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    Greg and Beth

    the political and personal musings of two
    mountaineers living in west-central Florida
     
    Survivalism and Backpacking Gear Part 5: Navigation Comment
    Gregory Morris, 5/30/09 6:08:21 pm
    See parts one, two, three and four of this series.

    Let me begin by saying that navigation is something that requires training and knowledge more than gear. Since this series is about gear to keep handy, that's all I'm really going to talk about. Like any survival situation, knowledge is going to be more important than any piece of equipment you can have at hand.

    • Compass -This one is obvious. I always keep, at the very least, one of those inexpensive plastic bubble compasses nearby. It isn't great for navigating unfamiliar terrain, but you can get at least estimate which way is North. In my frame pack, I carry a proper orienteering compass. Even without the knowledge to use it properly, you can get a basic bearing, and that is better than nothing. Still, it is worth learning how to navigate with a compass and map (and practice it!) I find that in terrain that I am accustomed to (Appalachia), I rarely ever need a compass or map. The worst "lost in the woods" scenarios I've been in were simply solved by getting downhill and following water to a known location. In the mountains, that's easy. There are a ton of tricks to figure out which way to go if you don't have a compass... but isn't it easier to just have one?
    • Topo maps - Of course, a fancy compass nearly useless without good topo maps. Once again, having a topo map without understanding how to use one is of limited value. Still, even without fluent map reading abilities, most people can use one to figure out where they are. Most importantly, a topo map can assist you in planning your routes, which is invaluable if you have to cover a large area. To effectively plan a route, you need to know about elevation changes, major features (rivers, etc) and your proximity/bearing to useful landmarks. Of course, as they say, planning is priceless but plans are worthless.
    • Watch - Any watch will be useful, but one with hands can be used on a sunny day to get your heading (see other orienteering primers for more info.) When you are navigating based on heading and speed, a watch is critical because your normal sense of time can get really skewed if you are under stress or moving at night. In some situations, it is simply a comfort to know what time it is. Some watches have other fancy shmancy functions... that's great if those things matter to you, but the number one consideration in choosing a watch is that it has to be rugged.
    • GPS/batteries* - I donít trust handheld GPS units. If you have one and donít mind carrying it, by all means do so. But never ever rely solely on anything electronic. Some locations make it hard to see enough satellites. They can be affected by other electronic interference. Of course, batteries can die, and the electronics can fail. I have a Garmin eTrex that I bring along with me from time to time, but I never assume it will be working when I need it.
    • Writing Material* - This can be more important than most people think. If you are in unfamiliar territory, you can make up a scouting map to keep track of the location landmarks and important features like water. Not only will that help you, but a basic map can also be used to visually communicate that important information to someone else. A few sheets of waterproof paper and a pencil weigh very little, and will take up very little room in your pack.

    [Comments are closed after a month.]

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