Winter Is Almost Here, Can You Navigate Through The Backcountry?

Posted: September 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Tips | What do you think?

I thought I would throw in a few resources that have been a good source of information for the navigational courses I’ve been taking for kayaking.  In addition to avalanche and general mountaineering safety skills, knowing how to read a map with a compass is essential.  I don’t care if you have a GPS: batteries die, and electronic devices can fail…

In most cases I ski areas that I know, but in the winter, not knowing where you are can be amplified with the cold and tricky weather.  In kayaking, we deal with similar barriers like navigating through fog.

Now, let me start off with saying that you should take a course on this stuff.  Getting practical experience navigating around with a compass makes a huge difference than watching a few YouTube videos.

Also, start off by practicing in areas that you know, with a decent line of sight to your destination or some sort of point on a map that you can visually see.  This can make it easier to get your bearings and determine whether you’re going the right direction.

Here are a few links that I use, feel free to post your favorite navigational resources in the comments area after the fold.

Backcountry Attitude – An excellent tutorial on using your compass and backcountry orienteering in general.  I highly recommend looking at this site.

Bivouac – One of the most comprehensive Canadian backcountry website for mountaineering.  The paid membership will give you access to maps and detailed info.  Worth it if you spend time in the backcountry here in Canada.  As a note, this site is probably the most simplistic in terms of programming.

Learn Orienteering – This was one of the first sites I stumbled upon.  Straight forward tutorial on orienteering

Or perhaps, you want to combine the sport of orienteering with skiing?

If you don’t have a compass and you’re in the northern hemisphere, you could try using your watch (only works if your watch has hands)

Another important thing is to know what the symbols and contours mean on a map – same with a chart.  A symbol could mean a huge marshy swamp or a huge drop in elevation.

Of course, GPS ain’t all bad.  I carry one as backup.  You can have a lot of fun with your GPS device as well.  Geocaching is a fun treasure hunting activity.  Go for a standard trail GPS device like the Garmin eTrex, rather than relying on your cell phone or iPad/iPod for obvious reason.  Watch out for terrain that blocks off the satellite signals.

Navigating can be a fun activity to learn, and I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to venture out into the wild.  Of course, nothing beats taking an actual course geared towards backcountry safety.  As usual, contact your local guides to find out more… and most of all, be safe out there!

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