Open main menu

How do we plan our treks and navigate on the trail? - Sharing apps and all the tips and tricks

How do we plan our treks and navigate on the trail? -  Sharing what apps we use and all the tips and tricks

Watch the full video here: 

In this video we are going to talk about how do we plan our treks and how do we navigate and stay on the right trek when we are hiking. We think that it is a pretty important topic to discuss and share our own tips and tricks about that. We will share all of our planning process when we are still at home, what programs and equipment do we use, and how do we stay on trek on the usual day of hiking. We hope this information will be useful for some of our fellow hikers and you will take something new from it.

Disclaimer: we don't have any affiliation with the brands and all items mentioned in the video were purchased by our own money.

What apps and resources do you love to use for planning your treks?

Oh geeze!  Ask me for the time, and I'll end up describing how it works!

I have an extensive paper map collection, augmented by two primary digital map products.

My preliminary  planning process may start with Mytopo.com/maps, along with a desktop map app (mine is an old National Geographic product).  I find these are good mostly for the Big Picture and geo-surfing.  Once I have a more specific venue in mind, I switch to my USGS maps.  I have wall maps that cover broad swaths of geography, for instance much of the Eastern Sierra is on a set of three wall maps that cover the John Muir Wilderness,, Inyo, Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks, and portions of the adjacent National Forests.  There are similar maps for Yosemite NP and other discrete park lands and forests.  The UDGS also has specialty map products, good for planning, such as one of my favorites: a spiral bound volume of reduced size 7½ minute maps called the Inyo National Forest  Atlas (117 maps in total).  Sometimes USGS resource and geology maps help plan trips; for example,  I've used geological maps to aid route planning for canyoneering trips in Zion and Grand Canyon.

I'll use the above mentioned charts to determine what specific  7½ or 15 minute maps cover my trip.  I have over well close to one hundred of these maps in my portfolio, covering just the Sierra.  Additionally I have another portfolio of maps covering many parts all of Grand Canyon NP, Zion NP and all of Joshua Tree NP; portions of the Rocky Mountain Front Range,  most of the Cascade cone peaks, portions of Olympic, Denali and Rangel-St Elias NPs, and a couple of mountains in Peru.  Lastly my collection includes several proprietary map products, such as those from Tom Harrison of specific trails, such as JMT.  

I carry paper maps into the field - mostly the 7½ minute topos.

DSCN0073.jpg

Above:  East Side of the North Palisades  and Sierra Crest.  Look close, and you will notice a fishing rod storage tube protruding out from my day pack, behind my right shoulder.  It is my map tube, (a modified fishing rod storage tube), used to keep my maps free of damage from repeatedly being folded, as well as protected from the rain and snow.

My navigation aids always include a Cammenga brand lensatic compass, and an articulating, very light weight plastic protractor.  The protractor is handy, both as a longer straight edge used to line up field sighting on the map, while simultaneously compensating for declination.  I have various map scales (e.g. 1:63,360) taped to the arms of the protractor to aid distance calculations.  The protractor affords more efficient orienting, as one person can wield the compass, while another extrapolates bearings into triangulations on the map. 

On ski mountaineering tours I also bring a slide rule and altimeter.  There are times visibility may afford only one  known geographic feature to get your bearings.  Using the altimeter, you can ascertain  your altitude, the protractor used to determine your incline angle from the known feature, and the slide rule to extrapolate the gathered geometric data, effectively triangulating off a single, known point.  I might avail to modern GPS technology, nowadays, but would still carry these low tech tools because they are not subject to dead batteries, breakage or signal issues.  Navigation is mission critical!

Ed

I like maps and experience.  I have never used an app. 

I'm with Ed and Ppine.  I carry paper maps and a compass.  Always.  I have played with my phone on a few day hikes, but when it come to navigating in the high country, I want something that cannot fail.  I get into trouble easily enough on my own---I don't need failed electronics or a cracked screen to help. 

One comment to add for those using mechanical  compasses:  Compasses are calibrated to work on one side of the equator, or the other.  The further from the equator the destination resides, the greater the imperative that you use  a compass calibrated for that hemisphere.  Thus if you live in the US and plan to travel in South America, you should consider purchasing a compass that was calibrated to operate in the Southern Hemisphere.  (And remember which compass is which, so you don't end up in the field with needle dip screwing up your orienting).

Ed

whomeworry said:

Oh geeze!  Ask me for the time, and I'll end up describing how it works!

I have an extensive paper map collection, augmented by two primary digital map products.

My preliminary  planning process may start with Mytopo.com/maps, along with a desktop map app (mine is an old National Geographic product).  I find these are good mostly for the Big Picture and geo-surfing.  Once I have a more specific venue in mind, I switch to my USGS maps.  I have wall maps that cover broad swaths of geography, for instance much of the Eastern Sierra is on a set of three wall maps that cover the John Muir Wilderness,, Inyo, Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks, and portions of the adjacent National Forests.  There are similar maps for Yosemite NP and other discrete park lands and forests.  The UDGS also has specialty map products, good for planning, such as one of my favorites: a spiral bound volume of reduced size 7½ minute maps called the Inyo National Forest  Atlas (117 maps in total).  Sometimes USGS resource and geology maps help plan trips; for example,  I've used geological maps to aid route planning for canyoneering trips in Zion and Grand Canyon.

I'll use the above mentioned charts to determine what specific  7½ or 15 minute maps cover my trip.  I have over well close to one hundred of these maps in my portfolio, covering just the Sierra.  Additionally I have another portfolio of maps covering many parts all of Grand Canyon NP, Zion NP and all of Joshua Tree NP; portions of the Rocky Mountain Front Range,  most of the Cascade cone peaks, portions of Olympic, Denali and Rangel-St Elias NPs, and a couple of mountains in Peru.  Lastly my collection includes several proprietary map products, such as those from Tom Harrison of specific trails, such as JMT.  

I carry paper maps into the field - mostly the 7½ minute topos.

DSCN0073.jpg

Above:  East Side of the North Palisades  and Sierra Crest.  Look close, and you will notice a fishing rod storage tube protruding out from my day pack, behind my right shoulder.  It is my map tube, (a modified fishing rod storage tube), used to keep my maps free of damage from repeatedly being folded, as well as protected from the rain and snow.

My navigation aids always include a Cammenga brand lensatic compass, and an articulating, very light weight plastic protractor.  The protractor is handy, both as a longer straight edge used to line up field sighting on the map, while simultaneously compensating for declination.  I have various map scales (e.g. 1:63,360) taped to the arms of the protractor to aid distance calculations.  The protractor affords more efficient orienting, as one person can wield the compass, while another extrapolates bearings into triangulations on the map. 

On ski mountaineering tours I also bring a slide rule and altimeter.  There are times visibility may afford only one  known geographic feature to get your bearings.  Using the altimeter, you can ascertain  your altitude, the protractor used to determine your incline angle from the known feature, and the slide rule to extrapolate the gathered geometric data, effectively triangulating off a single, known point.  I might avail to modern GPS technology, nowadays, but would still carry these low tech tools because they are not subject to dead batteries, breakage or signal issues.  Navigation is mission critical!

Ed

 

Hello, Ed, that is such a detailed description, thanks for that. That would be really interesting to see al the process if you could show it in the video format, very useful for many people too. We are yet to learn how to manage these tools, but it is so exciting. Would address you for the guidance for that;)

Hi back at you guys, Angelina!

Basic map and compass skills are documented all over the place.

REI has a series about navigation that includes this topic.  It also includes info on using GPS devices.

Compass Dude has a web site dedicated to teaching map and compass and navigation skills.

Search YouTube = "map and compass skills" and "GPS skills".  All sorts of videos will come up.

I would not worry about the Military Grid Reference System,  or clicks - these comprise a whole topic of their own, not normally used by recreational adventurers.

As I said, the basics are easy to come across.

Once you learn the basics, you will quickly understand how incorporating a protractor will speed up transferring field bearings obtained with the compass onto a map.  I prefer to report compass bearings based on magnetic north values, then use the protractor to adjust the declination offset to arrive at the true north bearing.  It sounds confusing, but once you understand the difference between magnetic north and true north, you'll see this is a no brainer.  The process can be sped up further still, if one person  translates sight bearings into vectors on the map, fed to him by one or more people, each taking bearings with their own compass.  

Many times you need just one compass sighting vector to resolve your position on a map, if you use an altimeter reading to identify your position along that vector.  No further effort is needed if only seeking your approximate location.  This method is not always reliable, when a precise location is required.  One time limited visibility forced us to rely on a single bearing at a crucial point of the route.  We lost a day's travel when our haste sent us down a couloir 50 yards from the correct couloir of our intended course, causing us to descend into the wrong drainage, where we were stymied by a hanging valley.  We ended up climbing back up to the ridge to gain access to the correct couloir.  ARGH!  If we had double checked our location using the trig techniques described below, we could have avoided the mistake.  

Trigonometry works on triangles.  It can resolve the values for the angles of the corners, and lengths of the legs of a triangle.  

The basic approach has us working with a right triangle.  The corners of the right triangle are: 

  1. Corner #1 is the object you are taking a bearing on, preferably with an elevation noted on the map.  Note: The this object can also be a waypoint on your route you already passed through, and bothered to record the elevation when you were there. 
  2. Corner #2 is a point along that sighting vector you just generated, that corresponds to your elevation reading from the altimeter.
  3. Corner #3 is the right angle directly beneath you (underground), that has the same elevation as Corner #1.   

The hypotenuse of the triangle is your sight line to the object in the distance (Corner #1).  The length of the adjacent side is the elevation difference between your location (Corner #2) and the elevation of the right angle (Corner #3).  The length of the opposite side is the distance between the reference point (Corner #1) and the right angle corner (Corner #3).  You can use the protractor as an inclinometer to estimate the angle of the sight line to the reference object (Corner #1); likewise you can cross check your original solution, using slide rule functions (plenty of how-to articles on this skill on the web), or a calculator, to extrapolate the precise values of the angles at each end of the hypotenuse and the length of the hypotenuse.  

An advanced method is triangulating off a visible reference point Corner #1, and using a second reference point on the map of a known elevation that may not be visible, due to weather (Corner #2), and your location (Corner #3).  Likewise you could construct a second right triangle off the invisible second reference point, assign it as Corner #1, with Corner #3 still beneath you, but at the elevation of new Corner #1 and using the current Corner #2 (your position) to complete this right triangle.  Use these triangle solutions is to collaborate the findings of your first (right triangle) solution as previously described, by using trig derived from the additional triangles to confirm the length of the hypotenuse or angles the original right triangle. (My HS geometry teacher would never believe I was able to apply his lessons in the field.)  

These techniques not limited to right angle trigonometry, nor do we even need to know our own elevation.  As long as you have two points, each at a known elevation, one of which is visible (e.g. lakes, peaks, etc), you can divine any number of triangles on your map, using even reference points that are obscured by clouds.  The more data and solutions you generate, the more confidence you can have in solutions that collaborate with each other.  Use trigonometry to creatively get around limitations imposed by restricted visibility. 

For the trig and geometry wizzes there are other, more elaborate techniques.  Altimeter readings from any device are seldom without variance, and likewise maps, be they paper or electronic provide only approximate elevations away from known benchmarks.  The key is confirming whatever your initial solution indicates by resolving your location using other reference points.  

If this all sounds complicated, it is (!) especially if you are not familiar with trigonometric functions.  Otherwise it is an excuse for the math nerds to show off, and a tedious exercise for the rest of us.  These are more or less similar to the techniques how early surveyors accurately charted unknown territory.  One can simplify some of the tedium by taking trig tables into the field.  You will find the how-to articles, per using trig tables, wherever you find tutorials on basic trigonometry.

Breathe... 

Class is over!  I am too lazy to produce a video describing all of these techniques and concepts.  And this forum is not the place to conduct an applied geometry course.  But all of this information is out there on the web, for those who have the desire and smarts to figure how to put these didactics to practical use.  The truth be told: I've only seen these techniques applied in mountaineering situations where weather hampered navigation, and it was imperative to precisely locate specific waypoints on the route.  

Ed

whomeworry said:

Hi back at you guys, Angelina!

Basic map and compass skills are documented all over the place.

REI has a series about navigation that includes this topic.  It also includes info on using GPS devices.

Compass Dude has a web site dedicated to teaching map and compass and navigation skills.

Search YouTube = "map and compass skills" and "GPS skills".  All sorts of videos will come up.

I would not worry about the Military Grid Reference System,  or clicks - these comprise a whole topic of their own, not normally used by recreational adventurers.

As I said, the basics are easy to come across.

Once you learn the basics, you will quickly understand how incorporating a protractor will speed up transferring field bearings obtained with the compass onto a map.  I prefer to report compass bearings based on magnetic north values, then use the protractor to adjust the declination offset to arrive at the true north bearing.  It sounds confusing, but once you understand the difference between magnetic north and true north, you'll see this is a no brainer.  The process can be sped up further still, if one person  translates sight bearings into vectors on the map, fed to him by one or more people, each taking bearings with their own compass.  

Many times you need just one compass sighting vector to resolve your position on a map, if you use an altimeter reading to identify your position along that vector.  No further effort is needed if only seeking your approximate location.  This method is not always reliable, when a precise location is required.  One time limited visibility forced us to rely on a single bearing at a crucial point of the route.  We lost a day's travel when our haste sent us down a couloir 50 yards from the correct couloir of our intended course, causing us to descend into the wrong drainage, where we were stymied by a hanging valley.  We ended up climbing back up to the ridge to gain access to the correct couloir.  ARGH!  If we had double checked our location using the trig techniques described below, we could have avoided the mistake.  

Trigonometry works on triangles.  It can resolve the values for the angles of the corners, and lengths of the legs of a triangle.  

The basic approach has us working with a right triangle.  The corners of the right triangle are: 

  1. Corner #1 is the object you are taking a bearing on, preferably with an elevation noted on the map.  Note: The this object can also be a waypoint on your route you already passed through, and bothered to record the elevation when you were there. 
  2. Corner #2 is a point along that sighting vector you just generated, that corresponds to your elevation reading from the altimeter.
  3. Corner #3 is the right angle directly beneath you (underground), that has the same elevation as Corner #1.   

The hypotenuse of the triangle is your sight line to the object in the distance (Corner #1).  The length of the adjacent side is the elevation difference between your location (Corner #2) and the elevation of the right angle (Corner #3).  The length of the opposite side is the distance between the reference point (Corner #1) and the right angle corner (Corner #3).  You can use the protractor as an inclinometer to estimate the angle of the sight line to the reference object (Corner #1); likewise you can cross check your original solution, using slide rule functions (plenty of how-to articles on this skill on the web), or a calculator, to extrapolate the precise values of the angles at each end of the hypotenuse and the length of the hypotenuse.  

An advanced method is triangulating off a visible reference point Corner #1, and using a second reference point on the map of a known elevation that may not be visible, due to weather (Corner #2), and your location (Corner #3).  Likewise you could construct a second right triangle off the invisible second reference point, assign it as Corner #1, with Corner #3 still beneath you, but at the elevation of new Corner #1 and using the current Corner #2 (your position) to complete this right triangle.  Use these triangle solutions is to collaborate the findings of your first (right triangle) solution as previously described, by using trig derived from the additional triangles to confirm the length of the hypotenuse or angles the original right triangle. (My HS geometry teacher would never believe I was able to apply his lessons in the field.)  

These techniques not limited to right angle trigonometry, nor do we even need to know our own elevation.  As long as you have two points, each at a known elevation, one of which is visible (e.g. lakes, peaks, etc), you can divine any number of triangles on your map, using even reference points that are obscured by clouds.  The more data and solutions you generate, the more confidence you can have in solutions that collaborate with each other.  Use trigonometry to creatively get around limitations imposed by restricted visibility. 

For the trig and geometry wizzes there are other, more elaborate techniques.  Altimeter readings from any device are seldom without variance, and likewise maps, be they paper or electronic provide only approximate elevations away from known benchmarks.  The key is confirming whatever your initial solution indicates by resolving your location using other reference points.  

If this all sounds complicated, it is (!) especially if you are not familiar with trigonometric functions.  Otherwise it is an excuse for the math nerds to show off, and a tedious exercise for the rest of us.  These are more or less similar to the techniques how early surveyors accurately charted unknown territory.  One can simplify some of the tedium by taking trig tables into the field.  You will find the how-to articles, per using trig tables, wherever you find tutorials on basic trigonometry.

Breathe... 

Class is over!  I am too lazy to produce a video describing all of these techniques and concepts.  And this forum is not the place to conduct an applied geometry course.  But all of this information is out there on the web, for those who have the desire and smarts to figure how to put these didactics to practical use.  The truth be told: I've only seen these techniques applied in mountaineering situations where weather hampered navigation, and it was imperative to precisely locate specific waypoints on the route.  

Ed

 Thanks again for the basic explanation, it does sound complicated to us especially counting that we were poor math and geometry students)) It certainly requires some dedication to learn the technique but we do believe it is feasible at least to get a hang of the basics. Once we do that, we think it will be exciting to film a hike where we will rely exclusively on such tools, that would be definitely a challenge. 

If you follow the tutorials you'll find in books or on line, you will find basic map and compass skills are actually pretty simple to acquire, way easier than learning to use a smart phone. 

Interpreting the map and terrain, knowing how to choose a route, and what to do while out in the field is more involved.  These are the navigation skills that pose the most challenge.

For example: 
You are at Point A, and you need to get to camp at Point B.  Camp happens to be along a stream.  You plot a direct course to camp on the map, but when you arrive at the stream you are not at camp.  So is camp up or downstream of your current position?  It's a guess, but you could have precluded the guesswork by intentionally setting a course that places you up or downstream of the camp.  That way when you arrive at the stream, you know which direction will lead to camp.

Another example:
This is a common winter travel challenge: traveling under limited visibility conditions.  Parties often bring wands (skinny reed poles) to stick in the snow and/or plastic tape (like the stuff police use to mark off a crime scene) that can be cut into strips and tied onto tree limbs.  Both reed and tape are used to mark a route.  It is impractical to mark every other tree or post a wand every 50', so one eventually gets disoriented when conditions limit visibility.  In this example we are returning to camp under limited visibility.  Normally you would try to position camp near a geographical feature that would make finding it easier, such as the stream in the prior example, but in this scenario the camp is away from identifiable features.  At some point we cannot see our next wand, due to weather, so we do our best to navigate "blind".  But how do we know if we went far enough, or if we are passing left or right of camp?  This scenario has actually ended in tragedy on several occasions, to hapless trekking parties.  This could be addressed before we set out on our day trip.  We could position a string of closely spaced wands, perpendicular to our intended route,  extending 100 yards (or more) from camp.  In this case the camp is at one end of this string of wands.  On our way back we now have a much larger target to shoot for, and intentionally plot a course to intersect the line of wands.  Then we follow it to camp, just like we did with the stream in the previous example. 

You also need to interpret the map to anticipate terrain.  This skill is acquired through experience out in the field.   In this example we are trying to ascend up a gorge to a lake.  The maps indicates the final approach has two options: a direct route up a narrow ravine containing the creek from the lake, and an indirect route up a wider, parallel running ravine with no water, that tops out above the lake.  The natural inclination is to choose the creek ravine, but the indirect route is probably better, because narrow ravines often are terraced into a series of ledges that must be climbed; likewise flowing water often creates a riparian zone, forcing one to perform vigorous bushwhacking to make any headway.

I live in Southern California, where the local mountains are arid, and water sources often seasonal.  Through the years I learned that the geology of these mountains has bands of rock strata that water penetrating the mountains is unable to seep past, causing it to flow along that layer of rock and seep out where the rock band is exposed at the surface. Some of these seeps are charted as intermittent springs, but many remain uncharted.  Armed with this knowledge I can move XC over terrain, looking for subtle variations in the color of foliage along these rock bands, discover the location of uncharted seeps,  and find water without the need to carry an entire day's worth in my pack.  One friend called me the human divining rod, having seen me pull this off on several occasions.  What he doesn't know is I review geologic maps of the terrain before we set out, so I know where to look, and plot courses that cross these potential water sources.  (Nor did he notice I have noted the location of previously discovered seeps on my maps.)  I have noted at least two dozen of them.  These seeps are not guaranteed, however; So Cal has been under a sustained drought for decades, making some of these seeps more sporadic in the dry season, and others have completely dried up.

Perhaps the greatest navigation challenge is route selection in snow covered mountains.  One has to account for snowpack conditions and avalanche hazards.  These may be influenced by surface features under the snowpack, conditions evolving in the snowpack,  conditions that existed when each layer of snow was deposited, and the effects weather have on the snowpack.  Snowpack conditions can change on an hourly basis,  due to evolving weather, and vary according to elevation, slope incline and contour, and which direction the slope faces.  Conditions will also predicate where you can safely camp.  More mountaineers perish due to deadly snow, than any other cause.   Safe route selection on snow or glacier are advanced skills that requires a good deal of apprenticing under the guidance of experienced, knowledgeable mentors, and technical skills (e.g. crevasse rescue) that require practicing as a team, so recuses and other complex routines are conducted efficiently and safely.

The point, here, is learning to to use a map and compass is imperative, it will greatly reduce the likelihood of getting lost.  But to be a skilled navigator requires more than competency with a map and compass.  You need to anticipate events, interpret what maps only allude, understand the lay of the land,  and come up with plans for situations that are not in the books.  It is learned over a lifetime, the class is always in session.

Ed

Columbia river orienteering club has a good series on youtube you can learn from they go into GPS and other things related to orienteering...

December 4, 2021
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply