Backcountry Navigation in a Group by Blake Miller
There is nothing more enjoyable than hiking with friends in the backcountry.
However, preparation is essential for any wilderness trek. When hiking in a group, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page regarding our navigation. Agree in advance to some simple parameters before heading out. The following recommendations can be done at home and take little time to accomplish.
Ideally everyone one will use declination adjustable compasses such as the Suunto M3 or Silva Ranger. (A declination adjustable compass keeps the navigation simple.) Not all need to have the same compass but all should be properly set to the local declination. An US Geologic Survey (USGS) map will provide declination data. Better yet visit the web site www.magnetic-declination.com to get current information. Visually check the adjusted compasses to ensure that the declination correction has been set properly.
Everyone’s GPS receivers’ set-up selections should match. These selections include:
- Heading (select either degrees true or magnetic.)
- Chose the option for “numeric degrees” not “Directional Letters.”
- Adjust Map Datum to match the Datum on the map. This is especially important if the hikers will determine location or destination information from the map. Without datum set correctly the error may be up to 100 yards.
- Choose a coordinate system. The most common options are Latitude and Longitude or Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM.)
- The electronic compass must be calibrated after every battery change out. When calibrating move away from large ferrous objects (e.g., vehicles.)
- Reset barometric altimeters at known locations.
- “Dump the Junk” and get rid of old waypoints. Keep the number of waypoints retained to a minimum.
- Reset the trip computer.
- Delete old track log files. (The track log identifies the hiker’s historical path the backcountry.) Old track log data just clutters the map screen.
- Zoom setting – This is a purely personal selection and completed on the map page. I keep my receiver set between 500 ft. and 800 ft.
- Remember to put in fresh batteries.
- Ensure that the receiver is tracking at least for satellites.
Navigation techniques don’t change whether hiking solo or with ten. GPS, map & compass are components that are only a part of the complete navigation experience. Taking the time to set-up your gear in advance helps eliminate confusion on the trail.
About Blake Miller
Blake Miller received significant hands-on navigational training during his 20 years of service in the US Navy. He has taught map and compass, GPS and wilderness survival classes in Central Oregon since 1998. As a part-time faculty member at Central Oregon Community College, he currently teaches land navigation classes to Natural Resource students. He has been an active member of the Deschutes County’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team since 2009. Blake is also a featured speaker at regional SAR conferences, Sportsman Shows, and Cabelas. His articles have been published in several national magazines. Blake can be contacted through www.outdoorquest.biz.
Be sure to check out Blake’s other navigation posts on SectionHiker.com: