Mapping and Land Navigation
Understanding mapping and navigation is an essential skill for anyone interested
in backpacking and mountaineering. The Global Positioning System, GPS, technology
has made this much easier. I believe it is necessary to have paper maps,
a magnetic compass, and the knowledge to use them as a backup. I much prefer the
Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system, UTM, over latitude and longitude. Its advantage
is the coordinates translate directly to length measurements on a map. With
longitude, the distance that corresponds to a degree, minute, or second varies with latitude. The NATO militaries
uses a system derived from and very similar to UTM called the Military Grid Reference
Read about UTM here:
In the past, one had to purchase USGS paper topographic maps. Sometimes it took
several maps to cover a small area if the area of interest was along the sides and
corners of the maps. They were expensive, sometimes were hard to find, and only
lasted one or two trips.
Technology and the World Wide Web have dramatically changed mapping. Now there
are many options for free online topographic maps. My favorite is
site allows seamless viewing of topographic maps of almost any location. One can
- Zoom in or out.
- Plot points or tracks.
- Make annotations.
- Save and share maps.
- Print any portion or portions of a map including multiple pages at any scale.
- Export to GPX files for GPS devices or KML files for Google Earth.
- In short, do almost anything you would want to do with topographic map data with an
easy to learn and use website.
I use an Android phone and the
Backcountry Navigator app from CritterMap Software,
LLC for electronic maps and GPS in the field. It is available from the
Store. Before the trip, I download maps of the area where I am going and import
waypoints and tracks from CalTopo,
then when I am outside the range of phone and wireless data service, all of the
mapping information is available in the phone. The GPS functionally does not require
phone or wireless data service. I find that I do not need a stand-alone GPS device.
In addition to GPS and mapping, the phone serves as my camera, as a storage device
for reference information such as first aid instructions and gear user manuals,
and as a backup flashlight. I also use it to control my
Mini satellite communicator. For long trips, I carry a USB backup battery
such as the Anker
PowerCore 5000, Ultra-Compact 5000mAh portable charger. For even longer trips,
I also carry a GoalZero
Nomad 7 Plus solar
panel that can recharge my devices directly or indirectly via the external