteries.
  • Examine the topographic map of your planned route.  Study the contours to evaluate the terrain. Your visual cues will be gone so you will need to establish new ones, larger objects. Lanes of extraction might present themselves on the map such as a power grid line, a road, a lake or an old jeep track. 
  • Discuss your plan with all involved so that you are all on the same page.
  • Follow your trace on a map. Plot your position frequently.  Agree in advance how often you will do that.  Take your time with your navigation.
  • For night time travel a consideration may be to have one person designated to read maps (with dim lighting) while others in the party preserve their night vision and lead the way.
  • Move forward deliberately and cautiously.  Move more like you are stalking.
  • Others might be moving too.  Be alert for bears, coyotes, cougars and in some areas perhaps wolves.
  • Trekking poles or a walking staff provide support.
  • Sound travels well at night.  Be alert for audible clues to roads and running water.
  •  If you don’t have a GPS and are navigating with just a map and compass it is very important that you start from a known position.  Navigating without getting position fixes from a GPS or by visual sighting is called dead reckoning.  Such navigation requires you to plot your compass heading and distance traveled.  Distance is accounted by pacing (counting your steps) as you move
Night time navigation is not something to be taken lightly.  From reviewing my books, US Army field manuals and conversations with experienced backcountry travelers it should be carefully considered and practiced before an actual outing.  Practise your navigation at a local park with map and compass.  Consider geocaching to improve your GPS skills. 

It just gets down to being careful when hiking and navigating at night.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Keep Critters Out of Your Food.

5 Ways to Keep Critters Out of Food While Camping

A new post by guest contributor Lee.
You're on a camping trip. You wake up one morning and climb out of your sleeping bag, ready for breakfast. There's only one problem: an animal got into your food stash and ate everything you had, down to the last granola bar.
This doesn't have to happen to you. There are things you can do to make sure that the local wildlife doesn’t leave you starving in the middle of nowhere. Here are five ways to keep critters out of your food stash while camping.
 1. Bring a Bear Canister
A bear canister is a hard-sided container designed to keep animals, especially bears, out of your food. They weigh anywhere from two to four pounds and can store between six to 15 liters of food. These containers are virtually impossible to break open using brute strength, and they are usually too big to carry away.
Unfortunately, bear canisters aren’t cheap; they cost between $60 to $80. The good news is that, once you buy a bear canister, you don’t have to buy it again. You'll be able to use it on multiple camping trips for years to come.
 2. Use Publicly Established Bear Lockers
Some national parks, such as Yosemite, provides bear lockers in which you can stash your food. These lockers are typically located around parking lots and campgrounds.
If you do use these lockers, make sure your food is clearly marked. You probably don't like it when someone at work accidentally grabs your food from the office refrigerator. The same thing can happen at a public bear locker, especially if you’re using generic-looking coolers or plastic grocery bags.
Make a small label and tape it to your container so that other campers know to keep their hands off of your dehydrated food.

3. Store Your Food High And Out of Reach
If you can’t afford a bear container and there are no bear lockers around, you can try hanging your food from a tree branch.
The best type of cord to use is paracord, and you'll want it to be at least 100 feet in length.
Tie one end of the cord to a rock and the other end to your food bag. Find a branch that’s 20 feet high, and throw your rock over that branch. Pull on the cord until your food is suspended in the air, and tie off the paracord around the tree trunk.

4. Store All Scented Items Along With Your Food
A bear's sense of smell is 2100 times more powerful than a human's, and unfortunately, they don’t know the difference between raspberries and lotions that smell like raspberries. It’s all potential food to them.
Store anything that has a scent inside your food bag, whether that item can actually be eaten or not. The same goes for your cookware, utensils and food waste.
 5. Keep Your Food Far Away From Your Campsite
Even if you manage to firmly secure all of your food items, that doesn’t mean those items still won't attract animals.
This can be a problem, especially at night. Small animals could disturb your sleep, and bigger animals, such as bears, could be potentially dangerous.
Keep your food between 100 to 200 feet away from your campsite. Be sure to store those items downwind from your campsite, so that animals don’t cross your sleeping area on their way to your food.
Additionally, don’t leave anything in your backpack overnight, and leave all its compartments unzipped. If a curious animal does find its way to your bag, it’s less likely to rip or chew it open in order to explore what’s inside.
These five tips to keep critters out of your food will go a long way towards keeping your food secure and helping you stay safe. Properly securing your food doesn't just reduce the chances of a negative interaction with an animal; it also helps ensure that you'll have a great camping trip.

Lee Flynn is a freelance writer. Through small local workshops and articles, Lee trains and teaches others on home preparation, healthy living, food storage techniques, and self reliance.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

GPS Map Datum

For most hikers, the map datum selection isn't critical.  New and right out of the box, GPS receivers are set to Map Datum WGS84. And for most hikers that setting will be just fine. Out and back - no problem.

But if you are going to take coordinates taken from a map or from a friend, AND accuracy is important, ensure you use the right map datum.

Map Datum is defined as:
"A mathematical model of the Earth used by map makers.  Datum allows for the accurate transfer of geographic data from a spherical earth to a flat map.  In the United States, there are three common map datum’s found on topographic maps.  These are WGS 84, North American Datum 1927 (NAD27) and NAD83.  Select the datum that is used on the map. " 
 Not selecting the correct map datum could induce an error of over 100 meters/yards. I emphasize that hiking groups should all be on the “same page” regarding the set-up options of their GPS receivers. 

Map Datum information is found in the map key on most maps.  

While planning a journey or at the trail head, taking the time to adjust settings among hiking partners is critical.  Before departing, validating map datum and coordinate format should be a priority.

First, match the map’s datum.  A topographic map identifies datum in the map key.  Once the datum is identified ensure that all GPS receivers are set to match the correct datum.  See the illustration below.

For more information on GPS setup setting check out:

Improving GPS AccuracySetup Your GPS


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

First Aid Kits

There are lots of options available to the hiker when building a fist aid kit.

The American Red Cross has a listing online that identifies what you might consider.

John D. McCann's book Build The Perfect Survival Kit is a fine resource that offers several lists of what should be contained in a kit.  I particularly like how his kit changes with regard to activity.  For example, a day hiker might not carry as much gear as the Search And Rescue team member.

Adventure Medical offers several kits for purchase.  SeattleBackPackersMagazine has a quick post for you to review.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Survival - Leaving a Message

John D. McCann's facebook post today reminded me about the ability to leave a message or a note when one is lost. Check out McCann's web site.

It's not rocket science.  Just a simple note to say "I need help."

I use the Rite In The Rain products quite a bit. Their note books are rugged and reliable.

Don't forget to fill out your travel plan.  Leave this plan with a responsible person who will call for help (911) if you don't return home on time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ten Essentials

After a recent two day SAR mission I thought it best to post  about the Ten Essentials again.

What is the right stuff to carry in the outdoors?  What is the minimum?  What should you
consider before hitting the trail?

A climbing group in the 1930's, The Mountaineers from Seattle authored the “Ten Essentials” describing ten items that should be carried in the back country. 

“The Ten Essentials” has been modified by different groups over the years.  The following is the list that REI recommends:

  1. Navigation
  2. Sun protection
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire starter
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

This is the minimum that one should carry.  It is a starting point.

The Scouts got it right – be prepared.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

AT/PCT Planning

I always enjoy sharing information about navigation and hiking when meeting backcountry travelers.

The other day I had a very nice conversation with a fellow hiker and he let me know about an app for trail planning.

Visit GutHook .  Lots of very nice products.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Helping Search and Rescue Teams

This summer my local Search and Rescue team has been really busy and is on track to go over 120 search missions this year. 

It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and weather conditions are worsening.  It has been a long day that started well before first light.  As darkness approaches you recognize that the hunt is over and you have no idea where you are, really are.  You have your pack with the right gear and extra food.  So, what are your options and how can you and help the Search and Rescue team.?

Search and Rescue teams are dedicated volunteers and professionals found in each county and province across North America.  They spend hours in training, certifications, and on missions looking for the lost and injured.

Helping the searchers begins at home well before the trip or hunt.   In Hunter Education, students are taught to always let a responsible person know where you are going and when you are expected to return.  If you don’t return, they are to call 911.  But there is more to it than that.  I suggest that your fill out a Trip Plan (visit the Link page at for the plan) just as a pilot would fill out a flight plan.  This plan gives the searchers more to go on; details are important to the searchers.  A vague statement of “he said he’d be hunting off the 400 road by Ball Butte” doesn’t help much.  Your trip plan should cover a lot more information such as the coordinates of your start point and camp, license plate numbers of your vehicle, a comment regarding any medical issues and the names of your partners in the wilderness.  Attach a map of your hunt area to the Trip Plan too.

Leave a copy of your Trip Plan with a responsible person, your family, a copy in camp, a copy with your partner’s family.  Be generous.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about that responsible person.  Discuss exactly what needs to be done.  The responsible person should clearly understand what your expectations are.  For example, if you don’t return on time, this person knows to call 911 right then.  They aren’t calling others asking for advice.  The search will begin only after 911 is called; wasting valuable time doesn’t help anyone.  As R. Lee Emory would say, this is not the time for a “namby-pamby” helper.

So, what can be done to help the Search and Rescue team? 

·        The first thing to do is STOP right where you are.  Just “park it.”  Searchers spend too much time locating wanderers.  They spend less time finding those that stay in place.

·        Try calling 911.  Call 911 before calling your responsible person and family.  Conserve your cell phone’s battery.  Use your emergency beacon or SPOT locator.

·        Think about your situation and observe your surroundings.  Can you make your situation better for the Search and Rescue team to find you?

·        Plan what you are going to do for the next hour, the next four hours and through the remainder of the night.

·        Establish your emergency camp.  Get your emergency shelter ready. 

·        Maintaining your body’s core temperature of 98.6 is now your primary job.  A warming fire goes a long way towards improving your situation and is a signal to the searchers.  Gather as much wood as you can in the remaining day light.

·        Manage your mind (that’s easy to say.)  Remain in control of your emotions and actions.  If you are with a small group that is lost, work as a team and share the load, resources and friendship.

·        Remember to stay where you are.  Wandering at night, navigating in the dark is a fool’s journey.  At night we have lost our visual clues and reference points. 

·        Stay hydrated.

        Use a whistle.

Of course, there are other actions you can take.  These are but just a few recommendations.

There are two references that I would suggest you consider:

·        Surviving a Wilderness Emergency, Peter Kummerfeldt, Outdoor Safe Press, 2006

·        Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004

The first book by Kummerfeldt is an excellent primer on your road to learning about surviving a wilderness emergency.  Gonzales’ book is a fascinating read on who survives while others don’t. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

GPS Batery Power

A frequent question that I get is how long do batteries last?  What can be counted on for GPS battery power.

From my experience the answer is about 12 hours when used continuously.

I have noticed that the "battery power meter" provides OK information.  It seems that four or five power bars last reasonable well initially.  But after the receiver has been on for most of the day, I have noticed that the GPS battery power goes from three bars to two and then one quite quickly.

I keep my GPS powered on all the time.  I like to keep and evaluate the track data.  For example, when I am in the field hunting I discard the batteries at the end of the day, replace with new one, and calibrate the compass.

I particularly like the Duracell and COSTCO batteries.

For short duration hikes I will use the chargeable ENLOOP batteries.  I bought my set at COSTCO. 

GPS Tune-up

Hunters, this is a great time to tune-up and practice with a GPS receiver.  There are several things the one can do before leaving home.   Here are a few recommendations to consider.


  • Dump those old AA batteries, put in new ones.  If you leave your GPS on all day in the
    Garmin Image
     field expect to change the batteries nightly.  Consider using lithium AA’s, they last longer and work better in cold temperatures. 

  • “Match the map” with the receiver’s navigation selection options. Specifically, match the coordinate system (e.g., UTM or Latitude/Longitude) and map datum that are found on the map.  Consider shifting the receiver’s compass to degrees true.  Further, let’s have everyone in a hiking or hunting group use the same settings too; let’s all be on the same page.

  •  Keep you navigation simple.  It’s easier to work with a handful of waypoints rather than list of 300.  Dump the Junk - Delete the old waypoints, the ones you will never use again.  Log important waypoints (e.g., that lake side camp site) on your PC or in a notebook.  Visit or for a place to store waypoints.

  • Install maps on your GPS receiver.  Maps on the receiver are a natural complement to your paper field map.   Quality maps are available from and (free).

  • Adjust your map pages’ zoom setting to see what works best.  For general trail hiking I  keep my zoom setting at 800 feet.  This setting allows me to view trails, water sources, roads and elevation contours.

  • Visit the manufacture’s web site to see if there are any firmware updates.  I do this every couple of months.

  • When batteries are replaced calibrate the electronic compass.


  • Verify that you are receiving enough satellite signals.  Check this on the satellite status screen.  Four satellites are the minimum.  Give older receivers the time to collect satellite data; don’t rush the navigation process.
  • Give key waypoints names.  When marking a waypoint enter names like “camp” and “truck.”  It’s easier and more meaningful to find “truck” in the list of waypoints than is waypoint 542; or was it 245.  

·        After marking a waypoint, verify that it has been saved to the receiver's memory by checking either the map page or in the waypoint file (select “where to” or “find.”)  If the waypoint is on the map or in the list of waypoints, the hiker is ready to go.  If the waypoint is not found, start over.

Outdoor Quest Image
 When it’s time to return to a destination chose “Where To” or “Find” on your keypad or menu.  Select the waypoint from the list provided.  Press the “Page” button and rotate through the many displays to the “Compass” page.  A large red arrow should appear on the face of the compass pointing to the selected waypoint.  When on course to the destination the arrow points to the top center of the receiver.  Practice this specific process at home before heading to the field.

  • Navigation is a perishable skill.  I recommend that two weeks before an outing take the GPS receiver everywhere.  Add waypoints, delete waypoints and find a saved waypoint.  This process develops familiarization with the unit and allows the user to develop confidence with the receiver      and personal ability.

  • Compliment GPS skills with a good review of map and compass fundamentals. Learn to back up electronic position fixing with bearing triangulation.   Worst case, a broken GPS becomes a paperweight for your map while afield.  For more information visit .

·         When on the trail compare GPS position data with a map.  Compare what is presented electronically with what is on the map.

I suggest checking out Lawrence Letham’s book GPS Made Easy from the library.  This book compliments the owner’s manual.  An excellent reference for map and compass use is June Fleming’s Staying Found.

Taking a class can further enhance you GPS knowledge.  Classes are frequently offered through the local community college’s continuing education program or at local retailers such as  REI.

A map and compass always goes with me into the field.  I carry a Silva Ranger compass and get my maps from  (their maps are free.)

Have fun while building on your fundamental navigation skill sets.  Consider setting up a treasure hunt or a geocach for a family get together.  Make it fun, make it simple and explain that these skills could one day make a huge difference if the ever got lost in the woods.