Map, Compass & GPS

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sectionhiker.com 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.

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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