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#105097 - 10/19/08 11:25 AM compass vs GPS
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Hi
I am a GPS user. Its a complicated device, difficult to relate your GPS location to a map, can run low on batteries BUT - it knows where you are, and it can find discrete points on the surface of the Earth and no map or visibility is required to find your truck using one.

Compasses only point to magnetic north? To use a compass for more than casual use - like north is thata way, you must know and understand magnetic deviation. You must be able to orient your map to true north. Your map must be accurate and show the trail you are on - what you are not on a trail, or its Winter and the trails are covered by snow. If you can get some bearings on known high spots, you might be able to triangulate your position if you have a pencil and straight edge, or a GPS - Map converter tool. If its raining your map can get wet, if its foggy you can't see anything to get a bearing. All you will in fact know if you are lost with a compass is - north is thataway.

However my GPS can and has located my truck under pretty bad conditions of fog, rain, snow and darkness. I often ski Xcountry at night by GPS.

But if yer gonna be a heavy GPS user, you will need a computerised topo maps and Google Earth to set way points and to relate to where you are. When worst comes to worst I put the maps back in the pack and follow the GPS.

Also if an approach was made through very tricky mountainous country, a GPS can help you follow EXACTLY the same path getting home.
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#105098 - 10/19/08 12:02 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
The nerd in me knows my Etrex is better. My biggest problem with relying on it is actually one of confidence, not in the device, and this may sound really stupid - but in myself! I learned from a young age how to deal with air photos, compass and topo, and although I think I'm a lot less "traditional" than you Jim, I just find myself really old and set in my ways in this regard. When I look at it rationally, I think it is kinda stupid, and I should just practice enough with my GPS unit so that I am confident myself in my use of it it to deal with it. Everything you are saying there is dead on, especially knowing the declination (having been on a number of trips to find newbs who believed their "compass was broken".) and GPS, properly used, just does not have this problem, as long as you have a battery for it and nobody has shot the sattelites out of the sky. On the other hand I'm pretty sure my map
and compass skills are ingrained in me pretty deep, and fumbling through the menus on
the etrex makes me see red even when not cold hurt and distoriented - and I know there's
a solution for that (practice!)

Perhaps part of it with me too is I do so much dratted technology day to day that I hate being beholden to a computer when out in the sticks where I go to get away from it <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" /> So for me, I don't use it, and yes, that's irrational and stupid.

Is there a moral to this post? well, maybe not - other than whatever you use be sure you
can do it cold, wet, disoriented and in your sleep.

I suppose while I'm practicing that for self improvement I could get over my irrational fear of spiders too.. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
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My 3 season gear list
Winter list.
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#105099 - 10/19/08 12:33 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: phat]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
phat
I can't count the number of times that I have arrived at a trail head, marked a way point, then thrown the gps into the pack turned off and not even turned it on again unless I lose the truck getting back. I would not want a head up display built into my glasses. I like to go on major walks and try to find my way back to camp going cross country carrying the gps turned off, BUT often I end up a tenth of a mile upstream from my camp and decide to turn on the GPS only to find that I had almost located camp on my own. I think that for someone like yourself living in pretty open country with few trails, a gps would be ideal. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />

On my trip with Longhair we still got lost because I turned the gps off after leaving the trail head. Had I placed it antenna up in the top of my pack turned on, it would have recorded the trail back to the truck - duh. But I didn't want to use it unless it was an emergency, and it became one. It was nice to know where the truck was, it would have been nice to know where the TRAIL was too. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#105100 - 10/19/08 01:01 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2865
Loc: California
I think whatever "aids" we use to navigate, we need to utilize these to improve our innate sense of direction. My partner and I play a little game - he uses the GPS and I only use a map and my wits (no compass) and see who gets back to camp the fastest! I usually win. The down side of using a GPS is that you can easily let your less technical navigation skills get rusty. What I found is that since my partner is directionally challenged, using the GPS has improved his success in navigating, thus he pays more attention to where he is.

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#105101 - 10/19/08 01:02 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
Jim,

Yup, I have used a GPS even to set orienteering courses.

However, I like maps. I have an atlas on the end table next to the couch and enjoy browsing. I have done field work for orienteering maps. I have a box full of quads all folded and in alphabetical order. I have display maps on the walls.

I have used a GPS to locate the trailhead, then left the GPS in the vehicle while hiking.

A GPS is good to have in your tool box, but I would have some other navigation tools. Map reading is my primary navigation technique. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

The GPS is the clear winner in the compas v. GPS. However map reading will beat the GPS most of the time.

My wife will tell you that I spend a good part of my life lost or disoriented. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />

.


Edited by food (10/19/08 01:06 PM)
_________________________
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#105102 - 10/19/08 04:35 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
chuck Offline
member

Registered: 10/01/02
Posts: 83
As a member of a wilderness search and rescue team I consider myself very experienced with a GPS and map & compass, as everthing we do is bushwacking. My preference, along with almost all I know who do this, is map & compass. However, GPS is great as a backup to check me when terrain is tough to read. A GPS is a wonderful thing and used correctly can be a tool as well. However, nothing gives me the confidence as a topos map with compass.

The problem with GPS's is that they are electronics that run on batteries so the potential problems become obvious. The newest with best electronics can still have difficulty under a heavy canapy (east coast).

GPS does have a place in my SAR gear, and they are fun to play with while in the outdoors, setting waypoints, breadcrumbs, etc. On flat featureless terrain, a GPS becomes very helpful, but still you need to be aware of it's limitations.

I would be very wary, actually would never, rely exclusively on a GPS but I also would never give up my Garmin 60CSx.

Chuck

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#105103 - 10/19/08 08:32 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
Heber Offline
member

Registered: 12/31/07
Posts: 245
Loc: St. Louis, Missouri
I'm glad someone brought this up. I don't own GPS but I've been thinking about a simple one like an eTrex H. When the leaves are on the trees here in the midwest it's easy to get lost because you can't see any landmarks. I like to use the map and compass but on occasions when I do get lost I just need someone to tell me exactly where I am. Then I'd go back to the map.

Haven't decided to take the plunge yet but I'm considering it.

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#105104 - 10/20/08 06:47 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3591
Loc: Texas
Compass vs. GPS....Jim, they both have their place. I prefer map and compass for the simplicity. When hiking, I rarely have to navigate to within feet of a target.
Plus, I've cached water off trail, marked the waypoint, and the GPS had me 300 feet (a football field sized error) off target when I got back around to re-supply, with WAAS. A map and compass triangulation had me dead on. I use both when in doubt. On trail, and with a good view, one compass bearing to a feature is all you need to find your place on a mapped trail.
I don't like GPS's in cars, even though I have one, it's just too much of a distraction.
I LOVE my GPS in the kayak or powerboat....it measures speed, plus, it helps me find all those nice creeks and waterfalls that sometimes aren't obvious on a map.
Plus, I don't have to stop paddling to see where I am. This all comes in real handy when out on a craggy lake with lots of coves, or crossing big water in wind and waves.
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#105105 - 10/20/08 07:16 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: wandering_daisy]
Hector Offline
member

Registered: 12/20/04
Posts: 325
Loc: LA/ARK/TX corner
> The down side of using a GPS is that you can easily let your less technical
> navigation skills get rusty.

I agree with that. I turn mine on only at rest stops, take a reading, set a waypoint, and turn it back off. If something bad happens, I can use it to backtrack. Otherwise, I just follow the map.

I also find that it I try to leave it on it distracts me from the very important business of enjoying a nice walk in the woods.

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#105106 - 10/20/08 07:31 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Hector]
scottmphoto Offline
member

Registered: 08/18/08
Posts: 31
Loc: Russellville, Arkansas, USA
Being an old Boy Scout from WAY back, I'll never give up my map and compass but I have recently discovered geocaching. It's a lot of fun.
There are pro's and con's for both map & compass and GPS. It's all about using the right tool for the job.
I now always carry both but rely solely on neither.
_________________________
Scott W. McClure
Photographer -
Scoutmaster Troop 202
Eagle Scout - BSA /
Vigil Honor - Order of the Arrow


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#105107 - 10/20/08 09:35 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Heber]
chuck Offline
member

Registered: 10/01/02
Posts: 83
Heber,

"When the leaves are on the trees here in the midwest it's easy to get lost because you can't see any landmarks. " - When leaves are on trees a GPS can and if thick enough will have trouble getting a signal, or a accurate one. The higher end units such as the Garmin 60CSx have better reception under foliage than the eTrex's.

In my non-professional personal experience your desire to get a GPS based on use under foilage may be problematic. I would test it before heading into woods, and then only use as backup.

My unasked for two cents.

Chuck

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#105108 - 10/20/08 11:36 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
Jim you would have found the truck without the GPS if only you knew how to use a map. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> Just kidding.

I think they both have their place. I don't own a GPS. Instead I follow my map and am always looking at it to verify position. Here in the mountains it is very easy to navigate and triangulate. I hardly ever use the ol' compass because the topo is so descriptive that I always know where I am. But, I haven't trounced around in the snow yet (this will be my first winter to start up snowshoeing). Maybe I will change my tune. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />

I did use a GPS in Iraq. There it is all flat with no features other than roads (if the map is correct). As a truck driver, we drove all over the place. In the beginning, we were given a drop off or pick up coordinate. No directions, and sometimes no map. We would use a GPS and just follow it around until we got to our destination. Lets just say we turned around a lot. Later they gave us MTS systems that had a computer with maps and a GPS in one. It was great, but for some reason our officers still managed to get us lost (despite us noncoms knowing how to get there and not being listened to <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" /> ). Oh well, it is good for a Captain to realize he is a moron in front of a bunch of noncoms. It builds character. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> In Iraq, I would take a GPS over a map any day, although both would be the best.
_________________________
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

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#105109 - 10/20/08 11:50 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: finallyME]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
The most dangerous weapon in the army is a shavetail with a .45 and map. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />

Unfortunately friendly fire. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />

That conforms with a long military tradition. The battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed's Hill.
_________________________
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#105110 - 10/20/08 12:01 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: ringtail]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
At West Point, they teach a 3 credit hour class entitled.."How to get you and your troops lost and caught in an ambush". There have been a few who failed it, but most pass with flying colors. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

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#105111 - 10/20/08 01:42 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: finallyME]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

I don't think they teach that course exclusively at West Point. Judging from personal experience seeing the results (deer hunting on a huge army training base up here) That course is taught with widespread uptake at RMC and Sandhurst as well as a while variety of commonweath officer mills as well <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
Any fool can be uncomfortable...
My 3 season gear list
Winter list.
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#105112 - 10/20/08 03:34 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: finallyME]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
Remember, a captain used to be a 2nd lieutenant and, as the old saying goes, there's nothing more dangerous than an ensign with an idea or a second lieutenant with a map. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

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#105113 - 10/20/08 03:36 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: ringtail]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
Of course, most of the classic Navy stories (PT109, John Paul Jones, Commodore Perry, etc.) begin, "After they sank my ship..." <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />

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#105114 - 10/20/08 04:27 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Glenn]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6738
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I have to confess that I'm something of a luddite. I have considerable map and compass and other navigation skills (frequently turning to observe the back trail, particularly at trail intersections, is one). I have never even considered taking a GPS. It's just another gadget that eats batteries and that I would have to spend considerable time learning to use. With my computer, camera and cell phone, I have enough of those already. Life is too short!
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#105115 - 10/20/08 04:34 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: chuck]
chaz Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Tennessee
I don't own a GPS but considered buying one. I use topo maps for the areas I visit and a general direction compass is mostly all that's needed. My Son does own the etrex and it would loose signal under fairly dense foliage. We would stop often to let it regain the signal.
_________________________
Enjoy your next trip...

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#105116 - 10/20/08 06:04 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Glenn]
Bearpaw Offline
Moderator

Registered: 07/25/04
Posts: 1732
Loc: Tennessee
Except those were all infantry officers. When you're an artillery officer, who knows that a six-gun sheaf of fire will plaster 8 football fields with shrapnel, you stay pretty motivated to know where you are.

Most infantry captains simply turned to me and asked "Art'y, where the hell are we?" We didn't have to concentrate on moving 40 Marines (2d Lieutenant) or 160 (Captain), so I could keep very close tabs on where we actually were, using topographic features from the map, an occasional compass bearing and so forth.

Nowadays I much prefer a map for navigation. If the terrain in flat and heavily forested (NC coastal areas for instance) a compass is nice. If I'm with my wife, a GPS is occasionally nice to play with (since I don't carry one on solo trips). They all have a place.

I'm surprised no one hasw mentioned using the sun for a quick orientation. It's my best quick reference versus a compass.

My concern with GPS is mostly for those who don't have a decent foundation in basic orienteering who rely totally on GPS. I really do feel that those who wander into the backcountry ought to have at least very basic map skills.
_________________________
http://www.trailjournals.com/BearpawAT99/

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#105117 - 10/20/08 07:25 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
Trailrunner Offline
member

Registered: 01/05/02
Posts: 1835
Loc: Los Angeles
They go together, like peas and carrots.

I usually bring both.

I would never go out without a paper map regardless of which one I use.

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#105118 - 10/20/08 07:35 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Bearpaw]
Tango61 Offline
member

Registered: 12/27/05
Posts: 931
Loc: East Texas Piney Woods
Quote:
I'm surprised no one hasw mentioned using the sun for a quick orientation. It's my best quick reference versus a compass.


The sun sets in the east, right?

Seriously, I had someone say this to me once. I just shook my head in disbelief.

I have two family members, that are directionally challenged. Thus, it is always "go here and turn right", Get "there" and turn left. Of course, I have to know which direction they are going.

Oh the joys. HeHeHe

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#105119 - 10/23/08 09:08 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Trailrunner]
azcanyon Offline
member

Registered: 07/12/04
Posts: 264
t-runner wrote
Quote:
They go together, like peas and carrots.

I usually bring both.

I would never go out without a paper map regardless of which one I use.

Hear hear. I never really got the one vs. the other comparison, (like a cage-match, maybe? <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> ) since they are two different technologies, and there are different tools for different jobs.

I do think gps is most useful when you have waypoints programmed in advance--preferably on a computer. A gps that talks to a cd-rom or other map program is a very nifty device. I use an inexpensive garmin geko 201 (I think) that's worked fine for years.

But a compass can become a lifeline. If I'm planning to really navigate with the map, I might bring a simple baseplate compass. But I also picked up a little compass/thermometer zipper-pull-type thing ( this one, actually ) , and it works like a charm for simple but reliable navigation if you keep track of things.

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#105120 - 10/23/08 02:41 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Tango61]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6738
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I actually saw the sun set in the east, 7 years ago. I got off the train in Grindelwald, Switzerland and started to navigate my way up the hill to the youth hostel. I looked at the rather sketchy map from the hostel website, looked at my little zipper-pull compass and then looked at the sun and thought "what the...." There must have been some kind of power surge in the electric train that reversed the polarity of my little zipper-pull compass. The rest of my Europe trip was an interesting exercise in navigating with a reversed compass (south is north and west is east and northwest is ???). I almost got lost while hiking in France's Cevennes.

Moral: believe the sun before you believe your compass.
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#105121 - 10/23/08 02:47 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: OregonMouse]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3591
Loc: Texas
Quote:
There must have been some kind of power surge in the electric train that reversed the polarity of my little zipper-pull compass.


I've had that happen too. Those little Silva watch band compasses will reverse...had two do it. You can fix them by taking a strong bar magnet, a burglar alarm window switch magnet worked, and putting it on north. After a day or so, it should be fixed. Never really trusted them after that, though.
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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