Map & Compass Skills

A Topographical map of your area. There are many different types and scales. A couple of the most useful in the field are 1:24,000, and the1:100,000
Silva is an upper end, longtime favorite. It has adjustable declination, you can see the little tool used to adjust it on the left. It has quite a few other features.
This is designed for your dash board, it is kind of fun, and useful while driving. But altimeters have an important job in the field. This could be used in the field, if you Velcro it to your dash.

With the advent of GPS many have never bothered to learn how to use the above tools. GPS is a little funky, you have to do everything on a small touch screen, that seems to only respond correctly about 50% of the time. Then there is battery life. Once your batteries are dead you either need a solar panel to recharge them, or extra batteries. Oh, yea, then there is the small screen, your can enlarge an area, but you must loose your perspective because anything outside of the 4 x 2 screen disappears. Another problem is GPS does not work in steep sided canyons, slot canyons and such. They are very dependent on the percent of sky you can see. Compasses, on the other hand work in steep sided canyons, slot canyons, caves, underwater, and well everywhere I know of.

A compass like the one above can be adjusted so you don’t have to do the LARS (military Left add, Right subtract), or “West is best, East is least” meaning if the declination is west, you add the degrees to your bearing; and if the declination is east, you subtract it from you bearing. Declination or variation is the difference between True North and Magnetic North. Compasses always point to Magnetic North, most maps are drawn to True North or Geographic North. With your adjustable declination you can make your magnetic compass talk map talk (True North). Rarely are maps drawn up to Magnetic North

Maps can tell you many things about where you are. If you don’t know where you are you can triangulate off things around you.

We are following this trail, but where are we on the trail? A GPS “might” tell us, a map and compass will tell us. Where the two bearings cross is our location

Shoot a bearing or line to a known peak, and another to a different peak or known point of reference. It is good to try and arrange your angles to create a triangle. It makes it easier to be more accurate. Next you draw a line on your map from the peak using that bearing. Then do the same with the other, where the lines cross is your location.

Altimeters; as a high altitude mountaineer I often keep track of our elevation, because on the way up we set up camps about a thousand feet above the last one. This will almost surely prevent High Altitude Sickness, HAPE, HACE and other altitude problems.

Also I use an altimeter to do contour navigation. Otherwise, if the trail goes up and over a steep hill, I can look at where a contour goes around the hill, making it possible to not climb the hill. The up and down stuff beats you up and if the terrain allows you to traverse a hill, why not?

This next one I have used on a number of times. We were coming down 14,410 foot, heavily glaciated, Mt Rainier in a white out. I was able to figure a straight bearing down to the next change of bearing, which is at a given altitude. Then we would keep shooting the same bearing downward, as far as we could see, until I hit the altitude of the next change. Then I would use team mates as sighting objects, pointing left or right until they were perfectly aligned with the bearing. We would continue down until we hit the correct altitude. This mountain has lots of crevasses on it, and many would say that you must hole-up until the white out lifts, but if this technique is used properly it is very accurate.

Map, Compass, and Altimeter can be great tools for fun, recreation, hiking, and much more. They build confidence like one might gain from climbing. You learn a “Can Do Atitude.”