By Steven Stillwell
DON’T GET LOST. Sometimes our sense of direction isn’t as reliable as we think, especially if we’re hiking through dense foliage, tall timber, or there’s a lot of cloud cover. It’s always wise to carry a compass, but what if there aren’t any distinguishable landmarks to use for navigational purposes? We can easily determine directions, but how can we safely return to camp if we’ve wondered off course and lost our way?
One of the easiest methods to use if you don’t want to get lost is called, BASELINE NAVIGATION, but you’ll need a compass for this to work. Here’s a basic example of how this is done. Let’s pretend that we want to explore a certain tract of forest, and there’s a dirt road that extends for several miles, from east to west. Using this established barrier as a BASELINE, we can hike north, do some exploring, and if we veer off course, we can still head south and safely find our way back. THE TRICK IS, knowing how far the road extends in both directions, and not traveling beyond the point where we lose our BASELINE. In most cases this could encompass several miles. With a basic understanding of this technique, we can also use this method with streams, rivers, trails or other lengthy milestones such as power-lines.
If you’re not familiar with a compass, I’ll give you a crash-course. Most compasses have what’s called a rotating bezel that sits on top. Some people refer to this as a dial, and it has numbers, ranging from 0 to 360 degrees. Technically, your compass will have a 359 degree marker, and when you rotate the bezel to ZERO, it’s the same as 360 degrees. This sounds confusing, but when you study the features, it’s not. Your compass will also have a magnetized needle that responds to what’s called magnetic North, and it will always point in this direction. There are also a couple of variables referred to as True North, Magnetic North, and Declination. Fortunately, declination is a negligible factor in Arkansas, so I ignore this when I’m hiking in our area. If I traveled north and wanted to return to the BASELINE road in our illustration, 180 degrees would point the way. For those of us who carry rifles or knifes, be sure to keep them several feet away from your compass when determining directions. Held in close proximity, steel objects will cause your needle to fluctuate, and this will throw you off course.
THIS IS HOW I CONSERVE MY BATTERIES. Global Positioning Systems commonly referred to as a GPS, can make hiking and exploring so much easier, but they have one weakness; BATTERIES. Over the years, I’ve learned a TRICK that helps me compensate for this disadvantage, so I’ll share my secret. First of all, you’ll need to determine where you want to go, after powering your unit up. WAYPOINTS are markers that are stored in your GPS memory system, so choose one. On your viewing screen, you’ll see a BEARING which is a directional indicator, and a set of numbers ranging from 0 to 359 degrees. Let’s keep this simple and say that 180 degrees is the direction you wish to go. Using your compass, rotate the bezel to this number, and TURN YOUR GPS OFF. The magnetic needle will still point north, but your line of travel will face south as you manipulate the compass in your hand. If I’m hiking long distances, I’ll periodically turn my GPS back on, reacquire my position, and quickly turn the unit off. By doing this, my batteries usually last an entire hunting season before they’re completely drained. As a safety precaution, I always carry extra batteries, and two compasses.
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