Wilderness Medicine- Trip planning- Navigation


Have you ever started hiking into a new area and got to a fork in the trail, with no signs, and wondered “which way do I go from here?“.

Most of us have and that’s what I want to help you with today in our Planning section on navigation. I will admit, I’ve been obsessed with maps since I was in college. I also wanted to have a “map room” in my house, to display some of the maps I’ve collected over the years.. But many of the maps have been bought for use and not display. I learned early on in my outdoor career to always take a map with me and also learn how to read and use a map and compass.

Relying on sayings like “moss grows on the North side of a tree” is no substitute for a compass!

Before you hike (or paddle or off-road bike) into wilderness area, make sure you have a map and a compass.. Even if you are primarily using a GPS, always have a map as a backup. Batteries can die or your GPS can malfunction.

You can find maps of local areas at a local adventure outfitting store. You can also print maps off on your own printer. One of the best websites for backcountry trip planning and also print specific maps is hillmap.com. And you can find waterproof paper to print on the web. iGage seems to be a good brand and has up to 13×19 paper for large maps. Rite in the Rain paper looked good but they said you couldn’t use inkjet printers.

Here is what I carry with me:


Compasses: I have a variety that I have used over the years. I have settled on a Suunto MC-2G which has a site mirror and clinometer ( which I learned in my AIARE 1 class on avalanches is invaluable for reading slope angles for predicting slopes prone to sliding snow). It is has a “global” needle thanks to Suunto.. For more info from Suunto, click here..  BTW, the Compass in the pic above is the Suunto M-3 Global compass. Works on the same principle, but without a site mirror. The mirror attached to the lanyard is a signaling mirror..

GPS: my trusted GPS is a Garmin Oregon 400t which is 7 years old and still working well and has been all,over the US ( and into Canada) without a problem.)

PLB (Personal Locator Beacon): Since I hike alone for my photography often (I don’t want to hear it from you guys, I know it is not as safe as hiking with at least one other person, but that is the reality of what I do.. Any consolation , I do not dive alone!) my PLB is a DeLorme InReach Explorer. It can be used as a simple Electronic SOS device. It can also track points and even send simple texts and messages ( yes, and even update to Facebook) from anywhere in the world. This has become my communication with home when I am abroad device. I was even able to text Rebecca from Antartica and the Bering Strait. It pairs with my iPhone 6 to make it easier to compose text and even gives you a map.

Here are links for training from REI (yeah, they know have a store in Knoxville!)

REI map and compass.

REI GPS navigation..

Remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.BMC_20141204_1230504

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