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#105122 - 10/24/08 06:59 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: azcanyon]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
ALL
if you are using a 3/8" diameter compass just to keep track of north, you are are not "navigating by compass". I do the same thing by looking at the sky. If you cannot take actual bearings, or follow a precise angle, then the compass is just an aid, not a navigation tool. I wasn't aware that they could simply reverse, but that certainly throws a wrench into the whole myth of "dependability" of compass navigation. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#105123 - 10/25/08 02:35 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2865
Loc: California
compasses get messed up if you are on or near any rock that has significant iron content. I have had them mess up in areas of metamorphic rock too. Rocks that have been re-heated often become magnetic. If I think a compass is wrong I take a good look at the rock around me. Avoid setting a compass on a rock to take a reading. There are also magnetic flares from the sun that can cause problems. There actually is a government agency (cannot remember which) out of Colorado that puts out magnetic forecasts. I used to run magnatometer lines and would have to check the forecast each day. There were some days that I just could not get reliable data.

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#105124 - 10/25/08 03:56 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
rootball Offline
member

Registered: 06/16/08
Posts: 112
Compass always. I never use it, but the mirror is nice to check for boogers. GPS when I bushwhack. Just would not feel comfortable without it. I've been lost, taken wrong turns, got scared. One time in the winter I got real scared - I woke up with unexpected snow and could not find the trail to save my life. Did not have gloves. Visibility was poor. I was alone as usual. I did not have the GPS, but it wasn't gonna show me where the trail was - nor was the compass that I did have. I guess if I was headed to Alaskan backcountry I would bone up on some skills, but for now I will just curl up the fetal position until some hapless hiker stumbles over me. Besides, I always know where I am in relation to the nearest airport and can always find my direction by listening to the constant fly over noise - that should get me close to a local road where the noise of stinkin' Harleys seems to travel on forever. I guess if I was daft, and did not pay attention I could wander around in a circle between the infinite maze of roads and never see one, but if that happens I guess I deserve to be lost. Its like Horace Kephart said 'You are not lost unless you have to be at a certain place at a certain time'.

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#105125 - 10/25/08 04:55 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
azcanyon Offline
member

Registered: 07/12/04
Posts: 264
Quote:
ALL
if you are using a 3/8" diameter compass just to keep track of north, you are are not "navigating by compass". I do the same thing by looking at the sky. If you cannot take actual bearings, or follow a precise angle, then the compass is just an aid, not a navigation tool. I wasn't aware that they could simply reverse, but that certainly throws a wrench into the whole myth of "dependability" of compass navigation. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />

I'm well-aware of the limitations of the little zipper-pull compass. But hold on a second: you're suggesting no compass is necessary with your "look at the sky" method? <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" />

I'm assuming you mean daylight orientation, since waiting nine hours for Polaris to appear wouldn't be the wisest self-rescue strategy. Given the variables of time, latitude, seasonal variation of the sun's apparent path through the sky, weather, terrain, and so on, I'll go out on a limb and say that "looking at the sky" is not the most reliable orientation method. Indeed, it would be quite foolhardy to rely on this method as your exclusive or primary means of finding your way in a place you don't know well.

But, to revisit my main question: Why frame the issue as compass VS. gps, since they do two different (and useful) jobs? Maybe that's just a way to get the discussion going, which is fine. I guess part of the reason I linked to the little keychain compass is to ask, implicity, why anyone would choose to leave a compass at home, when it weighs only a few grams, costs only a few bucks, and (potential for magnetic switcheroos notwithstanding), is an extraordinarily reliable tool for orientation?

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#105126 - 10/25/08 07:36 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: azcanyon]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
azcanyon

In fact my fleece jacket zipper pull AND the one on the top pocket of my pack are identical REI compass/thermometer pulls. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" /> I carry 2 of those, but I don't consider them "Compasses for navigation". My GPS also has a true north compass.

I brought this up as a A vs B because of the sentiment about the ten essentials and compasses, along with the oft mentioned idea that compass and map navigation is essential for beginners. Many people disdain relying on electronics and having to carry batteries, but the ease with which GPS can find a precise spot is a very valuable tool for self rescue.

We oriented our map with the GPS compass but still couldn't figure out where we were, or where the truck was. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" /> but the GPS knew.
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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#105127 - 10/26/08 06:24 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
azcanyon Offline
member

Registered: 07/12/04
Posts: 264
Ah. As far as the ten essentials goes, I've always felt that the "essentials" should be areas of competence or coverage, rather than discrete objects. So instead of saying everyone should always carry a map, compass, and/or gps, there should just be a self-check to make sure you're covered under the general area of "Navigation." Usually that would include a map, compass, and knowledge of how to use them. But if, for example, you were taking a walk starting in your backyard in an area you know well, then you could simply bring your mental map and call yourself covered.

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#105128 - 10/29/08 11:30 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: phat]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3917
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Quote:
fumbling through the menus on
the etrex makes me see red even when not cold hurt and distoriented


Me too. I have an eMap and it's much easier to use. phat, I don't think it's as much you as it is the user interface design employed in the eTrex. It's clunky. Everyone I know that has an eTrex has trouble finding the feature they want to access with it.

I have Garmin's topomaps loaded into the eMap. I usually take the GPS, a compass, and a part of the Quad map for the area I'm hiking. Used all together, I think you actually will improve your map and compass skills.

It's kind of like using a spell checker. After misspelling the same word time and again, you learn how to spell it correctly.

Bill
_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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#105129 - 10/29/08 01:55 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: billstephenson]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
Quote:

After misspelling the same word time and again, you learn how to spell it correctly.

Bill


Well, I am living proof that this is not true. I consistently mix sweat and sweet. Plus there are many words that I always have to use spell checker, and I never get right, no matter how many times. Good thing Firefox has a built in spell check. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

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#105130 - 10/29/08 04:45 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: finallyME]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3917
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Quote:
Quote:

After misspelling the same word time and again, you learn how to spell it correctly.

Bill


Well, I am living proof that this is not true. I consistently mix sweat and sweet. Plus there are many words that I always have to use spell checker, and I never get right, no matter how many times. Good thing Firefox has a built in spell check. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />


Yeah, I have words like that too, always get them wrong, and entire days when I can't spell anythign. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
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"You want to go where?"



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#105131 - 10/29/08 05:45 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: azcanyon]
Folkalist Offline
member

Registered: 03/17/07
Posts: 374
Loc: Fredericksburg, VA
AZ, I like your take on the ten essentials. That makes a lot of sense and leaves endless latitude for individual variation when it comes to the physical manisfestation of the ten essentials.
_________________________
Why am I online instead of hiking?

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#105132 - 11/08/08 03:17 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Folkalist]
RobA Offline
member

Registered: 05/21/02
Posts: 92
In my 07 pct hike, I met a few folks with reliable GPS. Until then I had a Garman etex- Vista and never used it. Here in virginia i could get a signal very rarely when in the woods.


These new units seem to do much better getting a solid signal in the woods, and they also seem to link up much faster. (for the keep them off, and turn on when needed use).


I had used GPS for boating reliably, but never felt much use for one hiking around here.

When I traveled out west for the first time I certainly can see how they can be used easier. A lot less overhead tree growth. And more remote areas.



I'm glad I have basic navigation skills. Mostly learned from my flying lessons and sailing from Florida to Venezuela solo.

On the sailing trip I always had the gps on. Over a year it only blinked out a few times. But once in a very crital area going through a reef with the sun not in the ideal position. Having already viewed my charts, and keeping on course with the compass I followed my line safely through the hazards. I would also write down my lat/long every 30 mins or so incase the gps went out I could deviate or aproximate my position.



Why not learn to use a map and compass? It's easy and will stay with you forever.


I don't feel like the compass is dated like a sextant is.




For the folks who rely on the GPS, what happens when you drop that puppy in the water or campfire or you leave it on a rock 10 miles back. Do you have a map and a know how to get back to your truck? Or did you just blindly rely on that stored waypoint in the unit?

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#105133 - 11/11/08 05:32 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: OregonMouse]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Mouse,

"I got off the train in Grindelwald, Switzerland and started to navigate my way up the hill to the youth hostel"
_____________________________________


I met my first true love on News Years eve at the youth hostel in Grindevald in 1968. I was the Christmas chess champion of the hostel. I met a nurse from Geneva and lived with her for 3 months. At Least it kept me from continuing on towards Tibet. <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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#105134 - 11/12/08 01:53 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Tango61]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
LOLOLOL Tango, you just remined me of a time I got thoroughly disoriented...

I'm an east coaster, and growing up I got used to the ocean being on my LEFT as I drove south. I found myself in California one day, being given a tour by a co-worker. After driving what seemed to be circles for a while he suggested we drive SOUTH from Huntington Beach to a restaurant on the coast. After a while of driving I asked my friend why we were driving NORTH if we were supposed to be heading toward San Diego... He got a good laugh out of it by the time I realized I was on the WEST coast (a bit jet lagged at the time).

Also, growing up the mountains were always to the WEST, even when I lived in Colordao the mountains were to the west. In Anchorage, the mountains are to the EAST. It took me a long time to orient myself to this new reality.

MNS
_________________________
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.

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#105135 - 11/13/08 02:49 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: midnightsun03]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
In the Salt Lake Valley, you have mountains on the east and west of you. It is easy if you know which are suppose to be where (ie. the bigger ones are east), but telling a new comer can get confusing. And, if they are really close to the small ones, they may think they are bigger. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

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#105136 - 11/13/08 04:29 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: finallyME]
Spock Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/06
Posts: 679
Loc: Central Texas
Why are we talking about this? We are backpackers, right? We carry our stuff with us. Home is where the pack is. As Daniel Boone said, "I have never been lost. But I have been a mite disoriented for a couple of days." Get lost. See new country. Go where no man has ever gone before <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />

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#105137 - 11/14/08 08:30 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: midnightsun03]
chaz Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Tennessee
I think everyone gets turned around once in a while. I have a general direction compass built into the truck. Maybe everyone should carry one of those button general direction.

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#105138 - 11/16/08 09:04 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
Bmach Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/05
Posts: 25
I would never go anywhere that I am not familier with, with out carrying a compass and map as a bacup to my gps. I love the gps over a compass but would never ever not have a compass and map as a backup. If the gps dies or breaks I like having a backup.

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#105139 - 11/25/08 01:30 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Bmach]
gorge_medic Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/08
Posts: 131
Loc: Kentucky
I've never really used a GPS, and my main backpacking/hiking area isn't very conducive to a GPS (the Red River Gorge...LOTS of trees and LOTS of rock formations to bounce a signal around). I use a topo map and compass and don't really have any problems knowing where I am; however, knowing that you're likely to be mistaken on your EXACT location by a few meters/yards is a given. I don't really need to know precisely how many meters from the trailhead I am, so the benefits of a GPS doesn't outweigh the limitations. Like a previous poster, I do SAR as well and there is a big push to rely on compass as a primary means of navigation, using GPS as a backup or possibly to mark the exact locations of clues or a victim location.

I hate the fact that I see lots of folks walk into the woods without a map, relying only on their GPS to get them to where they want to go. Being able to "read" a topo map is just a necessity, IMO, and being limited to a GPS and your next waypoint would be just disappointing to me. Hell, most of the really breathtaking spots in the Red are off the trail. How would you know that they're even there?

I guess that, like with any other gear, what you carry should be the best tools for the job at hand and that meet your comfort level. If you need the precision, go GPS. If you can get by with a map and compass and some navigaiton skills, do that instead. If you need both features, carry both.

Just make sure you can read a d*^% map <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

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#105140 - 11/26/08 06:16 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: gorge_medic]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
george

SOme interesting thoughts there.

I always assumed that most hikers use a topo map like a highway may. That is - if they stay on the trail, they should be able to figure where on the trail they are. Do to the extreme difference between topo contours and actually being there, its a tough call to say that a topo will help you find more places than you would find by wandering around and seeing close up in real time. Since I am rarely ever on a trail, a topo has little to offer me. If I can SEE the canyon, mtn etc, then I don't need a topo to know its there, and if I'm wandering around on a mountain I frankly could care less where I am, as long as I can find my truck when its time to go home, and I'll travel cross country following a GPS directional arrow because it has never failed me yet, whereas other systems have.

I think if I look at a map at home, it has little value to me on the trail, and often the maps are wrong and just confuse you. I trust my GPS. I mean GPS systems are accurate and reliable enough to be incorporated into missles and to deliver payload with extreme accuracy. The technology is not in its infancy. Do you worry about your wrist watch failing?
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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#105141 - 11/27/08 08:55 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
Bearpaw Offline
Moderator

Registered: 07/25/04
Posts: 1732
Loc: Tennessee
Quote:

I think if I look at a map at home, it has little value to me on the trail, and often the maps are wrong and just confuse you. I trust my GPS. I mean GPS systems are accurate and reliable enough to be incorporated into missles and to deliver payload with extreme accuracy. The technology is not in its infancy. Do you worry about your wrist watch failing?
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />


I have to stongly disagree on this one Jim. I've learned to see the contours on a map better than a picture could hope to present them. Granted, I've used them for many years as a forward observer and supporting arms coordinator in the Marine Corps, as well as using those same contours when travelling in the snow-covered mountains while a NOLS instructor. But to me, the map is generally more convenient than GPS.

As for reliability, I've dealt with GPS failures on a handful of occasions, either because we were in areas where GPS satellites were not readily accessible like northern Norway, in deep valleys (Absaroka range), or due to heavy tree cover (southeastern Tennessee). GPS is generally reliable, but beyond losing a map, the map has never failed me.

Those GPS guided systems? They're all high in the sky with NO intervening terrain or canopy to disrupt them. For ground dwellers, there really is a "what it?" factor.

I believe if hikers learned map reading BEFORE using GPS (and resorting to cell phones), "disaster" experiences would be fewer. But it has also been my experience that those who first learn to use GPS NEVER really learn to read a map.
_________________________
http://www.trailjournals.com/BearpawAT99/

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#105142 - 11/27/08 01:46 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Bearpaw]
Pika Online   content
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1813
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
I'm with Bearpaw on this one. If I had to choose one way to navigate, I would always choose a map and compass. Fortunately, I don't have to choose. I will always have a map and compass with me; I will occasionally take a GPS along although I seldom feel the need for it. I may be a Luddite but I don't think so. I am just a lot more comfortable with a map than I am with a GPS.

I learned to use a map and compass a long time ago as a working forester and as a working soldier and am a pretty fair hand at finding my way around with a map. Do I (did I) get lost? Sure, but so far I have always been able to get unlost by myself.

When I was a faculty member in forestry at Colorado State University, I used to teach map and compass techniques at our forestry summer camp; in later years the course started including use of GPS. This was when the average GPS unit was about the size of a brick and they were still dithering the satellite signal as a security measure.

We used to have teams of students regularly get lost during field exercises. They were mostly able to find their way home once they thought things over. The worst a group got lost was a group that had a GPS unit; the person carrying it fell into a creek while holding it and the thing quit. While the students had a map and several compasses, none of them were able to find their way back to the camp headquarters. They finally crossed a road with some traffic and hitched a ride back to camp around midnight; we had just started the search process and were able to call it off. The map they had was wet but still usable. Frankly, I don't think they would have gotten lost if they had been primarily relying on the map rather than the GPS.
_________________________
May I walk in beauty.

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#105143 - 11/28/08 05:39 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Pika]
HikerMatt Offline
member

Registered: 09/20/08
Posts: 21
Loc: Michigan
This is an interesting discussion. Myself, I usually grab a trail map of the area I am hiking on, and when I want to venture off trail, I mark where I was with my GPS so incase I can't find my way back to the trail myself, I will find a clearing (or some area) where the GPS can get signal and get the general direction of the trail and then use my compass to find my way back. Sometimes I will recheck my progress on the GPS.

I think that relying completely on one or the other is down to personal preference, I just can't trust my map reading skills enough to not have a backup plan. Normally, I like to just use a general heading when I leave the trail, such as, I left heading east, so the way back to the trail is west.

I haven't much experience hiking outside of Michigan, but even in pretty dense forest, I have not had a problem getting a GPS signal, although it may take an increased time to get one.
_________________________
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http://m-harrison.com

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#105144 - 11/28/08 06:07 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Pika]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3967
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Pika
I think down where you live, a map should be adequate without a compass. Territory like where you live is big and open with weird identifiable landscape. I also feel completely at home in the high sierra without a compass and generally without a map. BUT here in the Cascades the plant life is dense and the terrain is rolling with no identifiable landmarks unless you can see one of our mountain peaks.

If I was lost out here in the forest I would simply head south and I would cross the highway sooner or later and hitch home. I generally don't need a compass to know which way is south.

But I digress. I normally carry nothing so the GPS is sort of a backup to my wilderness skills. I have spent a lifetime paying attention to my surroundings and finding my way home like Daniel Boone would. Sometimes I have a might bit of problem getting the last tenth of a mile to my camp of truck.

Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with carrying a map and compass and some places it just would be stupid not to, but they are not easy to use and to suggest that all beginners should have them sort of implies that they know how to use them. When Longhair and I got lost trying to get back to my truck, the map was absolutely worthless due to circumstances, limited visibility in fog, etc, BUT we were near the tree line and got good signals. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#105145 - 11/28/08 07:18 PM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Jimshaw]
Heber Offline
member

Registered: 12/31/07
Posts: 245
Loc: St. Louis, Missouri
That's exactly my problem here in the Ozarks. In summer you can't see landmarks to orient yourself like you can in the desert. Of course in the winter it's another story. Once the leaves have fallen a map and compass work great because all the trees lose their leaves (as opposed the the pacific northwest where you mostly have evergreens). So that's why I've been thinking about a GPS. My Daniel Boone skills aren't anywhere near as good as Jim's I guess. I've been pretty bewildered sometimes.

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#105146 - 11/30/08 08:01 AM Re: compass vs GPS [Re: Bearpaw]
chaz Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Tennessee
Quote:
I believe if hikers learned map reading BEFORE using GPS (and resorting to cell phones), "disaster" experiences would be fewer. But it has also been my experience that those who first learn to use GPS NEVER really learn to read a map.


I agree. Learning to use a map and compass first should be a given. I remember being taught basic map and compass in the scouts. I enjoy using topo maps to get a feel for the area I'm planning to visit. I did go with a GPS and map and compass on the last trip to the Ponca wilderness area in Ark. and found the Map and Compass (and mostly the map) gave me most of the information I needed. The GPS was useful in verifing the elevation and location. The GPS (etrex) had to catch up when we didn't have canopy cover. On the point that Jim was making on just wandering around an area (like slot canyons or whatever), I can see where a GPS can get you back from getting yourself lost. But If the unit fails for any reason then you could be in trouble. I won't go anywhere without a map. I even use a map when hiking a local trail route that is well marked. Not for the fact that I could get lost on a simple loop but I find it fun and skillful to know where I am all the time. Plus I can make notations on key points of interest.
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Enjoy your next trip...

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