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Buffalo Hiking Club Message Board › Before the Hike – Map Review

Before the Hike – Map Review

Group Organizer
Buffalo, NY
Post #: 233
Use of a map and compass can help keep you from getting lost and can help you find your way out of the woods if you do get lost. Just about every list of the “Ten Essentials” has a Map and Compass as the first item on the list. (But don’t forget the Zero Essential – the information about your planned hike and expected return time that you leave with a trusted person who will call the appropriate authorities if you don’t return as expected.)

Just because you have a map and compass in your pack doesn’t mean you are prepared for your hike any more than having a scalpel and stethoscope means you are ready to perform an appendectomy.

There are three critical pre-hike steps you must follow to gain any benefit from a map and compass.

1. Know the basics for using a map and compass
2. Study the map before your hike
3. Use your map and map and compass to orient yourself at the start of the hike.

You should also periodically orient yourself with the map and compass during the hike so if you do get lost you’ll have a last place that you knew where you were.

Step One – the Basics

For most casual hikes in WNY you don’t need to be a member of the International Orienteering Federation. You can learn the basics of map and compass by spending about 30 minutes with one of these references:

1. Chapter 12 of the Boy Scout Field Guide - http://fieldbook.scou...­
2. Washington State University Map and Compass Guide - http://cru.cahe.wsu.e...­
3. REI Map and Compass Short Course -­
4. Backpacker Magazine’s Navigation 101: Understanding Your Compass - http://www.backpacker...­

Even better, invest a couple of hours and read all four of those references. A little repetition could save your life someday.

Step Two – Pre-Hike Map Study

A pre-hike study of both topographical and aerial photos of the planned hike will not only help you extract yourself from a bad situation, but will also help you prepare for the expected conditions on the trail.
In reviewing maps and the planned hike, you want to:

1. Note the general directions you will be heading on the hike and the approximate location (distances from start) of directional changes.
2. Note any features you’ll be able to recognize from the ground, such as stream, a ravine, a steep slope, or a narrow ridge, or a change in direction of the trail.
3. Note an exit direction. If you become lost you want to know the general direction of the best way to a road.

Part two of this guide will use an example of a planned hike in Allegany State Park to illustrate these techniques.

Step Three – Orient Yourself at the Trail Head

Before you take that first step on the planned track, whether a marked trail or an adventurous bushwhack, take out your map and compass and orient yourself. This is the place you’ll want to come back to if you get lost between the start of your hike and the next time you are able to orient yourself on the hike.

Make note of the direction in which you are headed. Make sure your expected direction matches that shown by your map your compass. A significant number of people get lost and die on planned day hikes by starting down the wrong path, becoming disoriented, then being unable to extract themselves because of the misdirection whit which they started their hike.

Periodically take out your map and approximate your location based on the terrain you have observed on your way to that point. You don’t need to know where you are at all times, but you do want to know where you last were before you became lost.

Finally, take advantage of your fellow hikers’ knowledge and skills. If you can’t figure out where you are, ask if anyone in the group can show you on your map your approximate location.

One of the reasons I require waivers of liability on my hikes is because I all too often hear someone say ‘I’m glad he knows where we are because I have no idea how to get home from here.” First, it is a lot easier than you think to get inadvertently separated from the group. Second, I don’t always know where we are or where we are headed, but I’m confident I can extract myself from the area if I need to. You should be independently confident of the same for yourself.
A former member
Post #: 31
Thank you Gary...I hope to utilize your references so I can stop depending entirely on you! Just a few basics will go a long way in possible saving me from getting lost.
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