Additional Reading: Map & Compass
Campers or hikers often travel off the beaten path on trails
or poorly constructed back roads with no signs to point the way and need to
develop special skills, such as being able to use a compass and read maps.
compass has a moveable needle and rotating dial mounted on a base plate. It gives directions directly without having to figure degrees
and it holds the bearing you have set.
A map is a vertical
view of an area, as it would appear from the air.
The most useful maps for a hiker or backpacker are the topographic
maps that are published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Topographic maps are often referred to as “topos” or “quads”.
They give a graphic picture of what can be seen in a particular area.
Each map covers a small
area in great detail.
They show hill and
mountains and how steep.
They show streams, bodies
of water, springs, and man-made structures such as buildings and bridges.
They can usually be
purchased in local outdoor sporting good stores or map shops.
LEARNING TO READ A
is a summary of information found in the lower right-hand corner of a map that
includes the following items:
Name or title of the
Name of the person or
firm who made the map and date (dates are important because of possible changes)
Compass direction (north
and magnetic north)
A scale of distance ( ex:
1:24,000 which is about 2.6 inches to a mile)
A key to the meaning of
MAP SYMBOLS –
Culture – works of man
shown in black and red
Relief – elevations and
depressions shown as contour lines in brown
Water features – shown
Vegetation – shown in
green with black or blue overprints
– a person who draws or makes maps.
Use of map and
compass takes many hours of practice. Here are some basics to remember:
Never venture into
unfamiliar territory alone and always tell someone where you are going.
Leave a written
itinerary, with whom you are traveling, and your expected return time.
Take your map and compass
with you and use it! A compass alone is almost of no use after you are lost.
It is essential to look
back occasionally when you are hiking to get the return view and write
things down if there is any doubt instead of relying on memory.
Experiments have shown
that claiming to have a “sixth sense” of direction is simply not true.
Groups should stay
together and each carry a whistle to blast in case they stray.
IF YOU BECOME LOST
Stay calm; try to retrace
your travel patterns.
Climb to a high point
(tree or hill) to get a view or landmark.
If none of these help,
sit down, conserve energy, and wait for help.
If conditions are
suitable, build a fire.
Keep in mind that every
unguided person tends to travel in a more or less circular pattern.
If you decide to walk
out, choose two landmarks in one direction to follow in a line, always adding
another landmark as you near the first.
It is usually best to
travel downhill along water drainages rather than uphill.
Listen for human sounds
and look for signs of smoke.
DANGER OR DISTRESS
Three of anything has been long and widely recognized as a signal of danger or distress. Examples:
three whistle blasts
three rocks placed on top
of each other
three clumps of grass
tied in knots
three blazes on trees
three smudge fires
BY THE STARS
Star is an even more accurate guide to direction than a compass.
It never varies more than one degree from true north no matter where you
are in the U.S. To locate the North
Find the Big Dipper and
the Little Dipper in the sky.
Locate the two stars
opposite the handle that form the front edge of the Big Dipper known as the pointers.
They point directly to
the North Star in the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle.
The first trails were
made by big game animals going to and from feeding grounds, watering holes or
salt licks. Others making trails
were Native Americans, pioneer trappers and explorers on foot or horseback. And
finally covered wagons and stagecoaches followed these same trails which became
the bases of the routes of our railroads and highways.
BLAZES FOR HIKERS
Tree blazes – a chip
out of a tree to expose the white surface under the bark.
Rock cairns – small
rocks piled on top of larger ones.
Paint – arrows or
rectangles painted on tree trunks.
Grass clumps tied
Brush blazes – breaking
a shrub branch leaving it still attached every hundred yards or so.
International Morse code –
uses dots and dashes to spell out messages.
A “dot” is indicated by a short flash or sound (held while you count
“one”). A “dash” is
indicated by a long one (held while you count “one, two, three”).
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