Maps & Magnets in the GPS World

A quick post about backcountry navigation.

Most of us now have GPS, maps, and electronic compasses accessible in our phones. With solar charging options we can even overcome the battery issue for backcountry electronics. So what purpose does the traditional map and compass serve in our electronic world?

This video – while referring to vehicle navigation systems – has some relevant points. Here is my list of things that make it important to be able to work with maps and compass.

Malfunctions: The most obvious is that electronics can break or have software malfunctions or have display problems or any number of other technical issues.

Reception: A lot of things can affect the reliability and precision of GPS reception; trees, cloud cover, precipitation, terrain, etc.

Opportunity for human error: All it takes is entering one wrong digit in a long string of digits for you to go off in entirely the wrong direction.

Scale: This is really important. As James May says in the video, you can’t really see your place in the big picture. You can zoom electronic maps in and out, but if you zoom out you are limited by the display size, so you can’t read detail. Having a quick reference picture of what is around you without having to zoom and pan makes keeping yourself located and keeping your sense of direction tuned in.

Besides, looking at the map is a good excuse to take a rest.


About langleybackcountry

I am a member of Cascade Backcountry Ski Patrol (CBSP), a volunteer National Ski Patrol organization loosely based in Seattle. Our group operates as volunteers with USFS Ranger Districts outside of developed ski areas in the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie, Blewett, Stevens, and Washington passes.
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