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navigation

9:33 p.m. on June 23, 2012 (EDT)
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reading some threads here finaly made me screw up the gumption to ask a question i feared would make me look more foolish than i care to look, but here goes.

most of my activities are in the swamps, i aint talking the stuff you see les stroud in with lots of clear ground( or water ) im talking a long line of sight in the dead of winter would be 50 yards at the most and thats rare, spring through fall it would be more like 50 feet.

the way i worked before the days of gps was to just note the bearing required for exit travel and try to make adjustments for variance due to a zig zaging course. i always got back though most times i would be off enough for it to add some mileage but we are walking anyway so no biggie.

my question is this:

in a place like a swamp where everything looks pretty much the same, there is little or no elevation change and almost nothing looks the same leaving as it did when coming in and there is no hill top or any other feature in eye sight to orient to what would be the best method of navigating without gps?

i have found maps to be pretty usless unless i reach a really distinguishable ox bow in the river or maybe a lake, and even then is it the lake i beleive it is always pops to mind.

i sometimes cheat and get a bearing from something i can find on the map that i have a waypoint saved for in my gps and then use the bearing and distance i took from the gps to use my compass and map to find my location but i would really like to rely less on the gps.

in a situation where you cant see anything to take a bearing to is counting steps the only option?

now i am sorry i didnt go to A.I.T.

 

earl

11:24 a.m. on June 24, 2012 (EDT)
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smithcreek,

This is actually a very good question and the fact that you ask it tells me you are further along in skill than you may think.

These are things you don't question until you begin to do real navigation off a trail system.

I too venture into some very dense swamps with meandering creeks and rivers that I must navigate around, no trail system.


image.jpg

Looks kinda like this is the flooded areas, very limited visibility & no distinguishable terrain features in view.


image.jpg
Looks like this on high ground, again no distinguishable terrain features in view. This is the view in winter, in summer you can't see this far.

The water levels and water locations can change with the seasons. Right now we are in the wet season here in coastal SC.

Anyway, I do understand exactly what you are dealing with.

I can only tell you what I have been doing and I am still in a learning curve myself.

Here is my approach:

I only use full size USGS topos in 24:000 scale (7.5 minute topo). The level of detail you get with a larger map plus being able to study the surrounding areas gives me a better understanding of the lay of the land. I don't like small maps centered on my location and printed out on my printer for this application. I need to see and understand the bigger picture.

I take the time to draw a full UTM grid on the map using the tick marks in the margins. You can use Lat / Lon if you wish, I just prefer the UTM since it is easier to count & measure in multiples of 10, (10 meter, 100 meters, 1000 meters) especially if I am counting paces or amount of time walked.

I take the time to really study the map before heading out, noting any roads, towers, boundaries, creeks, or subtle elevation changes.

Once in the area I keep the folded map in a clear map case with a pencil, map ruler, and UTM grid tool hanging from my pack on a short lanyard. I note the elevation & location I'm starting at, as well as the types of plants growing in that area.

I mark my starting location on the map, decide on a course, and let the map hang back at my side to free up my hands for compass work. Next I take a bearing with the compass and get ready to begin hiking in that direction.

If I am hiking to a creek or well defined swampy area on the map I don't bother counting distance but rather use the water as a backstop, when I get there I know where I am on the map using my starting point & compass bearing.

If not walking towards a distinguishable area, I can either count paces or use a stop watch to measure my distance walked. I already know how far I can walk in a minute, or five minutes within reason and many times I use this method instead of counting paces so I can free up my mind to pay attention to other things. I let a stop watch keep up.

With either method I keep up with, and mark my location on the map, as I progress. I keep a log of compass bearings for each turn on a 3 x 5 card in my map case. I also pay very close attention to what types of plants are growing in each area as I walk. If you can familiarize yourself with the plants & trees that grow on dryer soil as opposed to wetter soil you can use this to help you navigate towards or away from water - or high ground. I have found this to be very helpful in areas with quickly changing features (wet & dry areas) as is typical in bottom land hardwood swamps.

I try to pay attention to the water as well, is it flowing? It it still? Look at the map and see what sections of water are free flowing (and what direction) into larger bodies of water as is typical in watershed centers where I usually find creeks and rivers - as opposed to still water or ponds (boggy areas) often found trapped in sub drainage basins (look for depressions on the map that are surrounded by high ground).

In other words the terrain features & elevation changes in flat swampy areas are much more subtle than in the mountains, but they are there. I try to use all the visual clues I can to tell me where I am on the map, as well as what direction I should head. I try to plot out a course that takes me close to any distinguishing features I can see on the map - creeks, high points, open areas, etc.

Pay attention to plant type as this is key to knowing if you are approaching low wet areas or higher drier areas. Where I like to hike Canes, Ferns, and Dwarf Palmetto all grow in different areas. I ask myself do I see mostly Lob-lolly Pine or Cypress trees where I'm at? This is handy for finding your way back out so make a note of it.

Study the entire area before heading out so you understand how that particular watershed works, which way the water flows and where. Know where the boggy areas are and where the higher areas are.

Try to find and use backstops on the map if at all possible, these can be long linear terrain features like creeks, edges of large flooded areas, unique stands timber, or open meadows / marshes  that you will approach at a 90 degree angle, or Tee into. You can also use these same features as a handrail by navigating parallel to them.

 I do my best to keep up with these things:

Starting location.

Compass bearing.

Distance covered (counting paces or time elapsed).

Keep up with where I should be on the map & record bearings on a piece of paper (for backtracking).

Pay attention to what I'm seeing, keep notes on it and try to reconcile that with the map.

Try to plot a course on the map that carries me towards, or close to, distinguishable terrain features so I can use backstops & handrails.

Remember that not all tributaries will be marked on the map, or may be gone in drier times.

Know where the closest roads are in the area in case I need to bail in that direction.

If all else fails (and it frequently does)  I pull my coords from my GPSR, mark my correct location on the map and start over again from that location with map & compass work. I use the GPSR as a learning tool to determine what mistakes I have made or how far off I am.

I am learning that some of this is an art, you just have to get out there and do it. The finer points are not something you can learn on a trail system or from a book.

I hope I didn't confuse you too much, and I'm sure I left something out that I may add in another post.

Mike G.



1:53 p.m. on June 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Mike gave you some vey sound advice, another option to a stopwatch is using ranger beads. the only way to determine your exact location is by taking a fix or being able to 100% identify a feature on the map where you are. in flat lands or in other areas with unidentifiable features taking a visual fix is challenging if not impossible at times. Dead reckoning is usually your best bet.

When I was in the military and having to navigate unfamiliar terrain in the dark the tried and true method we used was ranger beads. If you use them or a stopwatch correctly you can be very very accurate. the more often you write down or mark your progress and check your compass bearing the more accurate it will be. A good rule of thumb is to take a bearing and find an object in the distance along that bearing(tree, rock etc) and walk to it then repeat, mark time/bearing traveled at least every 5 minutes and at every course change.

2:58 p.m. on June 24, 2012 (EDT)
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First suggestion is to contact your nearest orienteering club (which is based in Winter Springs) and start going to some of their events. For people in other areas, look on the US Orienteering Federation website for your state and surrounding states. Orienteering as a sport is strictly map and compass, but people in the clubs are also very familiar with GPS receivers and other navigational skills.

Keep in mind that even the best of handheld compasses are readable by skilled people only to the nearest 1 or 2 degrees. So a couple of skills (mentioned by trout, but with non-standard names) are catching features (something like a stream, trail, road, fence that crosses your direction of travel beyond your destination - keeps you from going too far), hand rails (linear features like streams, trails, power lines, ridges - umm, you are in Florida, so you never see ridges, but features you can follow, like a hand rail), collecting features (identifiable features on your map to crosscheck your progress), and "aiming off". Aiming off means following a bearing that is purposely to the right or left of your destination toward a catching feature. When you hit the stream, for example, you know you need to turn left (if you offset to the right) and follow the stream/fence/whatever. There are other similar skills.

Now, everyone "knows" that moss grows on the north side of the trees (unnnnnh, except in Florida, where it grows all over the trees). Well, ok, disregard most of the legends. But you do know that the sun rises in the east, traverses the sky toward the south (due south at noon), and sets in the west. Knowing this and that the sun moves across the sky at about 15 degrees an hour, helps keep a mental compass orientation.

A way to progress through the woods with a compass and overcome (partially) the zigzag problem is to align yourself to the bearing (remembering that the compass is magnetic, so beware of things like knives and electronic goodies attracting the needle in the wrong direction) and spot a prominent, easily recognized object in the direction you want to go (a particularly gnarly tree, for example). Go to that tree, zigzaging as needed, step around it, and sight along your bearing to the next object in the direction you want to go. Proceed step by step this way. If you have to cross a stream or lake, spot an object on the opposite side at the intended bearing, then find your crossing or path around the pond to the object, then spot the next identifiably object on the bearing. In really thick woods, you may be only able to go 50 feet or so to the next "marker", or sometimes, you can go a half mile. If you have a buddy, you can stand in one place, then send your partner out along the bearing, shouting out "Left" or "Right" until they get a ways out, then yell "STOP!" and you catch up to them to repeat the process. This works well in a whiteout due to fog or a blizzard (yeah, you don't have blizzards in FL). In desperate situations, you can have the leadout person carry one end of a string (mountain climbers may be roped together and use a rope as a sight line).

These are only a few of the skills you can use.

GPS receivers are great, within their limitations (batteries, the canyon/canopy problem, etc). But they are not magic (I worked for a number of years as a systems analyst and designer for the Global Positioning System, and still do consulting for several GPS receiver manufacturers). Map, compass, and most important, your brain are your most important tools

10:12 p.m. on June 25, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks to all for the replies, they are much appreciated.

Mike that first pic looks like home, as many of yours do. the second pic shows a much longer line of sight than I usually have. you are right about the high ground, there are the occasional islands and what we call ridges here ( they would be bumps to Bill S and most others ) the ridges in this area only occur on the exit side ( away from the river ) and as Bill said they make a great hand rail. if there has been normal rain fall there are streams and creeks to follow but unfortunetly most are not on the usfs maps but I have been able to identify a lake I had heard about by finding one of the creeks that was marked and following it to the lake. By the way, I dont know if this is common in all parts of the country or not but the lakes I am refering to are just large sloughs off of the river. I will try the stop watch method on my next trip out.

Rambler, are the beads you refer to dots you put on the map when marking your position?

Bill, My best freind is a mapper from south florida, his initial interest in surveying and mapping sprouted from orienteering as a kid. He reccomended Map and Compass for the beginner to me and I got it and have read it, it goes in my map bag anytime I am leaving well known ground. He has also promised me some tutoring but he is rarely home these days, since the economy went north he has had to stay on the road. last time I heard from him he was in NJ working on some kind of urban revitalization project.

Thanks again to all I will come back and re-read this over and over again, that is if tropical storm Debbie don't wash us away. She has stalled right over us here in the appalachicola nat'l forest and we may have to swim out of here if she don't pick up some speed and get out of here. I guess she don't know they need a little rain in Georgia and Alabama to.

 

earl.

1:55 a.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Doesn’t anyone use colored plastic ribbon, to mark your course?  Super easy, and bomb proof.  Just remove the flags on your way back out.  If your exit point is different than your entry, then the skills mentioned by others (above) become critical.  It is a good idea to practice your walk so you are familiar with the distance X number of paces will carry you; over the flats; gentle and steep inclines; through muck.  When the going gets so tough that stepping off paces gets inconstant results, consider measuring distance using a chalk line.

Ed

8:19 a.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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No ranger beads are a mechanical version of the same principle as a stopwatch essentially. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranger_beads

To mark the map all you need is a pencil, grease pencil, pen etc. I keep my maps in file protectors and find a grease pencil to be preferable.

I am not totally against the flagging method, especially if your having a hard time navigating. However it is definitely an eye sore IMO and not LNT. If you need to do this while learning how to properly navigate then by all means do so, but PLEASE! take them down. The woods around here are littered with these(mainly from hunters) I probably take down at least 50 ribbons every time I hit the woods.

9:31 a.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Yea, take down all your ribbons on the way out.  We have the same issue in the mountains out west, folks trying to navigate in the snow and bad weather, and leaving flags behind.  I think they find a more efficient way back out, and lack the etiquette to stay on their outbound track to clean it up.

Ed

10:37 a.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I have absolutely no experience traveling in a swamp, but as I read this thread, I am reminded that the principles of navigation are exactly the same wherever you go.

For example, to find your way on a mountain  peak when you're socked in by cloud ('walking in a ping-pong ball'), one person can walk ahead along the compass bearing to the limit of visibility while the person standing still corrects their vector. When you're sure it's as good as it's going to get, the first person moves up and the process repeats. This is the same method Bill S mentions when you take a bearing on a distant object, but on a smaller scale. 

Before you start out, you can also set your compass bearing arrow for the known direction of travel then leave it there. To get back, reverse that direction. This won't help with any variances en route, but it will give you a general idea of which way to go to safety.

Landmarking has already been mentioned. I'm a visually-oriented person, and if I'm on a trail, I pay attention to scenes or elements that jump out at me. Those might be large landmarks, like a clearing, a spot where one particular view can be seen, or an area where the trees have been blown down. They might also be smaller landmarks, like a birds' nest in a tree, a pile of rock, it or a clump of berry bushes.

10:40 a.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I agree with both points that have been made about flagging tape. It's easy to use and it works very well, and it's visual litter - remove all of it when you go back out. If you're going to use it, though, pick a colour that is easy to distinguish from anyone else's you might find - you don't want to discover yourself following someone else's tape by mistake!

The same principles apply to cairns or anything else you build from materials you find. You can use them to track your path across tundra or a scree slope, but kick them over as you leave. An inukshuk is similar. It's a pile of rocks, stacked to create a window pointing towards the next one in a series. The problem arises when people build them at random (like on a peak), so there's no way to tell which ones show a path and which ones are just for show. I get dirty looks for kicking them over when I find them, but I've had people follow what they think is a legitimate trail of inukshuks or cairns and find themselves at the edge of a cliff!

2:13 p.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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thanks guys.

flagging tape used to be my main tool but as i became more comfortable i set it aside for the most part although i still do use it if i have my grandson with me even if i am sure of myself just to make him confident, a swamp can be a pretty spooky place even in daylight for a kid.

i am almost always alone when swamp cruising, not many are attracted to it so the calling out to one another is pretty much out.

it is hard to describe just how disorienting a thick swamp can be, identifying landmarks usually requires being accurate within 20 feet or so in the area i am in. i do always make note of features as i go, odd shaped trees, dead falls that have a uniuqe feature etc', anything that stands out. any of you guys who scuba dive will know what i mean when i say it can be like swimming in a milkshake.

as soon as i can get back in there i am going to take the advice here and start doing training runs but please forgive me for taking the gps just incase because a skeeter infested swamp in july aint the place you want to spend the night if you can avoid it.

 

thanks again to all.

 

earl.

3:04 p.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Great thread folks…thank you.

Regarding Flagging Tape:

I understand the eyesore aspect of it but recently I was very grateful for the flagging efforts put forth by someone before me. I was hiking an “official” trail (marked on the map anyway) in a wilderness area and had it not been for some orange flags I would have had a very difficult time following it; the trail wound through a miles-long water shed area crossing many creeks and tributaries such that it was really hard to tell where it went. Sometimes the trail was the creek itself in which cases you had to be hyper alert to pick up the spots where you got-off the “creek-bus”.

I’ve enjoyed the little bit of route finding that I’ve done but since I’m usually on weekend trips I don’t have time to be *wrong (or miles and miles kind of wrong anyway).

*Yeah, I said wrong and not lost but that could be interchangeable.

4:01 p.m. on June 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I've seen places where flagging tape has been used to excess, and defeats the purpose, as it is everywhere. I find that annoying, and aesthetically quite horrid.  But I've also been grateful for it as well. On seldom-traveled trails, or ones that follow creek beds intermittently as Patman mentions, it is much appreciated. I also do not mind it when it marks an unconventional starting point from a FS road.

6:30 p.m. on July 18, 2012 (EDT)
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Plastic marking tape is like finding a beer can on the trail 3 days out, gag...  but if a fellow picks up on his way out and it keeps him from getting lost, gosh.  I've never lost a trail for more than 30 min or so, so I might think differently if I had.

MAPS:

Going off topic a bit here, but it was a big find for me ( I'm not too bright).

I downloaded some 7.5 minute maps from the forest service site onto a stick drive and took them to the local copy shop where they printed grey-scale 16"by24" versions for me at $3 a pop and every detail came out really sharp.  Last year I tried it and foolishly said color, and it would have been $35 each.  They are not quite as cool as the real forest service versions, but at the price, the declination and all came out great. And after the trip they all become wall-hangers anyway.

4:22 a.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Earl,


There isn't a whole lot that hasn't been covered in this forum as the contributors have been very thorough, but I'll give you my opinion as well. 

I do a lot of off-trail hiking in the New Jersey Pinelands.  The land here isn't as dense as it is in your neck of the woods, so I have a little more visibility when following a bearing but the land is mostly flat, and terrain features are far-and-few between, so I have to use trees to sight my bearing.  Even though you can see pretty far, it's near impossible to follow your bearing that far because all of the trees look alike and inevitably you will loose sight of the tree you placed your bearing on.  So the reality of this landscape is that I have to sight a bearing every minute (literally).  I keep distances between markers close so that I don't loose sight of my marker.  I may walk a maximum of 40 feet between markers before I sight my next bearing.  You have to be methodical and you absolutely have to keep your eyes glued to your mark as you weave around obstacles in your path.  Don't leave your last mark until you are certain that you know where your next one is.  This is slow and tedious, but at the end of the day it will get you where you want to go.  I also use a gps to obtain my coordinates so that I can occasionally check my position on the map. 

Flagging tape works well.  Just take it down on your return trip.  But also, you could intentionally rough up the debris on the forest floor as you move toward your destination so that when you return, your path is easy to discern.  You wouldn't want to do this in a high-use area or in a very sensitive ecosystem, but the swamp is resilient and it sounds like you don' t see too many people down there, so if the area doesn't see any use, your path will certainly stand out from the rest of the debris that has accumulated over time.  And in a relatively short amount of time, it will blend right back in with the surrounding debris.    

If critical turns in your route and your destination itself are featureless spots in the swamp, then dead reckoning is the way to go.  You can lay out a 100 meter measuring tape and count your paces down its length.  Do it like 10 or more times, so that you get a good average.  When your in the swamp follow your compass and determine your progress my counting your paces.  If you know your pace count for 100 meters, then your know it for 1,000 meters as well.  Distance becomes pretty easy to keep track of.  Even easier with ranger beads.

Hope this helps,

Chris    

7:28 p.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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all of you old school map and compass guys have me pretty impressed. I must say I am a child of GPS, and now I know how spoiled I am!

11:32 p.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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NJCMQ8026 said:

Earl,

.....Flagging tape works well.  Just take it down on your return trip.  But also, you could intentionally rough up the debris on the forest floor as you move toward your destination so that when you return, your path is easy to discern.  You wouldn't want to do this in a high-use area or in a very sensitive ecosystem, but the swamp is resilient and it sounds like you don' t see too many people down there, so if the area doesn't see any use, your path will certainly stand out from the rest of the debris that has accumulated over time.  And in a relatively short amount of time, it will blend right back in with the surrounding debris. .....

"Flagging tape works" ONLY on the way out! Unless someone you know and trust has preceded you and is using a color and pattern that is distinctive. Yeah, it can help retracing your steps - that is, if someone who finds flagging tape akin to "finding a beer can 3 days into the wilderness" doesn't come along and pull it down (Who, moi? Would I do that?). We had a High Adventure Training course, where the course director hung light pink surveyor's tape to lead the participants through an overgrown section of trail, forgetting that about 10% or so of males are red/green color blind. After the course, I went back along the trail and removed the tapes, though I did leave the tapes being used by California Fish and Game to mark the critical waterways to be protected (we have several endangered species in our camp properties in the Santa Cruz mountains and have to mark protected corridors - red-legged frog, streams that are steel-head spawning streams, marbled murrelet nesting areas, California newt, and more).

The idea of scuffing your trail is, to me, contrary to LNT principles. And if you get a storm when you are at the far end of your trek, Nature will do the de-scuffing for you. Remember, it doesn't take very many people walking the same path (without intentional scuffing) to start a "casual" or "use" trail that soon becomes pretty prominent.

3:38 a.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Bill S,

You are right. I wasn't trying to imply that one could use flagging as a method of general navigation. Its purpose is indeed to mark your return path only. In hindsight, I may not have been very clear in my last post. I apologize.

A quick solution to the problem of having your flagging torn down by well intentioned do-gooders would be to mark your flagging with your party's name and the date of your intended return trip. That way it is clear that you are relying on the flagging to get back to where you started and it hopefully shouldn't be removed until after that date. Mind you that you and your party should remove the flagging as you progress along your return route, so no remnants of flagging should remain after that date. Of course that's the way it would be if everyone was responsible, but we know that's not the case and someone will inevitably leave for home without tearing theirs down. In these cases, the hiking community is lucky to have people like you that are willing to take care of it.

I was always taught not to remove someone else's flagging. The premise being that that person is relying on it to get home. But I realize that discarded flagging has become a problem and for all intensive purposes, if the flagging is pretty weathered, I'll go ahead and remove it under the assumption that it has probably been abandoned. On the flip side, if the flagging looks pretty new, I will leave it where I found it and check to see if it's still up in a few weeks. Then it seems pretty safe to take it down. And I am sure that almost 90% of the flagging out there has been abandoned, but I figure its better to be safe that sorry.

I personally, have only used flagging to temporarily mark a trail that has been planned, but not yet cut. For most other purposes, I can manage with my map and compass.

As far as scuffing up your trail, I honestly can't disagree with you. I have never done it and only recommended it as another option. Aside from going against leave no trace principles and having obvious flaws, it is also not very practical. Unless it's the only option you have, you might as well hang flagging to guide you back the way you came.

9:05 a.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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In New York state forest one should never remove flagging - leave that to the land managers.  Flagging is used for many reasons, and is it true that some is left by inconsiderate users of that forests that should be removed.  But much of it is there for a specific reason.  One's lack of knowledge of those reasons does not justify removing it.

Unless you have a hat and badge with the NYS insignia on it, leave the flagging alone in NYS forests.  

9:38 a.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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nogods said:

In New York state forest one should never remove flagging - leave that to the land managers. One's lack of knowledge of those reasons does not justify removing it.

It really doesn't take much to contact said land management to verify what is serving a purpose and what isn't. This could be somewhat defined by color but more so by location(GPS Coordinates/terrain features, etc.) 

As a ridge runner I can tell you if you are willing to help out a bit they would be more than happy to accept said help.

There is a lot of land out there with limited manpower to cover said land.

The help is greatly appreciated(at least I know it is here.)

 Flagging is used for many reasons, and is it true that some is left by inconsiderate users of that forests that should be removed.

This somewhat contradicts your initial statement. On one hand you say the flagging tape should NEVER be removed and on the other you state that it SHOULD be removed...

If you take what I said above into consideration I am only left with the question "why?"

Especially when one has the ability to validate the purpose of a marker with something as simple as a phone call.

When they run the annual Ultra here on the LHHT a lot of the trail is marked with this tape. Here is the kicker, once up unless someone else removes it is typically up until the next year's race. 

Then when new markers are placed the old ones will sometimes be left behind, ripped off and laying on the ground, so on and so forth.

Unless you have a hat and badge with the NYS insignia on it, leave the flagging alone in NYS forests.  

As I stated above if the marker is questionable one can easily leave it where it is then verify its purpose. If it is not confirmed as one of their markers then by all means it is fair game.

I know many a hunter that will mark trees that blaze the route to a favorite hunting spot on state game lands. At the same time these individuals do not remove the markers and never return to do so.

I personally tear them down as well(especially if the are brittle and cracking from being there after many seasons.) 

10:47 a.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Does anybody remember the days when a trail was marked by blazing trees with an axe? I disapprove of flagging tape, generally, but it can be easily removed when it's served its purpose. A scar on a tree is permanent and disfiguring.

6:41 p.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Peter,

Yes, I remember when blazing was still used, and there are areas where you can still follow the original trail by the blazes from 50+ years ago.

nogods, as Rick said, it doesn't take much to tell if a flag was placed by an authorized person or not. Legitimate, authorized users (especially government agencies) mark their flags, including the date, and often post a sign as you enter an active flagged area (seen that in NY state, among other places, and we use it here in the Santa Cruz Mountains). Most of today's agencies and land managers use a stamp (waterproof ink, squeeze clamp type), so there is no mistaking it, or alternatively a clamped-on metal tag. Most of what has been referred to here is the casual hiker marking a return trail. Although ... around here, growers of California's largest cash crop use certain colors of flagging tape, which if you spot it, you do a 180 and leave quickly.

7:51 p.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Bill S said:

... around here, growers of California's largest cash crop use certain colors of flagging tape, which if you spot it, you do a 180 and leave quickly.

 Absolutely, that could turn into a bad situation real quick.

11:04 p.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Excellent explanation from Trouthunter and BillS. Glad i didn't have to type all that.

If you had any significant dive training it should have included navigation and is pretty much exactly the same thing just like Mike explained. Only thing I would add is, like dive training, have a bailout plan. Basically, looking at your map where you intend to go and drawing an imaginary circle that encompasses a place you couldn't possibly be outside of, if you just can't figure out where you are, what direction can you start walking from anywhere inside that circle and absolutely positively hit something like a road, railroad tracks or any of the above-mentioned handrails. This is good to look at in your trip planning phase as that place may not be within the map that you will have with you.

"Swimming in a milkshake"... We call that the North Atlantic around here.

No shame at all in bringing the gpsr too, it's a great way to check your accuracy and refine your technique. Just so long as your not depending on it.


Also like diving, if you have to use flags, you could always use paper, like party streamers or something, so if you can't get back to take them down at least they will biodegrade.

8:00 a.m. on September 15, 2012 (EDT)
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You could flag by spraying small dots of biodegradable fluorescent paint. It lasts 14-60 days depending on conditions. Since it is fluorescent, you could find it in the dark with a flashlight that had both visible light and UV; the UV would make it highly visible at night.

See http://www.rainbowtech.net/products/view.php?cn=3648 for one supplier.

10:27 p.m. on September 15, 2012 (EDT)
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overmywaders said:

You could flag by spraying small dots of biodegradable fluorescent paint. It lasts 14-60 days depending on conditions. Since it is fluorescent, you could find it in the dark with a flashlight that had both visible light and UV; the UV would make it highly visible at night.

See http://www.rainbowtech.net/products/view.php?cn=3648 for one supplier.

 This is something I intend to try out this next year, I already use UV light for night fishing so I would only have to buy the paint.

Mike G.

10:00 a.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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I was hiking up at Grande Cache this past weekend (100 miles from the next-nearest town), and the trails are absolutely un-maintained. The trails we did often disappeared on the rocks or through the bush, and flagging tape had been used to mark the routes. Absolutely necessary in some places!

That being said, someone had gone through one trail and removed a bunch of old flagging that seemed unnecessary. However, they left it all sitting by the trail in a bundle, so all they really did was move the garbage from a bunch of trees to a single spot. Not sure I really understand the logic of that one. 

12:52 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Rick-Pittsburgh said:

nogods said:

In New York state forest one should never remove flagging - leave that to the land managers. One's lack of knowledge of those reasons does not justify removing it.

It really doesn't take much to contact said land management to verify what is serving a purpose and what isn't. This could be somewhat defined by color but more so by location(GPS Coordinates/terrain features, etc.) 

As a ridge runner I can tell you if you are willing to help out a bit they would be more than happy to accept said help.

There is a lot of land out there with limited manpower to cover said land.

The help is greatly appreciated(at least I know it is here.)

 Flagging is used for many reasons, and is it true that some is left by inconsiderate users of that forests that should be removed.

This somewhat contradicts your initial statement. On one hand you say the flagging tape should NEVER be removed and on the other you state that it SHOULD be removed...

If you take what I said above into consideration I am only left with the question "why?"

Especially when one has the ability to validate the purpose of a marker with something as simple as a phone call.

When they run the annual Ultra here on the LHHT a lot of the trail is marked with this tape. Here is the kicker, once up unless someone else removes it is typically up until the next year's race. 

Then when new markers are placed the old ones will sometimes be left behind, ripped off and laying on the ground, so on and so forth.

Unless you have a hat and badge with the NYS insignia on it, leave the flagging alone in NYS forests.  

As I stated above if the marker is questionable one can easily leave it where it is then verify its purpose. If it is not confirmed as one of their markers then by all means it is fair game.

I know many a hunter that will mark trees that blaze the route to a favorite hunting spot on state game lands. At the same time these individuals do not remove the markers and never return to do so.

I personally tear them down as well(especially if the are brittle and cracking from being there after many seasons.) 

 You should never remover flagging unless you personally know that the flagging is not serving any legit purpose or is not otherwise allowed.   In most NYS forest there are a variety of activities that use flagging, including logging, environmental studies, trail maintenance,  and other authorized matters.  Removing flagging without knowledge of its purpose is irresponsible and self-absorbed.

11:12 a.m. on September 18, 2012 (EDT)
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Trailjester said:

all of you old school map and compass guys have me pretty impressed. I must say I am a child of GPS, and now I know how spoiled I am!

 As pretty much everyone here will tell you (especially those with any experience), relying solely on GPS for navigation is a good way to get into trouble. Batteries die unexpectedly, electronic components can break if dropped or bumped, and on some units the positioning can be off or the signal can get lost in certain kinds of terrain.

Took a walk in the rain along a river valley path once with a lady who'd just got her new GPS. After the end of about 15 minutes, the GPS told us we'd come 6 km (3.75 mi) and had been travelling at a speed of 11 kph (6.84 mph). On an easy nature walk? Highly unlikely!

Personally, I'd rather rely on being aware of my surroundings and having a mental picture of where I am and which way I'm going to work with, rather than blindly assuming the line on the screen is correct.

6:35 p.m. on September 18, 2012 (EDT)
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nogods said:

Removing flagging without knowledge of its purpose is irresponsible and self-absorbed.

 I agree especially when said info is easily available. 

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