Good books for backcountry navigation?

5:36 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I, for the most part, have stuck to trails but am very interested in going off the beaten patch. I grew up in the woods near my house but knew them by heart and never had to use any sort of navigational aids. Are there any books you guys would recommend reading to get me acclimated to using a compass and map?

5:41 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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6:07 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Other forum members might laugh at this one, but I suggest starting with the Boy Scout Handbook if one is available to you. The map-reading and orienteering section isn't huge, but it's good. If you go that route, get the old version. The newer version is not nearly as good.

6:36 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Navigation is a very complex skill. I would suggest a dedicated book with an up-to-date section on GPS and a few diagrams, of at least 300 pages. I know a good one in french "Cartes, boussoles et GPS" 4th edition, by Lord and Pelletier.

Then you have to practice, practice, practice....

6:58 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I came across this web sight a while back. It may help you out it starts out pretty basic and goes from there.

http://landnavigation.org/default.aspx

11:05 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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snowboard mentions MFOTH, the Bible Of The Outdoors. The Mountaineers Press, publishers of MFOTH, also publishes an expanded version of the navigation chapter (as they do with several other sections of MFOTH), called, surprisingly, Wilderness Navigation. NOLS also publishes a very good book on backcountry navigation

OR (tah-dah) ... you could come to Clair Tappaan Lodge the last weekend in June to have one of the World's Greatest Experts, the OGBO himself, teach you everything from how to navigate in the woods and hills with nothing to map and compass to integrating an altimeter into your skills to use of a GPS receiver. Computer-based mapping is part of it, too. CTL is a Sierra Club lodge, located on Donner Pass. So to get the info, go to the Sierra Club website, click on the Lodges link, and go to CTL and its activities. This will give you the details. There is a fee, but it is for a couple days lodging and all meals - I do this as a volunteer for the Sierra Club (and free lodging). It is very much a hands-on course, so you learn for real, not just book learning. Plus the Sierra in June is gorgeous, with some wildflowers still in bloom.

A great opportunity if you are in California (wear your Trailspace cap, of course).

11:55 p.m. on April 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Hate to go off topic...

Hey Bill I just seen you in a video taken up here in B.C. heli hiking, when was this trip? And if you say that isn't you, you have a twin out there ;) Heres the video your at 42sec. looked like a great hike.

http://www.tracksandtrails.ca/hiking-video/video/wNkQMnbB8Fs

enjoy if you have never seen it

2:59 a.m. on April 11, 2009 (EDT)
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If you haven't done much map and compass work, I suggest starting with the basics and working up. While navigation skills can be as intricate and complex as one wishes to make them, the basic necessary skills of map and compass use are not that complicated at all. That said, there is a difference between simple and easy.

Some people find map and compass navigation to be almost second nature. Others seem to struggle mightily from the word go. With no more than a good compass and a good map, I am very comfortable navigating my way along anywhere. And although that has come with years of practice, I can say that I was almost as comfortable with same thirty years ago.

The addition of more modern technology, such as GPs devices, wrist-borne altimeters, and digital compasses, along with computer map databases and mapping systems, can make for some very cool stuff--I'm sure Bill can tell us lots of nifty tricks, tidbits, etc. But I'll continue to preach the need for understanding the basics and becoming proficient with map and compass above all the others as the best land-navigation solution for most people. The ability to determine direction even without a compass is useful, and I keep in my head a few "tricks" to help with that, both day and night. Again, I'm sure Bill can share even more.

One example applies right now as I glance out the window, through which I see a nearly full moon. A glance at my watch, and I can tell at least roughly which way is North--without being able to see Polaris, the North Star. As I said, I'm sure Bill has lots of such tips and tricks on hand.

FWIW, my basic map and compass skills were gathered during my time in Boy Scouts years ago, and have served me well.

12:41 p.m. on April 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Hate to go off topic...

Hey Bill I just seen you in a video taken up here in B.C. heli hiking, when was this trip? And if you say that isn't you, you have a twin out there ;) Heres the video your at 42sec. looked like a great hike.

http://www.tracksandtrails.ca/hiking-video/video/wNkQMnbB8Fs

enjoy if you have never seen it

Ummm, no, that isn't me. I have never worn a full-body harness, and I have never ridden in a helicopter (one of 3 aircraft types I have never flown or flown in), and would never stoop to helihiking or heliskiing. Interesting though that I do recognize the location (just below the col on Bugaboo Glacier where the "standard route" starts. There are several other significant differences as well. Barb's first reaction was that it was me, though when I paused it on that frame, she immediately noticed several differences. The times I was in the Bugs, CMH and I had a few differences of opinion, though in the past few years, when I have run into Hans, he has been very friendly to me (he has long since disassociated from CMH).

12:46 p.m. on April 11, 2009 (EDT)
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--I'm sure Bill can tell us lots of nifty tricks, tidbits, etc. But I'll continue to preach the need for understanding the basics and becoming proficient with map and compass... The ability to determine direction even without a compass is useful, and I keep in my head a few "tricks" to help with that, both day and night. Again, I'm sure Bill can share even more.
...

My workshop starts with and emphasizes the most basic, non-aided skills, with the next section being the addition of maps (without compass - the most fundamental way to use a map). I would also argue that things like using the sun, moon, stars, and just simply looking all around you and noting the landmarks is the most fundamental skill, not a bunch of "tricks".

2:00 p.m. on April 11, 2009 (EDT)
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My workshop starts with and emphasizes the most basic, non-aided skills, with the next section being the addition of maps (without compass - the most fundamental way to use a map). I would also argue that things like using the sun, moon, stars, and just simply looking all around you and noting the landmarks is the most fundamental skill, not a bunch of "tricks".

Geezz Bill did you teach my Land Nav course when I was in the Corps lol

I got my start like many others here in the boy scouts. Then after that I went into the military and got a much more advanced teaching. But with the knowledge, experience & basic's I learned in the boy scouts is what really gave me the best start I could ever have had. Also you are very correct that just paying attention to land marks and the sun moon & stars is one of most basic and most useful fundamentals of navigation and staying on your bearing.

I still have my first compass that I had when I was in the boy scouts but I still prefer to carry a high quality lensatic compass. Don't get me wrong I do like my (shiny new yaa for me) GPS for what I wanted it for but on the same not I do enjoy conventional navigation hay what can I say its fun. There aint nothing like forgetting the trail or somewhere there is no trail and getting where you want to go.

2:09 p.m. on April 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Here is a tip (not a trick) that helps me out, is travil speed and time. This will also aid you in navigation.

7:25 p.m. on April 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Sorry, Bill, didn't mean to rub fur against the grain; that said, I think it might be a version of potayto/potahto. I wasn't meaning to be pejorative at all when I used the word "tricks"--merely giving the slightest nod to the fact that to many people, such things do seem to be "tricks", regardless of how simple, basic, or what have you they may be.

I emphasize map and compass skills simply because even with such fundamental skills as we've mentioned, proper use of those two simple items adds very greatly to knowledge and safety. I may be able to figure out without them that the peak in front of me is slightly south of east, by direction, but with a decent map I can also know what's beyond it, the best way up, around, or over it, and so forth--stuff that often can't be seen on the ground until you're up on it. That all said, I believe it's a combination of ability to read terrain, use a compass, and interpret a map reasonably well that allows one to get along in the backcountry most effectively--all of which I lump under the rubric of "map and compass skills".

4:00 p.m. on April 12, 2009 (EDT)
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Sorry Bill my bad, not like I had lots of your photos to go by. Just kind of looked like your profile photo same hat, glasses, beard. Like the saying goes everyone has a twin out there somewhere, that might be yours.

Travhale...may I suggest a guy on youtube I have watched lots of his videos, I find them interesting. Shows alittle bit of everything from survival skills to product reviews. He has quite a few Land Navigation videos just have to do a little searching of his diff. videos to find them. Its free knowledge, heres a link to one of his video and can check out his rest if you find them interesting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv9jSJGvaVA&feature=channel_page

7:29 p.m. on April 12, 2009 (EDT)
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Perry,

What I wanted to say is that these are skills that everyone can learn, not some secret arcane mysteries that are reserved for the initiated members of The Secret Society Of Pathfinders. I would prefer to spend my time in the woods and hills enjoying the outdoors and not rescuing those without a clue. Maybe Some people enjoy doing S&R, but having done that for a few years as a volunteer, I got a bit tired of searching for people who did various dumb things (like the young couple who headed off to Pico del Diablo in Baja California, got lost for a week, and in panic, headed basically crosscountry, i.e., left the trails - this was in the mid-1960s). So I believe in prevention (like, teach as many people as possible the basic "tricks" - hey, they are as much "tricks" as reading the street signs in the city, except people don't do that, either), rather than rescue (or body recovery).

There was one incident that ended up with a romantically happy ending. I had a bunch of scouts out for a training hike in preparation for Philmont. It was 3 days and about 25 miles. The scouts were divided into two groups of 3 with an adult follower each. First day was an eye-opener for the older hotshots who "knew it all", as demonstrated at the trailhead by spreading their map and orienting it with the compass in the parking lot on the hood of the car. When the "attractiveness" of the car was pointed out, they did use the ground. They headed off at high speed (young, strong - both physically strong and headstrong). The other group (the "turtles") proceeded more carefully and steadily, and of course, passed the "hares" before more than a couple miles, reaching the first trail junction a good 20 minutes ahead. They waited around the corner out of sight, while the "hares" blasted past the junction, until their adult follower suggested looking at the map. By the end of the day, everyone was getting on the same wavelength. Second day, I went ahead at the start at high speed. A mile down the trail (actually up in elevation), I "broke a leg" or something (first aid makeup is light enough to carry along). The group (now sticking closer together) discovered me and had to figure out their first aid skills. Toward noon, we arrived at the most distant point in the loop and stopped by a lake to pump water. We were approached by a man without a pack or anything in the way of supplies. At first we were cautious, but soon discovered that Carl had set out from another trailhead and had gotten separated from his group. The first group had been in the area before and hiked on without pausing at trail junctions (we found out later), while Carl, by himself, had missed a critical trail junction. He had no map, no food, and no water bottle, only 2 cans of Coke. The following group had taken the correct trail junction. So now, 3 days later, having explored several branch trails, and drinking directly from the streams, Carl wanted to know if we could direct him to Spanish Lake (which is where we were headed). We told him he could tag along, after explaining to him that he was probably ok as far as drinking from the streams, but he should keep track of his health. 3 hours of hiking later, we arrived at Spanish Lake. There was a group camped on the opposite side of the lake, a couple of whom came wandering around to discover their missing companion (everyone else had gotten there 3 days earlier). They were beginning to think about notifying a ranger (3 days! ummm, what is wrong with this picture?).

Two years later, I was again with a group of scouts doing a training hike in the same area, again getting to Spanish Lake on the 2nd day. As we set up camp, a couple came hiking around the lake and asked if I was Bill. The man looked familiar, then introduced himself again as Carl, the lost hiker. He then told us that during his 3 days of wandering, he had thought about this wonderful woman who he had been going with, and when he returned to the city after we "rescued" him, he had asked her to marry him. So now, the two of them were making the trip to Spanish Lake on an annual basis. (aaahhhh, sweet, romance, etc etc etc). True story. The question is, how much longer would Carl have wandered around lost, no map, no food, drinking from the streams, his companions not reporting him lost? And, with some simple basic navigational tools (including looking at the signs at the trail junctions), he could have gotten to the lake on that first day. He did tell us that he followed our advice after that incident and did learn about map and compass, and always had map, compass, food, water, and the rest of the 10 essentials from then on.

11:31 p.m. on April 12, 2009 (EDT)
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Nice story. Glad it had a happy ending for Carl and his sweetie. I completely agree with your approach, etc. I suppose I was just assuming a slightly different "starting point" in instruction. I consider some of the basics you mention to be so basic that they're not limited to the realm of navigation instruction, but are also in the broader area of existing safely in the outdoors. Not that there's any problem with considering them vital to navigation--they most certainly are. Again, sorry if my phrasing was inapt, if not inept.

9:44 a.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, I have certainly learned from this thread. I now know that the best book for backcountry navigation is printed on rice paper with tastefully seasoned ink. That way, when inevitably lost, you can eat well - simply digest the book. Scraps torn from pages would make excellent biodegradable trail blazes.

11:41 a.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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lol

point taken

1:35 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, I have certainly learned from this thread. I now know that the best book for backcountry navigation is printed on rice paper with tastefully seasoned ink. That way, when inevitably lost, you can eat well - simply digest the book. Scraps torn from pages would make excellent biodegradable trail blazes.

That's why Bill is such an advocate for leather boots instead of Gore-Tex. It's not really because of comfort like he claims; it's because leather tastes better and Gore-Tex gets stuck between your teeth.

2:57 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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There was a group camped on the opposite side of the lake, a couple of whom came wandering around to discover their missing companion (everyone else had gotten there 3 days earlier). They were beginning to think about notifying a ranger (3 days! ummm, what is wrong with this picture?).

Three days?! Glad those aren't my friends. (sorry for coming in late, but I thought that was rather surprising.)

By the way, Bill. I want to take your navigation course. Maybe next year...

3:06 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Hummmm..leather boots! Yet another reason to fatten-up before setting out!

4:38 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Boot leather lightly sauted with rice paper and just a hint of tinea pedis. Mmm-mmm.

Back to the original topic:

Falcon Guides put out a decent basic map and compass book by Cliff Jacobson. There's a pretty fair bit available online from Rick Curtis, taken from his chapter on the same in The Backpacker's Field Manual. The [i]Boy Scout Fieldbook[/i] has a fair chapter on navigation using map and compass, too.

5:07 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Tinea pedis, perry? Really? It takes a lot to turn my stomach (I mean c'mon, I used to get HUNGRY in gross lab for goodness sake!), but you sir have quashed my appetite.

7:16 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Disclosure (in light of the aforementioned boot stew): The site of my land navigation courses, Clair Tappaan Lodge, is Donner Pass in the Sierra, just above and overlooking Donner Lake, site of the famous encampment of the Donner Party. If you don't remember what the primary course during the Donner Party was, look for "Donner Party" on Google.

"Donner Party, party of 5, table for 2!"

11:49 p.m. on April 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, Nate, it's a natural seasoning of boot leather, don't you think?

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