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Winter Camping: Navigation

Learn to figure out where you are (even in a whiteout) and prevent, or stop, a snowy fall.


Where am I?

3 simple tips for sure-footed winter navigation

Snow often obscures signs, cairns, and other landmarks. BACKPACKER map editor Kris Wagner says GPS–and strong map skills–are essential for extensive winter travel. He offers these guidelines for keeping on track.

1. Check your math. New winter hikers almost always overestimate the distance they’ve covered–and wonder why the map doesn’t match where they think they are. Consult your topo more frequently, and expect to travel half the distance you normally do in summer.

2. Don’t be blindsided. Trails often vanish in deep snow or unexpected whiteouts. Know how to take and follow a compass bearing by reading the terrain on your map. As a backup, upload pre-plotted coordinates of your route onto your GPS. Visit for thousands of GPS-enabled hikes.

3. Know steep snow. Learn how to read snow conditions and calculate slope angle using a topo map. Enroll in an avalanche class and carry the Brooks-Range Winter Traveler Toolkit ($53;, a series of waterproof cheat sheets that aid in snow safety and navigation.

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