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Map & compass
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Jen Churchward
(mahgnillig) - F
Map & compass on 06/14/2012 23:04:45 MDT Print View

I'm curious about how many people usually take a map & compass with them when backpacking. I usually stick to well worn trails when backpacking or hiking, and though I always have a compass with me, I've never used it! I don't have any maps of the areas I hike (Sierras - Tahoe area mostly), and I'm debating the merits of buying some. Every time I see a list of the "10 Essentials" it has a map & compass on it somewhere, and I wonder if I'm being remiss in not carrying maps. I almost always have a GPS with me (DeLorme PN-40) which has topo maps on it, but I use it more for measuring how far I've gone and finding nearby geocaches than actual navigating, and half the time I don't bother turning it on. What are everyone's thoughts on this? Do you carry a map and compass religiously, or only if you're expecting to be off the beaten track?

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Map & compass on 06/14/2012 23:22:46 MDT Print View

I always carry a map & compass. I rarely (very rarely) use the compass, but I carry one anyway.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Map & compass on 06/14/2012 23:32:54 MDT Print View

The size and resolution on a GPS display is poor (compared to a printed topo map), so you really can't see that much detail. So, my primary navigational tool is a printed custom topo map for the area where I am operating. That stays in a very thin transparent plastic bag. I do carry a tiny GPS receiver with me, but it is more of a backup tool. Often I will turn it on only once or twice per day, and it is used more if the weather gets bad and the visibility decreases. I carry a tiny compass with me, but that is more of a backup to the backup, and it gets used about once per year.


Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Nav on 06/14/2012 23:44:38 MDT Print View

"I do carry a tiny GPS receiver with me"

Which one?

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Map & compass on 06/14/2012 23:46:16 MDT Print View

I carry both religously, even if I think I know the area well. Rarely does the compass get used. My maps are handy most of the time if for nothing other than personal comfort, knowing I can get a good overview of the area I'm in - especially when I wander off the correct path.

With a well-groomed, well-marked trail, especially one that you're familiar with or have researched at home carefully, maps may be of little use.

Maps are invaluable when (1) forced to take an alternate route for some reason [blowdown, trail closure, forest fire, landslide, swollen waterway, etc.] or (2) to find an emergency bailout route [where does this trail/road go?] or (3) for when I want to go exploring from my campsite. That side trail might lead to a really secluded lake where I can skinny-dip or get away from the unwashed hiker trash.

Strip maps may be fine for the trail, but they're useless for anything else (ok, maybe as fire tinder) because they don't show features more than a few yards either side of the trail. Be sure you get large enough scale maps for the area you're in. Two perfect examples - the Trails Illustrated maps from National Geographic and the for maps of a particular National Forest/BLM area/Wilderness area.

Edited by wandering_bob on 06/14/2012 23:48:47 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Nav on 06/15/2012 00:13:17 MDT Print View

It's a rather old Garmin Geko. With batteries, it is about three ounces.

On a different trip, if I think I will need to do some moderately serious GPS navigation, I use an even older Garmin GPS 12XL.


Barry Cuthbert
(nzbazza) - MLife

Locale: New Zealand
Re: Map & compass on 06/15/2012 00:25:36 MDT Print View

Always carry map and compass, and sometimes a GPS. The compass only gets used off track, the GPS is usually only used for altitude rather position , and the map is looked at often.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Map & compass on 06/15/2012 00:31:23 MDT Print View

"the GPS is usually only used for altitude rather position"

That's interesting. Altitude is one of the least accurate functions of a plain GPS receiver. Some have barometric altimeters built in, but that is mostly separate from the GPS functions. Of course, barometric altimeters are only as accurate as the weather is stable.


Barry Cuthbert
(nzbazza) - MLife

Locale: New Zealand
Re: Re: Re: Map & compass on 06/15/2012 02:48:49 MDT Print View

A lot of the tramping I do is climbing or descending steep bush-clad ridges to/from the ranges above the bushline. I know what ridge I'm on and its far easier for me to determine my position on that ridge by using the altitude from the GPS and the contour lines on the map, rather than try and hazard a guess on some poor sightings through the trees and weather, or try and work out the co-ordinates on a print-out topo map that has no grid numbers.

BTW I use an Etrex H, it claims an accuracy of about 10 metres either way, which is close enough for me.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: map and compass on 06/15/2012 07:57:41 MDT Print View

Map and compass. Always. I've never used a GPS, but a good topo and compass has seen me through many miles, and I wouldn't want to go anywhere without them.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Map and compass on 06/15/2012 08:05:03 MDT Print View

Always have them. Tend to use a map more, but I always have the compass handy.

Don't have a GPS. :)

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Map and Compass on 06/15/2012 08:15:54 MDT Print View

My Garmin Legend is long defunct, but my ultralight compasses live on. I carry either a very old Silva or newer Brunton Trooper. Small, but very useful and with little weight penalty.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
both on 06/15/2012 08:20:08 MDT Print View

as many have said the compass goes unused on many trips, but always carry it (the topo map is used extensively)- I also carry a small GPS (Foretrex 401) set to UTM, my topo map(s) are marked w/ UTM grids

my small compass (Silva 27) has a small mirror, so it can used for signaling or to self examine for fist aid related matters, @ 21 grams tough to leave it home

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: both on 06/15/2012 09:48:46 MDT Print View

I carry all three. What peak is that in the distance? Compass and topo tells you. Difficult by GPS with small screen, coarse direction.

I use the GPS for "collecting" bench marks. Find the brass benchmarks on the topo, hike to them, and add a waypoint.

Orienteering is a lot of fun too.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Map & compass on 06/15/2012 10:29:52 MDT Print View

Usually take a map and compass. Some trips neither. When doing cross country hiking in canyon country I take a military lensatic compass with USGS 7.5 maps for the difficult areas, Nat Geo Topo! maps for other sections. On one trip last year I expected to be able to purchase USGS maps at a National Park Service visitor center. It was closed for remodeling. I drew maps by hand from the USGS website (I was far from home with no printer access). That and my compass got me through some difficult canyons and I was able to find water at the critical points.

My wife bought me a GPS for my birthday a few years ago. I only take it on day hikes with her, makes her happy that I use her gift. Other than that, I have no use for one.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Map & compass on 06/15/2012 10:41:21 MDT Print View


Edited by skopeo on 09/08/2015 15:05:40 MDT.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Map & compass on 06/15/2012 11:27:36 MDT Print View

Always take map and compass, GPS on occasion, but rarely use any of them for navigation.

We do use the map all the time to find out the name of some peak or other landmark, to figure out where alternate trails go, etc.

I actually need a map to remind myself which trail I need to take, thus my wife is always the navigator. I have to remind her to stop at all trail junctions and wait for me or I'll head down the wrong path. I'll even head off the wrong path on a reasonably well-marked trail with no trail one can figure out how I manage this! I think I just zone out while hiking and mistake game trails for the real thing. No one else does, though...

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Map & compass on 06/15/2012 13:16:17 MDT Print View

"or try and work out the co-ordinates on a print-out topo map that has no grid numbers."

I think I see the problem here.

"BTW I use an Etrex H, it claims an accuracy of about 10 metres either way, which is close enough for me."

One of the dirty secrets of GPS receiver marketing is that accuracy claims can seldom be substantiated. Much of the time, the only accuracy that they mean is the horizontal accuracy (Horizontal Dilution Of Precision=HDOP), and only once in a while will they mention Vertical Diution of Precision or VDOP. As it turns out, the very best that VDOP can be is 1.5 times the HDOP, and sometimes it is at its worst of several times the HDOP. VDOP is the worst when you have poor geometry in the view of the sky. In other words, when you are on the side of a cliff or within a ravine is when it has the worst vertical accuracy.


Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Map, Compass and GPS on 06/15/2012 13:39:43 MDT Print View

Map and Compass come along on any multi-day trips. Most day hikes are on well marked/known trails. Nevertheless, I will often print out just an 8.5 X 11 topo map of the day hike section I may be in. I have the 7.5 minute quads for all of Colorado on my computer.

My Garmin 60CSx is with me most trips because

1] I like having the tracking history for later review
2] Current Altitude
3] Miles traveled
4] Average speed
5] Occasionally used to orient myself when off trail

Nothing critically important but nice and useful nonetheless.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Navigation on 06/15/2012 13:50:44 MDT Print View

I think this thread is a good example of how diverse the folk on BPL are.
Here in Scotland, you can't really go hiking unless you have navigation gear, and know how to use it. There are very few waymarked trails, and unless you know how to navigate, you could spend days going round in circles in low mist or cloud. Or even worse outcomes in winter.