Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet

Posted by: 41253

Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 02/10/18 01:08 PM

A few weeks ago I was on a two-day trip in an unfamiliar forest. I used a really nice free application called "Maprika" to combine my phone's compass, GPS, and some crowd-sourced trail maps and chose a site to camp that was well off-trail. The first night there was quite a bit of rain. My shelter didn't leak but the humidity messed with my phone and charging brick and put the phone in a useless state.

When the rain let up late the second night I decided to move camp closer to a water source and to my morning pickup point. It was very difficult to get oriented in those flat, dense woods from my off-trail location. I was glad I had a paper map and a little clip-on compass on my watchband. I found a pipeline trace that was on the map and was able to plot a longer but surer route back to the main trail from the pipeline and a few side trails. The watch was a big help in guaging distance traveled, helped out by the flat terrain. Even the tiny compass was enough to match up subtle turns in the pipeline trace with absolute position on the map. I'm sure I would have figured it out without the map and compass in the daylight, but it would have been really frustrating at night.

Redundancy in important systems is important, and it's easy to forget how important some things are until they're not immediately available.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 02/10/18 03:00 PM

Electronics, as you found out, can and do malfunction. The weight/bulk of compass and map are quite small. I keep the map weight/bulk smaller by photocopying the portions of map(s) that I'll need, on both sides of the paper, and putting them in a plastic zipper lock bag to keep them dry. That also means that the original maps remain in an unblemished condition for future use safely back home. I don't care so much about the watch because over the years I've pretty well learned to estimate time from the sun. My main use for the watch is to keep me from taking a break after only 20 minutes of hiking!

As a card-carrying Luddite, I refuse to rely on any gadget depending on batteries, so the paper maps and the compass are all the navigation materials I need. The only batteries are in my camera and my headlamp.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 02/10/18 08:30 PM

I agree - as a fellow Luddite, the only batteries I have are for my headlamp. I also use a map and compass, and never bothered to learn GPS - map and compass is also simpler. (As Colin Fletcher said, “If that puts me further out of the mainstream, just call me Eddy.”)
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 03/23/18 07:27 PM

I really love my GPS and my topo maps and compass and bring them on even short trips that I'm familiar with. I don't always use them, but I almost always bring them.

Two things we have in abundance here in the Ozarks is terrain and dense forests. It's pretty easy to get confused and lost in an unfamiliar area for those who don't pay attention going in. I've had to guide several hikers back to their cars here over the years.

And I had to learn myself how to pay attention. Some of the first longer hikes I did here I scared myself on the way back by not knowing exactly where I was because nothing looked familiar. I had to learn to make a habit of turning around now and then and taking a good look behind me so I knew what to look for and recognize it on the way back.

A GPS that has your starting point "waypointed" or track recorded from where you started on it can make it really easy to get back fast, and that can come in really handy.

Over the years of hiking here I've gotten a lot better at reading topo maps and figuring out where I am on those, so I really don't need a GPS, but they are just too cool not to want to bring. One of the great things is being able to waypoint spots of interest and save them in a mapping app like Garmin's Basecamp. I have spots waypointed from hikes I did years ago that I would have forgotten about otherwise and it's fun to download a track when I get back and display it on a map and go over the data they record.

A GPS can really help you fine tune you mapping skills too. I still take out my topo map and compass and triangulate my position using terrain features and then check my position against my GPS map. I can honestly say I've never been far off but it's still nice to get the affirmation and humbling when you're further off than you thought, which incentivizes one to be more precise, and I have become more precise with that incentive to motivate me.
Posted by: 41253

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 03/25/18 11:47 AM

The importance of redundancy cuts both ways. I recently lost my paper map on a day hike in an unfamiliar area and was glad I had a pdf version on my phone.

A few weeks ago I arrived in DC just before lunchtime and found out that my afternoon appointments had fallen through. An hour and a half later I was parked on Shenandoah NPs Skyline Drive starting the "Little Devils Stairs" loop

wearing bluejeans and all my sweaters and carrying a little paper map. Somewhere near the halfway point I noticed that I'd dropped the paper map. I could have turned around but really wanted to do a loop and didn't remember the trail intersections. I used the pdf I'd downloaded and made a very nice 12-mile loop that included a little bit of the AT.

regarding enjoyment of topo maps and such: I think that we may be programmed to enjoy dramatic, wide views and overlooks because it lets us reinforce our internal 3-D models of our surroundings. My favorite part of the Grand Canyon may be Plateau Point because I can see parts of places I'd been over several previous days. Seeing a peak you'd just crested several hours is cool, and it's even cooler if you can place it all on a map.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/02/18 11:11 PM

The buck stops at your own internal sense of direction, time and place. I remember backpacking on an old 1905 30-minute quad, that had major errors in basic stuff like where drainages went. We basically had to go by reading the terrain and remembering things. This was above timber in mountains, so it was not that hard. Ever think about how the Native Americans got around? Animals do not get lost either.

I am really glad I had the opportunity to learn these skills before even the more detailed 15-min quads came out. I am more "terrain aware" than "map dependant" and "sun-time aware" vis "watch dependent". I often do not even take a watch. Or a headlamp. Or a compass. Just a map, which sometimes I even forget to take the proper map. But I will admit that I backpack about 95% in mountains with open views.

Bill, to me electronic gadgets are a pain to use, and something to lose, not "cool". I do not get along well with touch-screens! Give me old fashioned dials. What I do like is Google Earth! Now THAT is cool!
Posted by: aimless

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/03/18 12:13 AM

I backpack about 95% in mountains with open views.

That's like taking an open-book test! laugh
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/03/18 07:08 AM

Until the fog rolls in. That's the only time I've wished for a GPS unit, hiking in a forest in a foggy snow flurry. Happily, we found the trail we needed to get home.

I love maps, and learned navigation both hiking and sailing. But every once in a while I find myself thinking: "I wish I could a better view of exactly where we are..."
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/03/18 01:40 PM

Like W_D, I learned to navigate--as a youngster--with ancient 30-minute USGS maps and even more inaccurate USFS trail maps. Reading the terrain was really important!

Some modern maps aren't always accurate, either. I remember one area in the Glacier Peak Wilderness where all the maps did not show the trail where it really was. All of us in the party were livid because the maps all showed the trail following a contour, while the actual trail went way, way up, way, way down, up again, and down again. According to the one person in the party who had an altimeter, the actual trail crossed a lot of contour lines!
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/13/18 03:40 AM

"The buck stops at your own internal sense of direction, time and place."

That's true. You can lose maps and run out of power for gizmos. Two of the GPSs I've had just quit working with no sign of any problem beforehand. I like them, but I wouldn't want to have to count on them.
Posted by: Lonerock

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/16/18 12:19 PM

I used to work under contract with the BLM and forest service as a wildlife biologist. Most of my work was in very remote areas where there were no trails. Initially I relied on map and compass because the early gps units at that time were pretty unreliable (I bought a $300 unit that would rarely get a signal or maintain it once obtained). As the years progressed and the gps units improved then I began to use them more often but still relied primarily on my maps and compass.
Now days I'm a big believer in having multiple sources of information from different maps in both paper form and downloaded onto a gps app plus my knowledge of nature and terrain aquired over many years. I don't believe there is only one right way to navigate. Getting lost can be miserable and dangerous (been there and done that!) and the more resources you have available the better your chances of getting back home safely.
Posted by: Jim M

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/22/18 08:06 PM

The other thing is, I think, that navigating the old fashion way is fun. We went cross country in the Olympic Mts. last year to the most lovely place where no one else ever goes. It was tricky. I didn't take my GPS or Forerunner so it was all map and compass and dead reckoning (r = d/t). Very rewarding. When my daughter was in basic in the Army she knew a little about navigating with map and compass and they thought she was a genius. Came in handy. Often does. Very rewarding.
Posted by: 41253

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/23/18 09:27 PM

I've heard the term "dead reckoning" forever but never knew what it meant: I guess it's a 4-state Kalman Filter.

The time aspect of distance estimation was the one I never appreciated much until the event that caused me to begin this thread. It was a dark, cloudy night in unfamiliar territory. My phone was dead and so I didn't have the map or GPS I'd used to select and reach the off-trail spot where I was. Recovering from a stomach bug,thirsty, and finally able to hold down water and move I knew I had to find an obscure road trace off of a long, straight pipeline trace with few landmarks. Thanks to a paper map I knew that the junction was just about two miles from where I was. It's surprisingly hard for me to estimate the passage of 45 minutes in my head. I was glad to have my mechanical watch and tiny watchband compass. I still overshot a few times, but I eventually found the road trace and the creek I was looking for and was quite a bit more comfortable at the pickup point the next morning.
Posted by: Lonerock

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/24/18 11:38 AM

Sounds like you made some good decisions in finding your way out of a bad situation. I think it's difficult not to feel some degree of panic when you're suddenly disoriented. I've found that secret is not to make rash decisions and stay put until you calm down and are able to make logical choices.
Having at least one decent map and a compass will always be essential. As someone pointed out it's also fun to navigate with a map and compass plus it gives you a historical connection to those who have used a map and compass over many past generations.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Map, compass, and watch: not quite obsolete yet - 04/25/18 11:49 AM

"Dead Reckoning" is more accurately written Ded Reckoning, as it is an abbreviation for Deduced Reckoning. sailors us this term to note their position on a chart when they have no other positional fix. Ded Reckoning is best summarized by: "I think I've gone this far in this direction, but I have no way of checking the accuracy of that." Once you can take a fix, either from surrounding landmarks or celestial navigation, you update that position with a more accurate one, and note how you confirmed it. Then you start your next Ded Reckoning from that point...