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Backpacker Magazine – November 2008

How to Do Everything - Hiking

From navigation to staying dry to predicting the weather, our primer will have you dialed.

by: Annette McGivney

(Illustrations by Supercorn)
(Illustrations by Supercorn)
    Tags:

Hiking | Packing & Planning | Camping | Gear | First Aid & Health | Cooking


Navigate Off-Trail | Stay Dry in a Downpour | Descend Safely | Beat Fatigue on Steep Climbs | Read a Rattlesnake's Body Language | Predict Weather With an Altimeter | Identify a Mountain Lion Track | 5 Ways to Navigate Without a Compass | 4 Ways to Prevent Blisters | Lace Your Boots for Maximum Comfort | Take a Perfect Summit Photo | Two-Second Tips

NAVIGATE OFF-TRAIL
Step 1: Adjust for declination
Declination is simply the difference between magnetic north (where the compass needle points) and true north (the North Pole, and the direction maps are oriented). To navigate accurately, just check the margin of your map for the declination (12 degrees east, for instance) and adjust your compass accordingly (most have a simple dial). No dial? No problem. If the declination is east, subtract the degrees from the magnetic north bearing to get the true bearing; if it's west, add the degrees (easy mnemonic device: East is least, west is best).

Step 2: Orient your map
Lay the straight edge of your compass on the map so that its true north bearing is parallel to the map's true north grid lines. Rotate the map and compass together until the compass points due north.

Step 3: Take a bearing
Let's say your destination is a spectacular lakeside campsite two miles off the beaten path. You can see it on your map–but not from the trail. To get there, lay the straight edge of your compass base plate on the map so it connects your present location with the lake. Turn the compass housing until its meridian lines match the north-south lines on the map (make sure the arrow is pointing to the top of the map, or you'll be 180 degrees off). The direction indicated at the compass's direction of travel arrow is the route you need to take to reach the lake.

Step 4: Navigate around obstacles
In the real world, obstacles like canyons and cliffs can get in the way of your straight line bearing. Here's how to go around without getting off track: With your compass in hand, sight an object–like a tree or boulder–that is beyond the obstacle and lies on the straight line to your destination. Hike to that object by the easiest route, then resume traveling along your original bearing.



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I usually carry both a map and compass and a gps on long trips. That said Ive hiked all my life on day trips with nothing but knowledge of the areas and dead reckoning. yes I know the jokes about why the word dead is in dead reckoning. in forty eight years I have only been "lost" once. That was in a white out. I had the map and compass but we left a known area before taking any bearings ( the snow had not closed in yet.) Once the white out hit and not being in a known location the map and compass were almost useless. When we did pull out the map ( my companions insisted) we were actually 150 yds from our car. After consulting the map and plotting a bearing we skied two miles and 1000 vertical feet down away from the car. We did finally reach a known location and made it out. The next day I bought a GPS. I still regard them as back up devices to knowledge and intuition. Mankind has navigated far longer without these aids then with them.

Jeff
Apr 02, 2010

Most sure fire way to find your way, drop the compass, become intimately familiar with terrain features and reading terrain features on a map, and move along smartly.

CABAckpacker
Apr 01, 2010

I enjoy the challenge of navigating by map and compass and believe it is a good skill to have, but it is not foolproof, even for someone who is competent. The requirement to do a 'resection', (aka find current location on a map), involves observing two land features, and then being able to correctly identify them on the map. That is often easier said than done, especially if a person is already lost. I always take a GPS unit with me as a backup safety precaution.

bryan
Mar 25, 2010

READ A RATTLESNAKE'S BODY LANGUAGE.. why would anyone need to know this? i deal with rattlers a lot. it dont matter if the snake is hunting or sun bathing. if u step on it, it will bight. it dont matter what mood the snake is in, if your in rang of a bight, move slowly away. it will still bight you happy or not and in the end it seems simple to me. eat the snake or just leave it alone. the best thing u can do in rattle snake country is ask the locals if they have became used to humans or not. rucky chuck, nor cal. perfect place to get rattle snakes to eat but the snakes here are familiar with humans, they will slither right across your foot and wont rattle but even with that said they will bight u the second u move. easy place to get to but very bad place for children.

dariusvons
Mar 16, 2010

Yes, navigation skills in general are fading. But also I think reliance on technology even as simple as a compass passes up other tools and techniques largely unused by modern hikers. All my life, I've rarely a compass, and almost never even carry one EVER. Against the advice of the so called experts, I generally rely exclusively on the sky and terrain (sometimes with a map) for navigation. Just as ancient sea goers, and literally every body before the development of the compass, I use only the sky. The moon, the sun, the stars even the wind and time of day can help you determine directions quite accurately if you know how to use them. I think everyone should know how to navigate using the sky. It’s a very ancient, highly developed and reliable method. also few tools are ever needed… I use only my wrist watch to pin down degrees and tend to be just as accurate as my hiking mates with their fancy compasses and GPS units… though cloudy days can mess with you sometimes, a clear day and night is optimal.

Anonymous
Nov 23, 2009

Dont hold the compass in your left hand if your wearing a wedding band.

BrianM
Sep 03, 2009

I never trust the compass reading that the other scout dad gives me. He keeps forgetting that his hydration pack valve has a magnetic clip on it. He hasn't given me the correct reading on the first or secont try in over a year! LOL

Rich Taber
Aug 31, 2009

With the advent of cell phones, gps, plb's and other electronic toys map and compass skills are deteriorating or may never even be learned. I learned how to use compasses decades ago using an editon of "Be an Expert with Map and Compass" which is still in print, and then had those skills refined in the US Army and two different forestry colleges. Military people and foresters are the kind of folks who spend lots of time nnavigating around the outdoors and their lives depend on their map and compass skills. Hanging out with people who do orienteering or geocaching is also a good way to pick up these skills. I feel that topo map and compass knowledge are two of the most critical and important skills for anyone who ventures outdoors. I even carry two compasses with me, in case one gets lost or broken. You don't need expensive ones; I have always had fairly good use with Silvas that cost under $20.

Scott
Aug 31, 2009

Drop the compass and get a good topo map. Land Navigation by Terrain Association. Find a promanant land feature and direct yourself off of that.

Heck with the pantyhose! Men's dress sock under smartwool socks. 25 miles a day for 4 days with that and only one hot spot. USMC!

Pat
Jul 30, 2009

The areas that truly require GPS are those where a compass just won't work, like a lava bed (lava is often magnetic). I live in New Mexico, and often travel in the Grants Malpais lava bed.

As many have mentioned in Backpacker, the best place to use a GPS is in an area where you can see most of the sky, so your GPS can find several GPS satellites and give you a good location.

Pat
Jul 30, 2009

The areas that truly require GPS are those where a compass just won't work, like a lava bed (lava is often magnetic). I live in New Mexico, and often travel in the Grants Malpais lava bed.

As many have mentioned in Backpacker, the best place to use a GPS is in an area where you can see most of the sky, so your GPS can find several GPS satellites and give you a good location.

frank
Jul 13, 2009

dont forget the following mnemonics:
Timid (true) Can (compass)
Virgins (variation) Dead (declination)
Make (magnetic) Men (magnetic)
Dull (declination) Vote (variation)
Companions (compass) Twice (true)
Add Whiskey (west) add Elections (East)

works even if you are not politically correct (Note: variation is error inherent to the measuring device).

Barry Bama
Jul 06, 2009

I calculate how long I travel Adam West (or as I call it: True West) then I subtract 4 from the original number. If I reach Kanye West, I know I've gone to far off course and I usually turn around.

Jake
Apr 30, 2009

I agree with WayneB. The moment you start to wonder in the direction you FEEL is right is the moment you get yourself even more lost. If you don't know for sure which way to go then don't move! It's good to be in-tune with nature Donald, but you can't always trust your head.

Terry
Apr 02, 2009

I don't like the "East is Least, West is Best" type navigation memory aids because I find that confusing. Here is how I remember things:

East declination = + (positive)
West declination = - (negative)

True Bearing = Magnetic Bearing + ( one of the above declinations, positive East or negative West)

TB = MB plus ( declination, E is pos, W is neg )


Magnetic Bearing = True Bearing - (pos East or neg West declination)

MB = TB - ( declination, E is pos, W is neg)

These are easier for me.

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With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

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