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How do you use your Map, Compass and GPS together?

TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that hiking the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part identified and mitigated by information, training, understanding of interesting gear and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

Many folks learned to navigate with map and compass as children from their parents or from the Scouts. There have been many changes in the last few years. The advent of the accurate $99.00 GPS receiver is just one innovation.

Navigation starts with knowing where you are in relation to somewhere else. Navigation starts with a map.
It does little good to know which way is generally North, when you do not know what is North of you.

The USGS Quad (topographic) map series charts the Continental United States. There are more than 1,900 Quad maps covering Oregon at the detailed scale of 1:24,000. One quad map covers most of the summer hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness: the South Sister Quadrangle.

You need to be able to communicate the location of points on the map other than by pointing to a spot. The easiest way to do this is by naming coordinates on a grid (say, the intersection of Highway 20 and 27th Street in Bend). One such grid is the Public Land Survey Grid providing metes and bounds to identify ownership of plots of land. However, this grid is not referenced by any GPS. Another is the Latitude and Longitude Grid used by Lewis and Clark, by sailors and by pilots.

The most useful grid in modern land navigation is the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Grid. The UTM Grid is imprinted (or can be user completed with pencil and yardstick) on all USGS Quad (topo) Maps, enabling one to pinpoint and communicate easily (by cell phone), a location accurate to a few yards. Any GPS receiver will provide your location in UTM Coordinates, of little use if you do not have a map imprinted with the UTM Grid.

Maps are based on geographic North. Compass needles point to Magnetic North. The modern handheld baseplate compass has an adjustable declination feature that does away with mental calculations to correct the Magnetic compass bearing to a True bearing for use on maps. The Suunto M3D Leader Compass has this feature.
The magnetic declination in Bend is now 15 degrees, growing smaller by one degree every few years. One degree off in a mile is 90 feet. If you do not take the difference between Magnetic North and True North into consideration, you could be off one quarter of a mile for each mile you walk. Walk 10 miles without adjusting and you would be 2.5 miles off. Do not even give your old compass to your children.
The modern clear plastic base plate compass also acts as a protractor on the map.
You need to be able to find or draw bearings on the map from one place to another. Read our eleven page handout on using map, compass and GPS together. Take a class! .

GPS receivers sold after the year 2002, can simultaneously receive and process up to 12 satellite signals. They are accurate to 4.3 meters. They are often spot on. They can provide “distance to go” to a waypoint in feet for the last tenth of a mile, distance traveled and much, much more.

I use the Garmin eTrex Venture HC that shows topo maps in color and good details. You need not buy a more costly GPS with electronic compass and altimeter. All of the Garmin eTrex models are equally accurate regardless of price.

Map, Compass and GPS should be programmed to work together. Start with a USGS Quad (topo) map of your area of interest. If necessary, add the UTM Grid in pencil using the blue tick marks. Next, adjust the Suunto M3D Baseplate Compass to correct the magnetic declination and read in True not Magnetic bearings. Then, change the “set-up” of your GPS to provide True bearings and UTM coordinates using the Datum of your map, NAD 27 for our USGS Quad (topo) maps. If you do not match the GPS Datum to the Map, you may be off up to a couple of hundred yards.

--Robert Speik, Instructor. Call 541-385-0445 or email
Copyright© 2002-2015 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.





Read more . . .
 Backcountry Navigation FAQ
SPOT Satellite Messenger "PLB" reviewed and recommended
Why is the GSM digital cell phone best for backcountry and mountaineering?
FREE Clinic on Real Survival Strategies and Staying Found with Map, Compass and GPS together
What do you carry in your winter day and summit pack?
Why are "Snow Caves" dangerous?
Why are "Space Blankets" dangerous?
Why are "Emergency Kits" dangerous?
How can you avoid Hypothermia?
What is a PLB?
How accurate is the inexpensive hand-held GPS today?
What are some good Central Oregon Geocaches?
What is the Public Land Survey Grid?   pdf
What is the UTM Grid?   six pdf pages
Which GPS do you like?    
Which Compass do you like?   
How do you use your map, compass and GPS together, in a nut shell?
How can I learn to use my map, compass and GPS?
Do you have map, compass and GPS seminar notes?   six pdf pages

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