Lightweight and Ultralightweight Backpacking

The View from Here

Panoramic view from a mountain top in Glacier National Park, Montana

The 10 Essentials

10 Essentials: Orienteering

Compass and map belong together: one without the other doesn't have much use.

At the minimum, if you have even the smallest keyfob compass and look at it, you can know the direction you are going and, conversely, where you have been.

If everything is unfamiliar, or looks the same to you, at least you can have this much sense of direction.

The car was what direction?

The gps may be easier to use, in some ways, once you master your gps for making waypoints as you go along, labeling risk locations, like a precipice or a ravine, not to be negotiated in fog or wet, and so, a bivouac is called for, for example, and then using your gps for backtracking to your vehicle, the road, or the trailhead.

However, one may like to take another route back to the trailhead, or vehicle.

I often decide I have the energy reserves, the route looks beautiful and I have more time.

I often make these decisions.

This is a recipe for disorientation, and becoming lost.

However, if one knows how to use a map and compass, these type decisions are much more practical.

If lost, do not follow a stream: if you do not know that particular stream and if it meanders or not, most streams involve brush and lead into ravines, and worse, blind canyons, or, disappear into the ground. This requires your backtracking uphill, or, making a tough climb out if possible. More tragic hiker deaths are from following streams and not having any more strength to backtrack, or to get out, than any other kind of miscomrmation.

Maps are available from the U.S. Forest Service, both topographic maps and land ownership maps, whether public or private. Maps are available from the park service. Maps are available from map stores. I like the U.S. Forest Service and park maps. I also purchase river maps, and trails maps, and waterproof maps. When you have learned how to read, and use, a map, especially maps with topographic lines and features, you will be able to find alternate routes.

I also have the National Geographic state 7.5 minute series TOPO! map CD, for my own state. If I travel elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, I purchase the applicable CD. I print the actual map information I need on waterproof paper and I put it in a flexible plastic map case.

REI stores have this service and will print one out for you for a very reasonable fee.

The TOPO! map CD, allows me to use my gps to map the trail I am on, and even better, to trace the trail I am considering taking. The software allows me to see a profile gradient of the trail I am considering. I have mapped a difficult trail I went on, once. In this way, I know my own difficulty level. I trace and profile the trail I am considering, and, at a glance, more or less, I can know the personal difficulty level of that trail.

If I am going some place familiar, there is still fog (ie. clouds at high altitude). I have a topographic map and compass, at minimum. I like to have a locally sold trail map, as well. This is minimum.

If I am going some place unfamiliar, both compass, map and gps have their place: The Sunto sighting compass I use is on my wrist. I also have a little compass is on my coat zip pull. The little zip pull compass is for a quick glance, if leaving the trail for a campsite. Right, I went west of the trail to have a campsite. In the morning, I walk East to return to the trail. No kidding. I don't have this problem so much, but it does happen to the best of us. It is a fact, some particular natural environments are disorienting. The map I use is laminated, or, if a larger map, it is in a zip-lock plastic bag or a flexible plastic map case. I especially like to make my own TOPO! map on waterproof paper sold by National Geographic, using the TOPO! software National Geographic sells for Montana, or elsewhere. I have a GPS. The gps cord is attached to my clothing and the gps rests in an accessible pocket.

If you will not purchase maps, do try an iPod Touch or "smart phone" for apps that allow you to download topographic maps for offline use. There are built-in GPS and software "compass" as well as accessory GPS for the iPod Touch, for example. The
zip pull compass is an added help.

Learn to use map and compass, and gps. Learn map and compass, from "orienteering" practice. Practice on the gps you will use. Be certain to find out all the features you may want to have, before making a decision about the gps purchase. There are even electronic compasses and gps in special wristwatches. I want to sight the compass, with a sighting device. I never trust batteries completely. I wouldn't mind having a special wristwatch with an altimeter. Knowing the altitude, where you are, can help you locate your position on the map.

Learn in advance how to navigate around an impossible obstacle, sighting compass bearings on the tallest tree, for example, in the direction you need to go. If no tallest tree, have one person walk ahead on a compass bearing and then walk up to that person.

Learn how to navigate around an obstacle, especially too swift water, or, bivouac and do a work-around in better weather conditions. I mark my gps trail in with possible necessary bivouacs, for example difficult terrain, a ravine, or a swift stream crossing may be at "high water" on the way back out: a contemplated stream crossing in thigh-high moving water is high-water: use a safety rope or exit by another route.

Here is a practical web page for learning orienteering with map and compass.

I also very much like use my GPS with the National Geographic TOPO! series 7.5 minute series state maps for evaluating the profile grade I hike easily, or reasonably comfortably, by comparing to trails I have hiked easily, or reasonably comfortably, as well as find alternate exit routes in case of something unforeseen, or the weather, and plan my hike from there. I can go into places where I only partially know the kind of terrain to expect, by this means.

There is tons of comrmation about using a GPS. The waypoints are helpful, if you input waypoints for car, trail head, precipice, etal. I would caution that the shortest path to the road on GPS should be checked against a TOPO! or topographic map, because a ravine or some other impossible obstacle may intervene.

One might even go to an orienteering event: orienteering events are fun. Orienteering skills are required for geocaching: consider having a geocaching event.

Remember to Tread Lightly.

10 Essentials: Signaling

copyright © 2017 Connie Dodson. All Rights Reserved.