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Navigate Without GPS

Kevin Blumer | Writer
Posted June 1, 2010

Map, Compass, And More

We love GPS technology, so why would we spend time and precious pages telling you how to get along without it? A few reasons come to mind. Not everyone has a GPS unit. GPS units can break down. The satellite signal can be lost in dense woods or deep canyons. Above all, it's empowering to be familiar with more than one way to find your way.

We'll break this down into two general categories: map and compass, and general route finding.

Don't Fear the Map
Some people get intimidated or annoyed by maps. Maybe you're one of them. If so, take some time to study your map before you go out into the dirt. That way, you'll have some familiarity with your map before you have to depend on it.

Maps Have Themes
Not all maps are created equal. Maps are used to show data and spatial relationships. Different maps could be created for the same area that would look radically different from one another. One could show population density, while another could show average rainfall. Still another could show street routes and not much else. The type of maps used for off-road navigation is usually topographical, and include contour lines or other markings to indicate what the natural terrain is like.

Map Checklist
Make sure the map you purchase shows natural features. Rivers, mountains, lakes, etc., should all be indicated. The map should also show how steep the mountain slopes are, or aren't. Your map should show established routes, and what type of routes they are: paved roads, dirt roads, 4WD trails, or hiking trails. Your map should also indicate who owns the land. Private land, U.S. Forest Service land, BLM land, city-owned land, and Federal wilderness all go by different sets of rules when it comes to vehicle access. Your map should also have a scale, so you'll know what distance an inch on the map represents on the ground.

True North vs. Magnetic North
True north is at the North Pole. Magnetic compasses point to magnetic north, which is somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. Most maps should show the difference, which is called the declination. In North America, the declination is about 13 degrees east. Most maps will indicate the declination in the key or legend. The tricky part of true north vs. magnetic north is that maps are drawn with north facing true North, while your magnetic compass points to magnetic North. Not to worry, as there's a way you can reconcile the two and find your way.


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