Map, Compass & GPS

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Nine Navigation Steps to Take at the Trail Head.

The following are nine quick navigation steps to take to ensure one’s navigation kit is set up to best support a hike.
Blake Miller/outdoor quest image

1.     GPS Batteries – load fresh batteries and carry extra for both the GPS and flashlight.

2.     Calibrate the GPS receiver’s compass after every battery change.

3.     Magnetic Compass adjusted for declination – Visit for the most current declination value.  Declination changes over time (how old is that map?) and location.

4.     Dump the junk – How many waypoints are stored in the waypoint manager file.  Dump the old waypoints to the absolute minimum; this helps to keep navigation simple.

5.     Match the GPS receiver’s compass to the magnetic compass and the map.   .  Maps are usually set to degrees true.  Have the GPS and Magnetic compass match the topo map.

6.     Erase old track data – clean up the old the track (bread crumb trail) information.  Get rid of 
Blake Miller/outdoor quest image
the clutter.

7.     Remember to stow the maps.  I use maps from and will occasionally carry maps from a hiking guides.  Maps are stowed in a zip lock gallon bag or rugged water proof map case.

8.     Mark a waypoint – Give key waypoints a name like “trl hed” or “camp.”  Select waypoint manager to verify that the information has been saved to memory.  If “trl hed” can be viewed on the waypoint manager file or viewed from the map page the hiker is all set.

Blake Miller/outdoor quest image
Orient the map at the trail head.

Everyone in the hiking group should be on the same page in regard to navigation settings.

Winter Travel

I recently did a search on, looking for some tips and recommendations for backcountry travel in the winter.
 ."Winter can be a dangerous time to hike or camp in the backcountry, but with planning and proper preparation, a winter hike can be a safe and enjoyable experience. Please keep the following in mind when planning an outing:
  • For safety, never hike alone in winter. The potential consequences are simply too high.
  • Daylight hours are short in the winter and the sun goes down quickly. Begin your trip early in the day and be prepared with a headlamp and extra batteries. Lithium batteries are more reliable in cold weather than alkaline ones.
  • Leave a trip itinerary with a friend who knows who to call if you are late in returning."
, has several other recommendations that the hiker should consider..


The Great Outdoors

Guest Post by Lee

The Great Outdoors: Why It's Great For the Whole Family

We all know that spending time outdoors plays an important role in living a healthy and fulfilling life. Ultimately, that's what we want for ourselves and our children, right? As our culture has nurtured its relationship with technology, our relationship with nature has been put on the backburner. With mental and physical disease on the rise, it is time to pay more attention to the fact that our often neglected relationship with nature could be a major contributing factor. There are many ways to reconcile this relationship, and the benefits are sure to be felt by the entire family and even the community around you. Adventuring outdoors can be a learning experience that is exciting and liberating, and there are plenty of things to do! But first, let's look at why outdoor play is important and how exactly you and your family can benefit from it.

The importance of outdoor play

Children and adults alike are spending more time indoors than outdoors on a daily basis, and it could be causing problems with their mental and physical health. According to Kenneth Wright, director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado, staying inside all day can contribute to difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and lower energy levels. Absorbing nutrients provided by the sun such as vitamin-D, aids in our bodies ability to more effectively regulate itself.

Since most of our indoor time is spent in front of a phone, television, or computer screen, children and adults are becoming less and less active. This can lead to weight gain, lethargy, and impaired vision. Richard Ryan, a professional psychologist suggests that even 20 minutes a day can make a large difference in vitality felt by both children and adults. Studies show that wilderness therapy, or outdoor behavioral healthcare, can help to address behavioural and mental health conditions using nature as a therapeutic tool. If you or your child are particularly restless or have a hard time focusing, spending more time outside could help in a number of ways. It also helps exercise imagination in children, facilitates social skills, and provides new learning experiences.

How to incorporate outdoor play into your family's lifestyle

There are many different ways to incorporate outdoor activity into your family’s lifestyle. Look up the parks in your immediate area and see if there are any of interest to you or your children. If you have the means to go on a big adventure, plan a trip to a National Park! You and your family can take in some incredible scenery and learn about a completely new environment. You may even have one close to you already!

If you want to embrace your creative side, come up with a scavenger hunt and get to exploring. You can even start a garden to be used as an educational tool. An added bonus is that your kids will be able to grow and eat their own food! Even indoor activities such as painting or playing an instrument can be enjoyed out in the yard or at a park. It's also a great idea to have quiet time outside as taking the time to tune in to your surroundings can have an instant calming effect on the body.

Whether it's building confidence, promoting creativity, or teaching responsibility, the benefits of outdoor play are many. Now more than ever it is important that we not only engage our children more in nature but ourselves as well. Spending time outdoors can bring a family closer, and there are lessons that are sure to be learned on everyone's part.

Saturday, January 13, 2018 is web site that I keep my eye on regularly.  The comments section of this excellent source routinely has truely relevent information as well; that is a rareity on most sites.  In an older post about the "Ten Essentials" a reader's comment was:

" Map or at least a good look of the lay of the land to identify a few good backstops in case I get really turned around (mostly only for well marked trails.)" comment by Jess, March 15, 2012.

Jess' comment caused me to write the following post.


A backstop keeps the hiker safe.  By using a natural and man made land features, a backstop keep the hiker in the right area.  Backstops are found by a careful study of a topographic map. 

One feature every outdoorsman should pay attention to is called a “backstop.”   A  backstop is a boundary or a natural barrier that keeps one in their specified hiking area.  If a hiker goes beyond the backstop, then they will know they have gone too far.

When looking over a map of a hiking area, it is essential to understand the impact of terrain and land features.  Doing so will allow one to build an association of topography with a general lay of the land.  Key on natural and man-made features that includes roads, streams, buttes and buildings.  Take the time to really examine the map’s topography by studying the brown contour lines. This attention to detail will give the hiker a “feel” for elevation changes, shape and important land marks.  More importantly, it will allow the hiker to develop a mental map of the hiking area.  This concept lends itself to map training for those not backcountry experienced, and it is an excellent  teaching tool for children.

For example, in the image above ForestRd 32 serves as a backstop.  The hiker should remain west of ForestRd 32 because traveling east of 32 is hazardous due to the Swamp. Additionally, note that key terrain features associated with the trail include the river, mountains, a road and the swamp.

The example above is very simplistic but demonstrates the importance of having that “mental map”, especially if visibility becomes an issue.

The image above offers another example.

The map above is an area of steep terrain to the west, a lake to the east and trails surrounding most land features.  If the hiker planned to bushwack west of the campground (just below the larger lake) and hike in fairly flat terrain with gentle elevation changes, then the steep terrain to the west (Tam McArthur Rim) would be an excellent backstop. This is because it provides confirmation of the hiker’s general location. Care should be taken when using  trails that border Little Three Creek lake-note that the trail doesn’t continue west.  In such a situation, it is possible for the hiker to walk beyond the lake.

Backstops are another navigation tool that can keep the hiker in a safe location, and should be utilized as a visual resource.

Tips On Traveling to Canada

A guest post from our frequent contributor Lee.

If you are thinking about taking a trip to the Great White North, you probably want to make sure that you are as prepared as possible. Canada can be a great country to visit, but there are a few things that you may want to do before you take your trip. These are five suggestions that can help you get your trip started off right.

1. Find Out About Getting a Visa

First of all, it is important to make sure that you are able to legally enter Canada. You will need a passport, for one thing. You may also need to get a visa, depending on where you are traveling from. It's smart to look into these things beforehand; then, you can help ensure that your trip doesn't get ruined due to not being able to enter the country in the first place.

2. Make Sure You Have the Right Clothing

It is important to make sure that you dress appropriately for your trip to Canada. If you are going to be visiting during the winter, you should know that many areas of the country can be very cold. Therefore, you will definitely want to make sure that you pack accordingly. In the summer months, however, some areas of Canada are actually quite warm, so you may want to pack shorts and T-shirts. Consider checking the weather forecast for the area that you are visiting so that you can get an idea of what to pack.

3. Ensure Your Car is Prepared for the Trip

If you are going to be driving to Canada, you will definitely want to make sure that your car is ready for the trip. Of course, you'll need to handle the same basics that you would handle for any road trip, such as getting your oil changed and making sure that your brakes are in good condition. If you are going to be visiting Canada in the winter, you may want to invest in a good set of snow tires or chains for your tires. This can help you ensure that you are able to drive in the winter weather conditions as safely as possible. Additionally, you'll want to do your research about any roads that you will be traveling on to ensure that they are safe before driving.

4. Purchase Travel Insurance

It is always a good idea to purchase travel insurance, and it may be something that you will want to consider for your trip to Canada. Then, if you have an emergency, be it a car accident or a sudden intense toothache, you could get your car taken care of or visit Emergency Dentist Calgary without worrying about being covered or not. Knowing that you have this coverage can also give you peace of mind so that you can focus on enjoying yourself while you are on your trip.

5. Make an Itinerary Beforehand

There is a lot to see and do in Canada. If you travel without any plans in mind, then you might miss out on some the good things. Therefore, it's a good idea for you to consider doing your research so that you can make an itinerary beforehand. For example, you may want to go skiing or check out one of the beautiful national parks. There is something for just about anyone to enjoy in Canada, so you should be able to come up with an itinerary that will work for you and your traveling companions if you do a little bit of research.

As you can see, if you are planning on visiting Canada sometime soon, there are a few things that you can do to help you ensure that you are prepared for your trip. If you follow these tips, you can help ensure that you and your family have a great time. Then, you might just find that Canada is one of your new favorite vacation destinations.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Night Navigation

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.  Practice 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.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Finding North

 I randomly pulled a book from my outdoor library and found a section on back country travel and survival.   My book was printed in the late 1950's.  To say Tt was dated is obvious.

I skimmed through the navigation section and began to read about determining True North (000 degrees).

The chapterI soon began a discussion of using the north star to find True North.  Nice idea but finding True North is a challenge.  The north star doesn't stand out as some material would have your think.  Weather can have a huge impact on locating that star.

My reference talks about determining declination by comparing magnetic north with the bearing of the north pole.

Interesting idea but it's a bit tedious.

Let's keep this simple.

First, lets start with a quality adjustable magnetic compass.  I'd suggest that the hiker consider the Silva Ranger 5/15 or one similar by Brunton or Suunto.  These are frequently found at REI, Cabala's and Sportsman's Warehouse.

Second, determine the coordinates of the area that that one will travel through.

Third, visit www.magnetic-decllination .com.  The hiker will find lot of options but the key thing one is looking for is the declination of the area to be traveled through. One can enter Latitude an Longitude of the area or a noun name like Bend, Oregon.

Read the compass manufacturer's instruction  and adjust the compass as directed to find north.

Take a look at my post about buying a compass    .Buying a Compass