Map, Compass & GPS

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Life Benefits of Getting Fresh Air

Guest Contributor Lee has a new post on fresh air:
Do you make it a priority to get outside every day? You might after you read this article. People do all kinds of things in the name of their health and well-being, like taking supplements, trying new diets, and going on expensive retreats. But if you want better health and a more optimistic outlook on life, the solution might be much simpler than all those things: just go outside and breathe some fresh, clean air.

Intrigued? Here are five reasons why fresh air might just be the best medicine available to you.

1. Getting outside gives your immune system a boost.
If you want to stay healthy, you've got to take care of your immune system. Your immune system fights off invading bacteria and viruses, protecting you from everything from the common cold to stomach flu. There are a number of ways you can keep your immune system in tip-top condition, including eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits, getting enough sleep, and washing your hands regularly. But the simplest thing of all you can do? Just step outside and take a quick walk around the block. The combination of oxygen and exercise will boost your white blood cell levels, helping you fight off infections before they even get a foothold in your body.

2. Fresh air helps you stay alert.
Feeling sleepy after lunch? Don't reach for that energy drink or third cup of coffee. Take a minute to step outside instead. Fresh air has a way of clearing your head and boosting your alertness. It can even make you more creative. As a result, your thinking will become clearer and sharper at school or on the job, no caffeine required.

3. Spending time in the sunlight increases your vitamin D levels.
Did you know that many people are vitamin D deficient, even though this essential nutrient is plentiful and free? That's right - we can get vitamin D from the sun, but lots of office workers, students, and other people who spend most of their time inside still don't get enough of it. You can boost your vitamin D levels - thereby improving your mental health, bone health, and cardiovascular health - by spending as little as fifteen minutes outside on sunny days. Wear short sleeves if it's warm enough, so your skin can soak up as much sunlight as possible. Just don't forget to put on sunscreen after fifteen minutes!

4. Fresh air makes you happier and less stressed.
If your mood has been down in the dumps lately, it could be because you've been spending too time breathing stale air indoors. People tend to be happiest and healthiest when they're getting regular doses of fresh air and sunshine. In fact, wilderness therapy has been found to be a potent antidepressant - people actually have lower rates of mental health problems like depression and anxiety when they spend regular time outside in nature. The great outdoors also has a soothing effect on stress, so if you've been under pressure lately, a few deep breaths of fresh, clean air could be just what you need.

5. Unpolluted air improves your overall health.
Breathing in pollution isn't good for you - everybody knows that. People who live in areas with lots of pollution are more likely to deal with asthma, digestive problems, and cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure than people who live in less-polluted areas. Breathing clean air has the opposite effect: it supplies your body with plenty of oxygen, improves your lung capacity, and makes it easier for your heart to do its job. If you live in a big city with a pollution problem, do your best to visit green spaces like parks frequently, since trees purify the air.

The Takeaway
Fresh air does a body good. If you haven't been getting your daily dose of fresh air, establish a new habit of going outside frequently. You'll likely become happier and healthier as a result.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Compass Navigation - Using A Compass

 A quality compass is an integral part of the backcountry navigator’s kit.  Sighting with a compass is an important skill that can determine direction to an object or help the hiker locate and identify his position in the backcountry.

This post discusses the steps to be taken to use a compass to plot one’s location on a topographic (topo) map in the back country.  In the vocabulary of navigation this is also known as “fixing” or determining “position.”

The first step is to ensure that the hiker has adequate maps both in quality and quantity.   I recommend carrying a set of maps that include 7.5’ United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps and a second map type such a United States Forest Service map.  The USGS map gives me the detailed information of the immediate area while the other map covers a much broader and larger area. 

Before heading for the trail, take a look at the maps at home.  Scouting from your desk allows you to find significant land features that will surround the direction of travel.  Features such as distinct mountain peaks, a stream, and a ridge line are just of few topographic “hand rails” that can be of value in the field.  By spending some time at home with the map the hiker develops a mental map, a mental picture of the trek in advance of the actual journey. 

Account for declination before leaving the trailhead.  I like to keep my navigation simple and personally use a compass that can be adjusted for declination such as the Brunton 8010G.  Declination information found at the bottom of a topographic map is frequently out of date.  Check the web site  for the current declination.

 “A compass is basically a magnet mounted on a pivot, free to turn in response to the pull of the earth’s magnetic field.  The housing protects the needle and helps you relate the direction in which the needle points to directions on the map and on the land.  A compass by itself can’t tell you where you are or what you are looking at but it can tell you about direction….”

Staying Found, The Complete Map & Compass Handbook, by June Fleming

Sighting with a compass allows the hiker to do several things.

First, sighting on a distant object can provide direction to that object and repeated sightings can provide course corrections along the way.  Secondly, with several sightings on different objects a person’s position can be determined and plotted.

Compass direction to an object is known as the “bearing” or azimuth.   Bearing is the more common term in outdoor recreation and is a term used heavily in GPS navigation.  For example, if a mountain peak is due north of you, the bearing to the peak is 000° (read as zero zero zero degrees.)  A compass can also assist the hiker by orienting a map and following a line of bearing taken from a map.

The picture below offers a quick review of the components of a baseplate compass.

To sight or take a bearing do the following:

  1. Using the owner’s manual, adjust the compass for declination.
  2. While holding the compass at waist level, turn squarely towards a distant object.  Hold the compass so that the direction of travel arrow points directly at the object. (Point the direction of travel arrow away from you, perpendicular to your body.)

  1. While holding the compass, turn the compass housing (the dial) and align the orienting arrow (a red arrow engraved in the rotating housing) underneath the red magnetic needle.

 To determine and plot or “fix” a position, the next step is to plot bearings on the map. In a “nut shell” this means that bearings to three clearly identifiable features are used.  Ideally, objects that have a bearing separation of 30° – 60°.  Good bearing separation provides better fixing information and plots on the map cleanly.  The bearings are then plotted on a map and where the three lines cross is the hiker’s location.  This complete process is called triangulation.

The following are suggestions for triangulating a position in the back country.

  1. Identify three (or more) distinct objects to sight on.  Note that the objects need to be on the topo of the area. 
  2. Orient the topo using the compass.  Orienting the topo means that the map’s left or right border is pointing to true north or 000° degrees true. 
  3. Sight on an object such as a mountain peak or church spire.  (Note that not many objects in the backcountry are so distinct and crisp.  Do the best with what you have.) Ensure the direction of travel arrow is pointed towards the object.  Be as accurate as you can, point directly at the object.
  4. Turn the compass housing until the orienting arrow is directly under red magnetic needle.  Do not move or rotate the compass housing, keep the new bearing in place.
  5. At this point, and while plotting the bearing on the map, the compass will now be used like a protractor.  Importantly, the movement of the magnetic needle is not important.
  6. Lay the compass on the map with either the top left or right corner of the baseplate on the landmark.  This will be a pivot point while aligning the compass.

  1. With the edge of the baseplate in position, rotate the compass (swing) left or right until the N (north) of the compass housing aligns with map North (the top of the map.) 
  2. Draw a line (along the baseplate) from the object (e.g., the mountain peak) to your approximate area.  Draw a nice long line.
  3. Repeat the process two more times using other distant objects to sight on.
  4. Ideally the three lines will intersect in the immediate area; this is the hikers location.  But because of compass error and human error the point of intersection maybe spread out.  Still, triangulation will put you in the ballpark.  Use terrain association to help narrow down your position.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

SPOT Messenger

I always take my SPOT messenger and cell phone with me when I head out to the backcountry; it's part of my ten essentials.

On a recent trip I sent three "I'm OK" status messages.  My first message was sent at 0900,
then 0915 and a third at about 1000.

I always send at least two messages to my family.  I am on the check in list too just to verify my unit is working.

I found that one message was received at  roughly 1020 but nothing else.

When I returned home one message (one of three) was received at 1600.  The last message was received the next afternoon.  This is the first time that I have had such time late message reception.

I called the manufacturer to sort out what happened.

Most importantly learned that the satellite service for SPOT was degraded that day.

I also learned that the internet provider ( was having technical issues receiving and processing SPOT messages.  I then put my .gmail account as an authorized service.

I tested  the messenger from home and received my transmitted data almost immediately.

The manufacturers customer service was excellent.  All my questions were answered. 

For more information and suggestions for using your messenger visit:SPOT Tips

Friday, November 10, 2017


 Many outdoorsmen measure distance in the backcountry by using a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.   GPS receivers are reasonably accurate, real time, and provide distance traveled and distance to a destination.
But what does the hiker do if they don’t have a receiver, the GPS fails or batteries die?
A proven method for estimating distance is known as pacing.  Pacing is not as accurate as the GPS receiver, but it can give a reasonable approximation of the distance traveled.  Together with a map and compass, pacing is an important component of evaluating a hiker’s track through the backcountry.  In darkness or periods of low visibility pacing helps to determine the hiker’s location through a process known as dead reckoning. 
Pacing is a method that begins with measuring one’s stride, with the intent of determining an individual’s length of stride. A pace is a measured two steps; a complete stride.  As illustrated below, every time the right foot hits the ground is one pace. Each pace (two steps) normally measures out to almost 50-60 inches.

Perhaps the best method to determine a hiker’s pace is to record it over a specific distance to determine an average.  Before embarking on the trail, the individual should develop a “pace average” over a controlled area first. 
For example, measure the number of paces for a known distance of 100 yards.  To achieve this, go to a high school foot ball field or track.  Walk along a sideline from end zone to end zone.  Count how many paces it takes to go 100 yards.  Do this eight times and record the total number of paces for each 100 yard event.  Determine the average for all eight 100 yard lengths completed.  The result is that the hiker may determine that the average 100 yard pace count to be 58 ½ paces.  (With children compensate and be mindful of their strides being significantly different, including a skip here and an off trail discovery there.)
Whatever the “pace average” may be, do keep the stride natural and smooth.  Don’t try to exaggerate and unnaturally lengthen the stride.
Don’t get too bogged down in the estimation of the accuracy of the average pace. Of larger importance is to understand the complexity of the terrain and how it will impact stride and a hiker’s “pace average”.   Anticipate strides being different.  Take the time beforehand to imitate a 100 yard course on sloping ground.  Further, try a 100 yard pace in soft soil and hard soil, smooth ground and rocky ground. Move to other locations once an average pace is found on a controlled level environment (football field).  Layout a 100 yard course on sloping ground. 
Pacing over long distance can become quite boring and the hiker easily distracted.  This is especially true when the pace count is in the hundreds.  Was that pace 545 or 554?  In such cases pacing beads may be a useful tool.  Pacing beads can be purchased from online venders or made at home using paracord and simple beads. 
A quick Google search will turn up several methods for using pacing beads.  For example, Wikipedia states that “As users walk, they typically slide one bead on the cord for every ten paces taken. On the tenth pace, the user slides a bead in the lower section towards the knot. After the 90th pace, all 9 beads are against the knot. On the 100th pace, all 9 beads in the lower section are returned away from the knot, and a bead from the upper section is slid upwards, away from the knot.”
Pacing beads can be an important asset when Dead Reckoning (known as DR) with a map and compass.  Vigilant compass sighting and a steady “pace average” helps provide a rough approximation of both distance and direction when moving through the backcountry.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Compass Tune-Up

Recently I was watching a rifle expert on one of the many outdoor cable shows.   This gent is a noted ballistics expert, writer and occasional backcountry guide.  During a segment of the interview he was demonstrating what was in his day pack.  It kept my interest, had the
Compass practice in a navigation class
 Outdoor Quest image
ten essentials, and all was going just fine until he brought out his compass.  It looked like a wonderful antique, might have come across the Great Plains and Rockies with Lewis and Clark –but in terms of reliability-it was questionable. The sad part is he spent absolutely no time discussing key factors of having a reliable compass.  He touched his compass and quickly put it down. 

And touching a compass is about all that most people do too.  Hunters preparing to go afield will spend hours with their rifle at the range evaluating their zero, adjusting optics, and measuring the initial velocity of that hot new round.  Navigation takes time to get dialed in too.

Navigation is not “rocket science” but it takes practice.  It is a perishable skill.  The analogy that I use in my wilderness navigation classes is that you can hop on a bike after not riding one for ten years and head on down the road.  But trying to triangulate after ten months can be a chore.

 For starters, you need a decent compass.  Leave the $5.00 compass on the shelf at the store.  For more information on buying a compass check out my article on selecting a compass.

Here are a few recommendations for a compass tune up:

·     Store your compass in a safe spot.  Keep the compass off the dash of the rig, away from flashlights and the GPS.  Let’s not take a chance that an electrically induced magnetic field will degrade your compass.

·     Compare your compass with another to verify that the red needle is pointing to magnetic north.   Take it a step further and find a road in town that is aligned north/south.   Most likely it will be aligned in degrees true; as in true north.  Again, verify that the compass is pointing correctly.  Do this for every compass you own.

·     Is the compass leaking?  Is there an air bubble floating in the compass housing?  I “deep six” (toss) those units.

·     Brush up on your compass navigation skills.   June Fleming’s book “Staying Found” is a excellent read.     Practice shooting a bearing, triangulating your position and orienting your map and compass to your surroundings.

·     Review the components of a Topographic map.  Start with the USGS’ site here.

·     Insure you have the compass adjusted to the correct declination.

·     Practice with your children.  Give them a good education with a map and compass before you give them a GPS.

·     Don’t depend on your friends being the navigation experts.  Make it a goal to exceed their skills.  You might find that your initial impression was mistaken. Instead of a “sense of direction” develop the skill of navigation.

Practice with a compass is essential to safe wilderness travel.  To quote Fleming, “The key to knowing where you are is constant awareness.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Maps for Emergency Evacuation

My friend Leon at the blog has a great post on the maps you should have during emergency evacuation

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Adventures In Stoving

You have to just like Hiking Jim's blog "Adventures in Stoving."  This is a blog to book mark.

Right now he a has a post reviewing a stove system and a methodology on how to determine how much stove fuel to take in to the back country.

Great  work.

Adventure In Stoving Image.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Using Your Cell Phone In The Backcountry

Last month Jenny Rough wrote an interesting article about why it is a mistake to count  on a cell phone when you go hiking.  Her article was featured in the Washington Post.

She stressed that basic navigation "is a use-it-or-lose-skill.  How true.

The thrust of the post is that hikers have an over dependence of electronic navigation while forsaking the rudimentary  principles of using a map and compass. 

Take a look at Jenny's post.

Visit my other articles on land navigation too:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What Is An Azimuth

An azimuth is the angular direction to an object.  Azimuths are described commonly in degree increments from either true, magnetic or grid north.

In the world of recreational navigation, GPS receiver operations and orienteering the use of the term “bearing” has become synonymous with azimuth.

Azimuth direction is measured from north clockwise in 360° increments. The point from which the azimuth originates is from the center of an imaginary circle.  This imaginary point is the operator.

Azimuth can be measured with a magnetic compass, a map and by rough estimation using the sun and North Star.

Azimuths can be expressed in degrees true and degrees magnetic.  Degrees true uses the north pole as the principle reference while degrees magnetic refers to reference from the magnetic pole.

Outdoor Quest Image
For more information on bearings and azimuth read Making Sense of The Declination Diagram.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Magnetic Declination

Declination: A Noun. The horizontal angle between the true geographic North Pole and the magnetic North Pole, as figured from a specific point on the Earth.”

 Declination is a term that causes “brain cramps” for many of my students in my map and compass classes. When I mention Magnetic Declination eyes roll.

The web site has an excellent discussion of what declination is and what causes it:

“Magnetic declination varies both from place to place, and with the passage of time. As a traveler cruises the east coast of the United States, for example, the declination varies from 20 degrees west (in Maine) to zero (in Florida), to 10 degrees east (in Texas), ......the magnetic declination in a given area will change slowly over time, possibly as much as 2-25 degrees every hundred years or so.......... Complex fluid motion in the outer core of the Earth (the molten metallic region that lies from 2800 to 5000 km below the Earth's surface) causes the magnetic field to change slowly with time."

Land navigation is based on the relationship to the North Pole; also known as “true north.  The measure of degrees of direction in relation to true north is called “degrees true.”  Maps are laid out in degrees true.  Land features (buttes, mountains, streams) on a topographic map are in reference to degrees true.  By that I mean the bearing from one mountain peak to another will be referenced in degrees true.  The map below illustrates that point. 

Magnetic compasses do not point to true north (the North Pole); the magnetic needle points to an area that could be considered the magnetic North Pole. 
As illustrated below, declination data can be found in the diagram at the bottom of a USGS topographic map, (on some commercially produced maps it can be hard to find.) 

Because declination changes over time, I recommend that map declination information be verified at   This is essential in the Pacific Northwest where maps are notoriously out of date in terms of road,  and city data.
So, how do we make this simple?  How do we convert magnetic to degrees true?
I could do the math.  In Oregon, where I live, the magnetic declination is 15.6° East declination.

My recommendation: have the compass do the work so that there is no confusion with the math.

To do this, I need to choose a compass that can be adjusted for declination.  Examples are the Silva Ranger or the Suunto M3.

With one of these compasses, the compass dial or housing is adjusted and rotated manually.  Both the Suunto and Silva Ranger come with a small, flat adjusting tool.  Consult with owner’s manual that came with the compass.

If declination is Easterly (Western U.S.) I will rotate the dial causing the baseplate’s orienting arrow to move in a clockwise direction.

   If declination is Westerly (Eastern U.S.) I will rotate the dial causing the baseplate’s orienting arrow to move in a counter-clockwise direction.

Now, adjust the dial and align the red magnetic needle on top of the orienting arrow (the red arrow engraved on the baseplate) the compass will provide directions in degrees true.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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.