Navigation Hypothetical - Map or Compass?

10:45 a.m. on October 19, 2014 (EDT)
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This is only a hypothetical question that I hope will lead to a discussion of navigational tools and how we use them, or think of them, such as:

What information can a compass provide?

What information can a map provide?

Does the usefulness of each differ based on location or terrain?

A map and compass work together, but by isolating them through a hypothetical question we can take a closer look at the merits of each on its own.

So here is my hypothetical - IF you had to choose betwen a map or a compass for your next trip, which would you pick and why?

 

2:21 p.m. on October 19, 2014 (EDT)
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The simple answer is a map is fine in steeper country. It is easy to navigate by the topography.

In flat country and heavy woods where there is a lot of overcast, a compass would be more useful.

 

2:54 p.m. on October 19, 2014 (EDT)
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Most of my hikes are in familiar country. I rarely use either a map or compass once I know the lay of the land.

But if I had to choose I would take the map as well. I can use the sun,moon,vegetation,landscape,stars as a compass without having to carry one. I still own my 1968 Brunton Boy Scout compass I was given when I passed Map and Compass in scout camp, but rarely use it to find direction. I can also use shadows of trees and other things to find direction. But a good map (topographical) helps to see the lay of the land around me in unfamiliar places.

I tend to follow more game trails than human ones when traveling through the backcountry. They tend to go to go water sources and go in area's that human trails may not. I like seeing area's that few other humans have see or been to since perhaps the early humans in North America.

12:48 a.m. on October 20, 2014 (EDT)
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I guess compass...though in practice I only use a map. Where I play you can go hours without seeing the sky (tree-cover)...but if you can maintain a known heading you are never more than a few hours away from a road. With a compass you might have your trip ruined...but not much more. With a map...you could pull off a well-timed hike...but if things go very poorly you could wander in circles for days if you are unable to maintain a known heading.

5:23 p.m. on October 20, 2014 (EDT)
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I would pick a map. This is because I live in an area with a lot of hills, mountain, rivers, and lakes which allows me to compare the terrain to the map when navigating.

There are also a lot of crossing trails around me so a map that includes trail names is very helpful.

10:39 p.m. on October 20, 2014 (EDT)
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In Illinois, I would pick a compass. This is because I know if I can maintain a straight line, I WILL come to a road within a few hours.


In a more remote area, I'm not sure what good a compass would do if I didn't know what lie in the direction I choose. I could be walking away from help.

11:20 p.m. on October 21, 2014 (EDT)
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The area I live in I would rather have a compass to maintain a heading. A map would get you home quicker IF you found a landmark to orient it.

12:58 a.m. on October 22, 2014 (EDT)
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Sorry, but I want both.  The map isn't worth as much without the compass to orient yourself. Too many peaks look alike.  And the compass, without the map to show the basic terrain, can lead you into any number of bad situations.

5:43 a.m. on October 22, 2014 (EDT)
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Ideally I'd like both, but I hardly ever use my compass, but use maps quite frequently. I guess map it is then.

10:56 a.m. on October 22, 2014 (EDT)
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I'm going with a map.

Like my fellow New Englander Jim, I feel fairly confident that I could use the map to identify landmarks like rivers/streams, peaks, lakes, other trails, etc. to navigate. The reality is I regularly use a map.

With just a compass, I'd know which direction I was going, but not where I was headed. I can imagine heading in a straight line farther and farther away.

Interesting question though, Mike. The compass folks got my thinking about when that would be the better choice.

3:14 p.m. on October 23, 2014 (EDT)
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A map. In dense woods I would prefer a method of determining magnetic North, but if you bring a dog, you don't need a compass. (http://www.livescience.com/42317-dogs-poop-along-north-south-magnetic-lines.html )

6:38 p.m. on October 23, 2014 (EDT)
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If I am reading this correctly everyone agrees that a map is more useful if you can (to some degree at least) determine a direction of travel...but where we seem to differ is on the overall usefulness of a compass...and the likelihood of determining a direction of travel.

Compass Usefulness

I see the compass as an indispensable navigation tool that (if functional) will always point me in a direction to home or assistance...but others suggest they could find themselves with a compass but no knowledge of which direction to travel. In theory these folks are correct...but in actual practice I can only imagine such a situation happening if I took off on a trail with no knowledge of where it is located and what is around it...a very difficult situation to imagine (I am trying to imagine how I might get to a trail with no knowledge of where it is and what is around it?). Have I over-valued the compass (because I assume at least a crude knowledge of the area I am located)...or have others under-valued it (because they can easily imagine a situation where direction of travel is not particularly helpful)?

Determining a Direction of Travel

I agree fully that determining a direction of travel is not a particularly difficult thing to do most of the time. I live and play in heavily wooded river basins...and yet...I use the sun and other features to orient myself and a map more often than I pull out my phone or use an actual compass. Still...if I could only choose either a map or compass...I choose the compass with no hesitation...primarily due to the chance of poor weather (fog/overcast/etc.) making navigation by sky and landmarks very difficult. Moreover...in an emergency situation time is the big enemy...I would not want to find myself in a situation where I could not determine a direction of travel at night due to poor weather...and being forced to sit the night out...as trauma and exposure can kill very quickly.

Of course...the moral of this discussion is that both a map and compass are necessary unless you are on VERY familiar ground...and even then I would still bring both:-)

7:41 p.m. on October 23, 2014 (EDT)
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Joseph, if you only hike on established hiking trails, as you seem to indicate, then you can possibly omit both map and compass. For those who do not use such trails in the backcountry, and I hope they are many, the map provides a method of orienting oneself by streams or other features. As some noted above, a paucity of distinct landmarks makes the compass a good choice. Overall, I would carry both... and ditch the phone.

2:14 a.m. on October 24, 2014 (EDT)
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I'm probably just getting caught-up on the fact that you can only bring one of the two:-)

5:22 a.m. on October 24, 2014 (EDT)
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In my terrain I would take the map, since it is possible to find the details in the landscape by it. One may usually also find north-south by various indicators. The sun or the brightness of the sky, moss growing on trees, the orientation of anthills aso.

But after a "close shave" tour when we were in dense fog I do now always carry a gps in addition to map and compass . We only had map and compass on that tour, and we were almost completely lost!.

12:08 p.m. on October 24, 2014 (EDT)
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The people that get really lost tend to be those that "took the wrong trail." They rely on trails for navigation and are accustomed to having signs. It is much like navigating a town with a GPS. An amazing amount of outdoor users do not rely on a map or a compass and that is a mistake.

 

I don't like the idea of relying on a GPS either due to the malfunction and lack of power issues, especially on longer trips.

 

It is very liberating for some people to go on a backpacking trip and not follow  a trail. It is one of the sure ways to develop better navigation skills.

3:20 p.m. on October 25, 2014 (EDT)
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Well I have been fascinated by maps since I was 12. It was my first backpacking trip so I contacted the county by mail and told them the area I intended and they sent my three 7.5 USGS Quads for free. I studied those maps for days. My entire career was spent as an aerial mapping photographer where I not only made maps but used them every day. They are definitely important knowledge of what is out there that cannot be entirely seen from ground perspective. So I would never be without a map if it could be helped.

We hike off trail about 85% of the time in the vast western public lands of the southwest. A good compass can mark our camp, hidden in the landscape and it can mark other points of interest like artifacts or natural features we have come across and might want to re-visit. Canyon county and juniper/pinyon forests can be very disorienting at times so having the compass out and using it as one visually pours over the landscape along the way is important in knowing where you area and how to get back to where you once were. I always have two compasses on me at all times when about in the wilds.

So I value both very much and while I like playing some kinds of games it is not going to happen with navigational equipment. I keep both map and compass at all times while girlfriend runs a GPS with moving map. Even then in canyon country it can be very difficult to wind one's way through the maze and come out on the other side as it takes more than just having and knowing how to use a map and compass for navigation. Intermontaine Plateau system is far different from Atlantic Plain or Interior Plains, we ain't in Kansas out there... LOL It is like a three dimensional chess match...

10:23 a.m. on October 26, 2014 (EDT)
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Ghostdog,

Thanks for the thoughtful post. It resonates loud and clear. I spent a career with maps and aerial photos. I have a degree in geography which is all about maps.

We used to study stereoscopic pairs a lot and learned to see in stereo in the field. The old joke was to tell a newbie to wave his arms so we could tell where we were.

I like your description of the three dimensional chess match. What is usually at stake is finding water or not, and coming back and finding the truck in one piece. 

6:06 p.m. on October 29, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks for all the replies.

I would chose a map, I do a lot of terrain association while navigating and since there are numerous ways to tell basic direction I could navigate without a compass to some extent.

Tough choice though.

8:56 a.m. on October 30, 2014 (EDT)
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I'll just carry both.

3:54 p.m. on November 1, 2014 (EDT)
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G00SE said:

I'll just carry both.

 Yep, in real life (not hypotheticals) I wouldn't be caught dead without both.

Maybe I shouldn't phrase it that way.....

5:15 a.m. on November 2, 2014 (EST)
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Great hypothetical question..I would say a map. I can navigate without a compass for various reasons..But a map give's me features to navigate by...

9:15 a.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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The need for a compass changes drastically once you are on the water.  There it can be more necessary than a map or chart, especially in reduced visibility.  I remember one afternoon out in my kayak when I referred to my compass more often in one hour than I ever have in fifty years of hiking and climbing.

10:01 a.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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I use maps just to see what around the next corner and to get elevations to determine my hiking routes when off and on trail.

12:28 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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hikermor said:

The need for a compass changes drastically once you are on the water.  There it can be more necessary than a map or chart, especially in reduced visibility.  I remember one afternoon out in my kayak when I referred to my compass more often in one hour than I ever have in fifty years of hiking and climbing.

 That's a good point, I have done some out and back trips with just a compass before.

There are a couple big lakes I go on sometimes and they can  fog over leaving you with about 100 yds. of visibility, I just stay on my bearing and look for the line of trees on the bank in the distance.

1:34 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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There are situations where none of the answers above is adequate. Below are photos of situations I have been in that other tools and skills are needed.

1. What part of the planet do you think these photos were taken?

2. What tools and what skills would you need in addition to map and/or compass to successfully navigate in this area?

Visibility in the first image was about 2 or 3 kilometers. In the second image, visibility was about 10 km. In the 3rd, it was about one standard climbing rope length. There are no trails, roads, rivers, or permanent man-made objects within 1000 km of any of these photos, and the separation from the first photo to the nearest of the other 2 is 100 km.

We were not using any electronic devices for navigation, although I was using one for recording locations.


Lost1.jpg

Lost2.jpg

Lost3.jpg



5:55 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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Bill S asks:

1. What part of the planet do you think these photos were taken?

Either the arctic or antarctic? 

2. What tools and what skills would you need in addition to map and/or compass to successfully navigate in this area?

I would not be in s situation such as this, so I am not sure what tools and skills I would need. The last time I was in a whiteout was in Yosemite on the Glacier Point trail in February 1980. I was with tow English gents who wanted to see Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point and I led then. We went on the road from Badger Pass because the road was easier to follow through the woods than the trail being the trees were cleared quite wide.

We started in visibility something like the first image, then on the second day it began to snow and by late afternoon we stayed within 20 feet of each other because any farther apart and we lost each other. The third day was worse and we roped together snowshoeing up the road. It was about a 9 mile hike in the snow which took us 3 days to do as even when it wasn't snowing that first day the snow as so deep each step was difficult, then the falling snow made it even harder. 

We made it to Glacier Point after dark the third day and in the dark looked for the observation building where we planned to camp, found it but decided it was too filled with snow to stay in. So we searched around for a better place and I almost stepped off Glacier Point when I had come to the railing on the edge that was buried up to the top rung. 

We eventually found a place to set up camp and got stuck there for 3 nights, 1 more than our permit was listed as. The 7th day cleared and the NPS came in rescuing us. 

WE had gotten a 5 day weather report saying it was going to be clear, but the day after we left the weather changed for the worst.

I have not since then done any snow winter camping. I have stayed on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in 2-3 feet and in the bottom many winters between 1983-03 where snow is rare. But have never ventured out where winter was what those pictures above show. 

6:04 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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Great pictures Bill! And good point, too. If you know the direction of the prevailing winds you can get a rough direction by the shape of the sastrugi. I have done this on the sea ice after a storm. This is where knowing a little of the local climate and weather patterns will help, as well as the geography.

 

 

8:53 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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Okay new word there North1, I had to look up sastrugi to know what you mean, for anyone else here is the meaning: Sastrugi, or zastrugi, are sharp irregular grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion, saltation of snow particles, and deposition, and found in polar and temperate snow regions.


Sastrugi.jpg

North1 also said: If you know the direction of the prevailing winds you can get a rough direction by the shape of the sastrugi. 

Well if you know the wind direction, how do you tell by the shape of the sastrugi?

9:16 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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The sastrugi in the photo provided by Gary are similar to longitudinal sand dunes. In both, the wind runs parallel to the grooves. Without having any further information I would have to say that the wind was blowing from the left of the photo to the right. In the northern hemisphere the prevailing wind is from the west, generally. The evidence then shows that we are looking north. We can ammend this as we gather more evidence.

However, this is obviously the south pole, judging by the buildings, and every direction would be north.

Finding ones whereabouts should always be a dynamic affair.

11:11 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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North,

It is not only sastrugi that can be used. A few years ago, I got to learn a bit about how the Polynesians used wave patterns (along with star patterns) to navigate hundreds to thousands of miles to accurately locate islands. The wave patterns are governed by the prevailing winds along with ocean currents, plus the presence of islands and slightly submerged islands creates diffraction of the waves, which results in interference patterns in the waves that the trained eye can decipher to point the direction to an island (I understand the principle, but haven't learned it well enough to try playing Thor Heyerdahl). 

In Gary's photo, the "official" South Pole (the shiny ball on a pole that is used when photographing visiting dignitaries) is pretty close to the dome-shaped building. So you are looking south until you get up close to the building, at which point you can only look north. The position on the ice that is the True South Pole drifts in a fairly predictable way (the ice is drifting faster than the wobble of the earth, called nutation), with an annual placement of a pole to mark the True Pole.

11:54 p.m. on January 26, 2015 (EST)
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So okay, at the south pole when you look at a compass what does it point at, I am guessing it would point north no matter which way you turned it?

1:23 a.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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I only have experience in the Southeast US, so I don't have a clue what you would really need - or the best way to go about it.

I generally carry a compass, maps, map rulers, altimeter, a planisphere, and some paper & pencils for note taking. 

I don't know what else you would need for a different location.

7:52 a.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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Mike said:I generally carry a compass, maps, map rulers, altimeter, a planisphere, and some paper & pencils for note taking.

Wow, sounds like a lot of navigational stuff to find your way! I always have my 1968 Brunton boy scout compass just because of nostalgia as I got it after learning Map and Compass at scout camp my first year in scouts. But I rarely use it to plot where I am. I usually always have a topo map or a 8x10 copy of one printed from the internet to give me an idea whats around me way beyond the route(s) I am following in case I want to do some exploring and not get lost away from camp.

I have never used an altimeter usually just go by what it says on a map. Without looking it up I am guessing a planisphere is a star chart guage, oe of those circular things that tells you the stars you can see in the sky at any given evening?

I never take notes or keep a journal besides my memory from the pictures I took when I get back and they are my visual memory of the trip(s).

I tend to backpack and bike tour the same places I have since the early 1980s so I usually know the lay of the land,trail routes and such without consulting a map or needing my compass.  I have spent most of my time in either the Sierra Nevada,Grand Canyon, the Catalina's here near Tucson or the Tetons and Gros Ventre Range of Jackson Hole (JH) WY. And the various bike touring routes from JH to Tucson and back through Utah along either sides of the Green and Colorado River's.

10:51 a.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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Gary said: So okay, at the south pole when you look at a compass what does it point at, I am guessing it would point north no matter which way you turned it?

That would depend on which "south pole" you are refering to; True South, Grid South or Magnetic South. Assuming True South then the compass would point to the magnetic north pole, the same as always. At the Magnetic South Pole, which is about 2800 km away from True South, the compass becomes eratic. It will either spin around or hold steady in one position until you move the base.

I have stood at the Magnetic North Pole and found this to be true.

For those who want more information read Sir Douglas Mawson's Home of the Blizzard for discriptions on navigating by sastrugi. Sastrugi are formed by aeolian processes the same as barchan dunes. The Bedouin used these dune formations to navagate, too. 

My point again is if we use the earth, sun, moon and stars to navigate we gain a broader understanding of this thing we call "Nature" which persumably is why we are backpacking in the first place.

11:20 a.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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Gary said:

"Wow, sounds like a lot of navigational stuff to find your way! I always have my 1968 Brunton boy scout compass just because of nostalgia as I got it after learning Map and Compass at scout camp my first year in scouts. But I rarely use it to plot where I am. I usually always have a topo map or a 8x10 copy of one printed from the internet to give me an idea whats around me way beyond the route(s) I am following in case I want to do some exploring and not get lost away from camp."

Gary, most of the places I hike or backpack in there are few if any trail systems, and there is a very limited visual, maybe 400 - 500 meters.

It's a lot of dense forest, meandering waterways or swamps, and distant objects usually can't be seen because of the tree cover.

So I generally start at home by marking my starting spot on the map and then plot a course on the map to get where I want to go.

I do the better half of my navigation by instrument.

11:27 a.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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Something that most people do not know (including a large number of backpackers) is that there is such a thing as "dip" in the Earth's magnetic field. That's why the compass behaves erratically, that North referred to. This also means that, unless you have a "world compass", you need to have a compass that is balanced for the magnetic zone you are in. There are 4 or 5 magnetic zones on Earth (depending on which manufacturer made your compass). The first time I went to Australia, I noticed that my compass needle (North American zone) was scraping the top and bottom of the compass capsule. My Aussie friend and host laughed at me and gave me a gift of an inexpensive base plate compass balanced for Australia and other parts of that zone.

If you are within a few km of either magnetic pole, the needle on most compasses (the disc on disc compasses like the standard military compasses) wants to point nearly straight down. Which makes it scrape against the capsule. The design of a "world compass" includes a cylindrical magnet with a non-magnetic needle that is balanced for gravity. Within a few km of a magnetic pole, even world compasses tend to rub the cylinder against the bearing support.

And then there are magnetic anomalies, mostly in regions of former volcanic activity. I discovered one when I was planning to fly our plane (long since sold to pay for California real estate - i.e. the house we bought when we returned to Calif). It is on the approach to the Juneau airport. The magnetic declination (the offset of the magnetic compass from true north/south) is generally just a few degrees, though in Alaska it is in the 20° range or more in much of the state. The Juneau one is in the vicinity of a volcanic island just off the coast and is 120°. Yes, the needle will point toward the southeast.

North, I wanted to go to the magnetic north pole some years ago, when it was on a small island just off the Arctic Ocean coast. Then for whatever reason, the drift rate of the magnetic field accelerated and the magnetic pole started moving at about a half-km per year. I haven't checked the Canadian geologic survey website in a while, but I think it is well off shore to the north.

11:55 a.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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Bill, I was setting up a fuel cache on Ellef Ringness Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in the 1990's when the Magnetic North Pole was drifting past the west coast. I took several compasses with me to test just out of interest. The cheaper compasses were a needle balanced on a pin. These pointed down from horizontal following the magnetic flux. My Brunton Pocket Transit Compass did not, although the needle would not stabilize.

Now the pole has drifted much closer towards True North; too far for me to walk these days.

1:54 p.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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Bill S said:

There are situations where none of the answers above is adequate.” 

Maybe so but I did address the issue above;

 

ghostdog said:

Even then in canyon country it can be very difficult to wind one's way through the maze and come out on the other side as it takes more than just having and knowing how to use a map and compass for navigation. Intermontaine Plateau system is far different from Atlantic Plain or Interior Plains, we ain't in Kansas out there... LOL It is like a three dimensional chess match...”

But in this case, as a solution, I'd just say don't do that, find a more interesting and warmer place to do anything, flat cold and bleak just don't get it in the first place...LOL Well, that is what I'd do and that is what I actually do.

But if you really need a solution I have no idea if a compass would even work there, might point to the ground or something? And GPS, is there an adequate satellite system window there? I'll stick with southwest canyon country where you have to remember more moves than Bobby Fischer...

In the desert we use celestial navigation often. Sometimes it is the best way to find camp in the dark. 

 

9:11 p.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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ghost, first, avoidance is not a solution to a new navigation scenario. As you hinted in your post, unexpected events can change the situation drastically.

You did touch on a necessary part of the solution to any navigational scenario when you said:

it takes more than just having and knowing how to use a map and compass for navigation [or GPSR or other tools for that matter - my addition]. ..... we ain't in Kansas out there...  It is like a three dimensional chess match...”

No one so far, except North, explicitly mentioned fully understanding the tools you have, including their limitations, and that the most important tool is that grey matter between your ears. Maps, compasses, GPSRs, sextants, Loran, PLBs, inReaches, SPOT, and all the other tools are of no use unless the person knows how and when to use them and their limitations.

A compass is subject to magnetic anomalies (including those caused by major solar flares), being dropped, lost, or accidentally stepped on. Maps get torn, blown away, and (ones printed off an inkjet printer) having the ink smeared when getting wet. GPSRs and other electronic widgets have their batteries run out (oops, sorry, someone stepped on the solar panel and broke it). Navigation by the sun and stars is hard when you have a weeklong storm and overcast. Moss does not grow on just the north side of a tree (actually it is on the shady side, which can be all sides).

Side note - a GPSR only tells you where you are. It does not tell you the best route to where you want to go, though it can indicate the direction toward your destination (it omits such things as cliffs, canyons, mountain ranges, etc, although some units have a crude and very inadequate indication of such things). Likewise, a compass only points along the local magnetic field, not the direction you need to go to your intended destination. Maps are notorious for containing errors and out-dated information. Same with guidebooks.

My first time in Alaska, I was warned that I might have problems sleeping in the 24 hours of sunlight. That didn't happen, but it took a while to adjust to a sun that neither rose nor set for months. At least it went clockwise around the sky. Which caused a problem when I first went to Antarctica, where the "summer" sun goes around the sky in a counter clockwise direction. In both cases, however, I knew what to expect. It just took a while, just like switching between a standard transmission and an automatic.

You said also:

find a more interesting and warmer place to do anything, flat cold and bleak just don't get it in the first place

Actually, the Arctic and the Antarctic are among the most beautiful places on the planet. The SW corner of Utah is also among the most beautiful places, along with the Sonora Desert (where I grew up), Rockies, the Andes, the Alps, the Serengeti, Australian Outback, and hundreds of other places I have been (very few cities are on my "most beautiful" list). I know a lot of people who would say that the canyonlands are "bleak and desolate". Some of them would say the Sahara is "bleak and desolate".

Anyway, that's off topic. The question is ultimately, in a given situation, what are the minimum necessary tools and skills for navigation, whether it is the deep forests, jungles, deserts like the Sahara in a sandstorm, mountain ranges like the Himalaya, or regions like the Arctic, Antarctic, or the Patagonian ice sheet. There are some generalities, but ultimately there is one most important ingredient.

11:06 p.m. on January 27, 2015 (EST)
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I found the sun staying up almost all day in summer not hard to get used to. In fact I loved it cause I could get up at 3-4 am and start hiking in the light when I was in Denali and when I biked acorss Alaska I could go to bed anytime and get up when I wanted and continue on down the road. What bothered me somewhat was seeing the moon stay up all the time in the winters in Anchorage. Plus it was freaking cold with the sun down 20 hours a night and I was walking to work.

12:26 p.m. on January 28, 2015 (EST)
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Bill said;

A compass is subject to magnetic anomalies (including those caused by major solar flares), being dropped, lost, or accidentally stepped on. Maps get torn, blown away, and (ones printed off an inkjet printer) having the ink smeared when getting wet. GPSRs and other electronic widgets have their batteries run out (oops, sorry, someone stepped on the solar panel and broke it). Navigation by the sun and stars is hard when you have a weeklong storm and overcast. Moss does not grow on just the north side of a tree (actually it is on the shady side, which can be all sides).

Side note - a GPSR only tells you where you are. It does not tell you the best route to where you want to go, though it can indicate the direction toward your destination (it omits such things as cliffs, canyons, mountain ranges, etc, although some units have a crude and very inadequate indication of such things). Likewise, a compass only points along the local magnetic field, not the direction you need to go to your intended destination. Maps are notorious for containing errors and out-dated information. Same with guidebooks.

You go that right. I have lost a map in the wind, flew right over the horizon and was just gone. And I learned to keep my maps in one of those Gallon sized freezer ziplocks for moisture safety too, sweat will do damage. As for GPS, I have been using them since 1993...started with aeronautical navigation and while they have been mostly so accurate that they are spooky there has been the occasional loss of satellite picture with that one and my hand held that I got in 2004 that girlfriend runs now. Batteries have run down to find I did not have full spares. My GPS does have a moving map, 1:100,000 but that does not show many of the smaller but very important features in the landscape but even a good map has limitations. One just has to pick their way through. And yes, compasses, at least most of them, just point north, a simple tool that can be used to surprising effect at times but they don't do it themselves. As to celestial navigation, I agree, some places don't see a sky much. Shackelton's crew had that problem while shooting with their sextant if I recall. They got a window finally of a few seconds or moments and got what they needed after a very long wait, and then traveled over that forbidding mountain of rock and ice to rescue...

But sometimes all of those methods are working and available but not applicable to the confusing dilemma we find ourselves in...

As for the flat, cold bleak comment, you are right, it is a matter of personal perspective. I think I put an LOL after it to kind of show that since I don't see any smilies to to help with the inflection. Some find places like that to posses a kind of stark beauty, a silence and solitude found no place else...In the book Death on the Barrens, I have some notes and one of them; “The landscape was changing, becoming not only bleaker but also, in a strange way, more beautiful. The Barrens encompassed everything I could see, spread to the horizon in every direction as though we were camped on the peak of the tallest mountain in the world.” -George James Grinnell

After two winters in that kind of scenario I took off south myself...however, one of the places I really like on this planet is the Mojave Desert and I try to spend a couple weeks a year in there. So what does that tell you. There was a movie several years ago with this quote; “The blue sky, the desert earth, stretching out into the eerie infinity. A beautiful never-ending nothing.”  

2:47 p.m. on January 28, 2015 (EST)
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The closest I get to desert is low tide. Not because I wouldn't want to, but just because of my location.

2:52 p.m. on January 30, 2015 (EST)
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Interesting question. Although in certain situations, I would choose a compass, most usually, I would choose a map. We should remember that the compass is a relatively recent tool in humanity's navigational tool box. William Bligh was able to navigate 3200 miles of open ocean in a 23 foot boat, using only a quadrant and his pocket watch. The issue with using a compass for accuracy, is knowing the declination. The closer you get to the magnetic pole the crazier it can become. As Bill S said, there are a number of navigational tools available to us, not all modern. Prevailing winds, wave action, stars are all tools used by mariners and explorers for centuries. Don't limit your observation or tools, and the closer you will be to knowing your position. An example would be if you were interested in finding your exact location using a compass and a map with easily identifiable points. This would also require knowing the declination at your position. While taking a bearing on two points and translating those to your map, might give you a fairly good idea of your position, taking bearings on three or more points the intersection of those points will be more accurate. Use all the tools, including observation and common sense, to ensure accuracy.

3:00 p.m. on January 30, 2015 (EST)
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Erich said:

 William Bligh was able to navigate 3200 miles of open ocean in a 23 foot boat, using only a quadrant and his pocket watch.

 The quadrant, sextant, or octant plus accurate watch or clock were the original Global Positioning System.

On land (so you are not drifting as you inevitably do on the ocean), you can get a pretty accurate position and orientation with only an accurate watch plus a stick.

5:20 p.m. on January 30, 2015 (EST)
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Erich said:

 ... if you were interested in finding your exact location using a compass and a map with easily identifiable points. This would also require knowing the declination at your position. 

 

Not if you orient the map to magnetic north instead of true north. USGS Quadrangles have their lines oriented to True North which never changes, that includes the side of the map. Lay your compass precisely along the side of the map or any other grid mark that is oriented to True North and rotate both it until the compass reads north. Your map will now be oriented to magnetic north instead of true north. Now you can shoot your two or three bearings off the landscape with your compass that has no declination adjustment and you can transfer those bearing straight to the map with the edge of that same compass. You can also take bearings off the map and use them to navigate to points on the ground with no use of declination adjustment. Back and forth from map to compass or compass to map, the bearings will always be the same. But it is very important to have your map oriented to magnetic north every time you use it this way or you will be off.   

1:36 p.m. on February 1, 2015 (EST)
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To add, (and many of you may probably already know this) if you don't know the declination but need to find the precise declination while out in the wilds and have a compass, clear skies and know the North Star, it is pretty easy. That way you can work with a protractor and not need to orient the map at all when triangulating your position or you can take a bearing of the map with your protractor in the reverse manner and then use the declination to follow it. Most of the time I say why bother, but that's just me. Everyone has their favorite methods...

I do triangulation with a compass for various reasons most every time we are backpacking offtrail and hardly ever use declination for ephemeral instances like that. I do mark those coordinates in my field notebook with MN to differentiate those shot for TN. Once when a friend's GPS would not get satellite lock, I showed him how eerily precise a compass could mark specific points and one could precisely navigate with one using no map at all. We did a big loop and he was surprised when the compass brought us right back through rugged terrain to a small artifact we had come across earlier in the day.  

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