Southern exposure = sunny exposure and ants must like to sunbathe. Therefore, most anthills
will be found on the south side of trees or other flora. The exception being those anthills
located in rainforests or other regions where virtually no sun reaches the forest floor.
Tree Canopy Method
Again, because southern exposure is sunny exposure you will find the branches of most trees
will be thicker and denser on the sunny, southern side and thinner and fewer on the northern
side. To best determine the growth pattern of a tree, stand at the base and look up.
Moss grows in places with lots of shade and water (areas that are cool and moist). Because the
southern side of tree gets more sun than the north, it is the northern side where you will
usually find the moss. However, in dense forests, both sides of a tree can be shady and moist.
So, moss may grow around the entire trunk.
Look at the clouds to determine in which direction they are moving. The earths rotation causes
most clouds to move from west to east in the northern hemisphere. While this may not always be
true in mountainous regions or the mid- to southern hemisphere, it is a good rule of thumb and
may help orient you.
You can make your own compass by magnetizing a needle, unfolded paperclip, or any other ferrous
thin wire. Using a silk scarf or a magnet* stroke the needle in one direction from its eye to
its point about 24. Suspend the needle in the mid-point on some string and it will point north.
You can also float the needle on very still water. Use a thin leaf, blade of grass, or paper to
stabilize the needle if the water isn't very still. *We at Delta Gear only include this method
because it works however, we feel that ANY one who would bother to pack a silk scarf instead
of a compass is a complete idiot in the first place and probably deserves to be lost. Sir Anthony
Hopkins used this method in the movie The Edge but remember he has been formally knighted by the
Queen of England, unlike our target reader, and probably never leaves home without a silk scarf.
The North Star (or Polaris) is aptly named because the axis of the Earths rotation points to
the north celestial pole (NCP) and Polaris is less than a degree away from the NCP. Therefore,
if you can locate Polaris in the night sky you know which direction is north. Polaris is visible
year round from almost any location north of the equator. It is one of the stars in a
constellation most popularly known as the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). The handle of the dipper
is comprised of three stars, Polaris being the brightest - and situated at the end of the handle.
For those travelers visiting the southern hemisphere, your celestial guide may be the Southern
Cross, a crucifix-shaped constellation that points to the celestial south pole (CSP). More precisely,
the long end of the cross points towards Sigma Octanis, a 5.5 magnitude star located about one degree
from the CSP. Once you have found the Southern Cross youll know which direction is south. The problem
is that there are three crosses in the southern sky and it would probably take a true astronomy nerd
to differentiate between them so our best advice would be just to make sure you have a compass when
traveling south of the equator.
If the crescent moon rises before the sun goes down (a first-quarter moon), its illuminated side
will face west. If it rises after midnight (a last quarter moon), the bright side will face east.
Using the North Star is easier and more reliable, but try this lunar method if stars are obscured.
In the northern hemisphere, hold the watch flat and point the hour hand towards the sun. Now
bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 o'clock on your watch to give you a North-South
In the southern hemisphere, hold the watch dial and point 12 o'clock towards the sun. The line
that bisects the angle between the hour hand and the figure 12 is the North-South line.
If the watch is set to daylight-savings time (all during the summer) use the midway point
between the hour hand and 1 o'clock. Imagine a line from that point through the center of the
watch. If you have a digital watch, draw a watch on a piece of paper and use the method
Method A: To make this compass, all you need is a 2-3 feet long stick and some sun. Next, find a
flat piece of ground and hold the stick upright in the center of the ground. Mark the tip of the
sticks shadow with another stick or a stone (point A in our diagram), wait 30 minutes and then
repeat the process (point B in our diagram). Draw a line between the two points (A & B in our
diagram).... this line will run from West to East, with the first point being West.
Method B: This method is more time-consuming but will be more accurate. Mark your first shadow
tip as in method A in the morning. Now draw an arc at the distance from the stick to the shadow
tip, using the stick as the center point. In the afternoon, mark the exact spot where the shadow
touches the arc. Now join the two points and this will give you a West to East line with the
morning point being West.
North on the Run
The magnetic North Pole moves 6 to 25 miles per year. To compensate for the 500 mile gap that
separates the two poles, hikers need to calculate the declination angle between true north on
a map and magnetic north on a compass (Often referred to as the Grid/Magnetic angle, or the GM
angle). As the magnetic pole continues to move, local declination shifts as well. Declination
refers to the measured difference between the magnetic north, indicated by the compass needle,
and the north on the map. The local declination is given on the map margin either as easterly
plus declination (E) or as westerly minus declination (W). To make sure your map's declination
is current, punch in your destination's zip code or lat/long coordinates on
NOAA's declination calculator.
There are a couple of helpful mnemonics to help remember how to convert between grid and magnetic bearings:
In the West gals have nice GAMS (aka "calves"), and in the East they have MAGS (The kind you read or the kind you shoot with? You can pick). This means in a westerly declination "If you want Grid, Add the GM angle. If you want Magnetic, Subtract the GM angle." Conversely, in a easterly declination "If you want Magnetic, Add. If you want Grid, Subtract."
"East is Least and West is Best". In an easterly declination, subtract the GM angle value to get a grid bearing; conversely in a westerly declination, add the GM angle to get a grid bearing.
Lastly, there is LARS (Left Add, Right Subtract). LARS was too easy to mix up with RALS in mortar gunnery (Right Add, Left Subtract). That could be a bad thing during call for fires.
These mnemonics were made for use in the United States, but they hold true anywhere in the world. Use the westerly mnemonics for any red zones, and use the easterly mnemonics for the blue zones.
Lat/Lon Vs. UTM/MGRS
There are many coordinate systems, but the two most popular in the United States are
latitude/longitude (lat/lon) and the Universal Transverse Mercator / Military Grid
Reference System (UTM / MGRS). Most GPS receivers come out of the box set for lat/lon
coordinates, although other coordinate systems might better suit your needs.
Many land based users will find UTM / MGRS to be easy to use and well suited to their
needs. Here are some UTM advantages:
East-West units of measure are the same as North-South units
Decimal based, no fussing with minutes and seconds
Coordinates translate directly to distances on the ground
Coordinate precision is easily understood. No need to wonder what distance a tenth of a second of longitude represents
It's easy to abbreviate coordinates when working in a small area
There are some circumstances where lat/lon is a better choice. Most aviation and maritime
users use latitude and longitude coordinates. You will probably want to use lat/lon coordinates
if you are working with maps that cover more than 6 degrees of longitude or are 1:1,000,000
scale or less. Small scale maps are often projected using a map projection that will result
in UTM grids that are not square. Small scale UTM grided maps need to use a projection where
lines of longitude appear to be parallel, such as a Mercator projection.
On larger scale maps the choice of coordinate system is often determined by the coordinate
references that have been supplied by the map maker. USGS puts both lat/lon and UTM coordinates
on all of their large scale maps. Many other map makers only provide lat/lon references. It is
possible to add a UTM grid to a map that is only marked with lat/lon references. But it is a
tedious process, so you might be better off just using lat/lon coordinates.
Many maps have no coordinate references at all. You can add coordinate references by either
comparing known features with another map that has coordinate information or by locating several
know point in the field and "surveying" them with your GPS receiver. This is a difficult process,
but at least you can choose what coordinate system to use.
Beware, some map makers have provided lat/lon information that is approximate at best. Before GPS
receivers were common place, it was rare that a casual map user would even notice coordinate
references, much less care if they are accurate. The times have changed, but many maps haven't
caught up yet.
The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) which is now known as the
National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) produces unclassified maps that are available for
civilians. If your organization is associated with the Department of Defense (DOD) and you order maps
from the NGA, use your ULLS S-4 Department of Defense Activity Address Code (DODAAC). If you don't have
one, use your unit's PBO DODAAC. You are not authorized a separate DODAAC for maps.
If you have a DODAAC, you can also get maps from the Richmond Map Facility
(RMF), which is part of the Defense Supply Center, Richmond (DSCR) map
facility. Getting maps from RMF is a hassle and will take several weeks to setup an account and even longer
to setup an online account.
Ultimate Map Tools
To avoid getting lost, the most important tools, in priority of importance, are a map, compass,
and GPS. The best set up to effectively utilize all three tools is to be able to plan your route
in mapping software, which you can then print to scale onto waterproof paper or transfer to your
GPS device. The most versatile and inexpensive tools for this are QGIS, View Ranger, and a
lensatic sighting compass.
You can now plan your route on your desktop, and then either transfer your route to your GPS
or print to scale on your favorite waterproof Teslin paper. How much does this software cost?
Global Mapper and Terrain Navigator Pro both work well and charge $300-400; Google Earth,
Garmin BaseCamp, AllTrails, and National Geographic's MapKit do not print to scale; National
Geographic's TOPO! series has been discontinued and is not supported in newer operating
systems; but here's how to do it for FREE.
Those are all the tools you'll need to get started with QGIS. Once you're familiar, you may
find that loading maps from a WMS server can be slow and contour lines become unusable when
printing scales larger than 24k. If you're in this boat, keep reading and working your way
forward. There are many more options out there.
For historical USGS maps, you can use 24k GeoTiffs from WeoGeo.
Unfortunately, these maps are not collarless. If you're working in a small area, this may
not be an issue. But if your route falls on a border, your map will be interrupted by a
white gap. USGS provides historical topo maps through the National Map Viewer
in GeoPDF, which is unfortunately not useable in QGIS. If you prefer collarless USGS
historic maps, you can buy them from Geocomm.
A less expensive alternative is to use raster images of topography with an Open Street Map
overlay, which are free (as seen below).
For raster images of topography, you can use the USGS Global Data Explorer.
To learn how to download imagery and add contour intervals, read the Working With Terrain Data in QGIS Tutorial.
For an overview of the different imagery file types, read this QGIS Mapcolor Files Wiki.
Make sure you know what you are working with before you try and download and install any of
these map files, because some have very high resolution that can bog down your system.
Now, you can combine the topography imagery with Open Street Map (OSM). First, install the
into QGIS. You can download a map of the entire planet from OSM,
but I would recommend downloading one of the state extracts since that still takes hours to
load in QGIS. Additional downloads are available from CloudMade.
For more information, read the QGIS OSM User Manual.
My last and favorite option... install the OpenLayers plugin, and then go to
"Plugins/OpenLayer Plugins/Add OCM Landscape layer". Presto! You should have a map similar
to the one below. The big problem with OpenLayers is that with every new QGIS version the
same print scaling bug seems to come back. If you have printing issues, you may want to
check the OpenLayers plugin page
for the most up to date news.
Printing with a grid: make sure you have your map set to the correct Coordinate Reference
System (CRS) before going to the print composer. You can set your CRS under File/Project
Properties. If you are used to working with the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) you
can look-up the correct Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) zone using the map below,
since MGRS is derived from the UTM grid system. Now that your CRS is set, you can create
a map, title, scale, declination angle,
and grid using the instructions from the Print Composer Manual.
When making your grid, make sure you have the map selected before you click on Properties
and go to the grid properties.
Other plugins in the Plugin Manager that may be useful are GPS Tools, Georeferencer GDAL,
and Raster Based Terrain Analysis. These can be installed with a click of a button using
the Plugin Manager. There are other plugins that are not listed in the QGIS repository that
are useful for planning routes on topo maps. When installing these, make sure you download
the most current version number from the Version List, and not from the Code Repository link
which can contain older versions. The Join Lines
plugin allows you to permanently join two intersecting or snapped lines. This is handy when
you have two features (lines) that you want to combine so you can export it as a gpx file
for use with your GPS. Note, you can have two features in one layer. A similar tool that you
may use less frequently is Merge Shapes.
Windows users should be able to find the QGIS plugins directory in Program Files, and drag
the plugin into the plugins directory. Mac and Linux users can use the following commands
in a terminal window to install plugins:
This command moves you to the plugins directory: cd .qgis/python/plugins
Assuming you have the plugin file saved to your desktop, this command moves the file to your plugins folder: mv ~/Desktop/pluginfilename .
Now check to see if it's in your plugin folder: ls
If you still don't see it, you can use a similar command that shows hidden files as well: ls -la
QGIS is a very powerful and complicated tool. There are a bunch of video tutorials, help
files, and forums that helped me work the software to get to the final product I desired.
Be persistent and patient. Once you have your system set up the way you want it, you can
save your maps as a project and your print configuration as a template. Then it's simply
plug and chug!
How did I decide on View Ranger? I started with testing 10 of the most popular land-nav apps.
I personally find it easier to do land-nav using MGRS (see the article Lat/Lon vs UTM/MGRS
in this section), which eliminated Trimble Outdoors right out the gate. Surprisingly, the
orienteering apps that were geared toward the military were not very good (specifically,
Land Nav and Tactical Nav - one had a poor excuse for a user interface and the other lacked
a topo map).
Of the orienteering apps that use MGRS and topo maps, I found View Ranger, MotionX, and
Gaia GPS were the most full featured, user friendly apps. Topo Maps had similar features,
but is not as user friendly. View Ranger and MotionX had the clearest topo maps with more
clearly marked trails than any other app.
iHikeGPS seemed promising at first, but you can only enter waypoints using either lat/long,
a geotagged photo, or importing a GPX file. You can't pin point locations on a map and drop
a waypoint. You can manually add waypoints with Gaia GPS, Topo Maps, MotionX GPS, and View
Ranger, but many POIs were already marked as waypoints in Gaia GPS - a nice time saver.
Most of these apps could create tracks. Most can also navigate from your present location
to a waypoint, but View Ranger was the only app where you could create routes ahead of time.
Of the apps that have MGRS but lack topo maps, GPS Tracks and GPS Toolbox had a very user
friendly interface. Unfortunately, they lacked the topo maps needed to identify specific
Also worth noting, Gaia GPS had a feature where you could open waypoints and POIs in
another app I recently reviewed called Theodolite! This is a nice combo if you want to
use Gaia GPS to land-nav your way to an "earth object" and then use Theodolite to open the
same waypoint and determine the height of that object before you BASE jump off of it.
The overall winner of best land-nav app for orienteering in the outdoors is View Ranger
($15). With View Ranger, you can transfer your tracks into QGIS, or you can plot your route
in QGIS and transfer the gpx file to View Ranger. MotionX ($1) and Gaia GPS ($10) came in
tied for second, and Topo Maps ($8) came in third. Now, buy some
Death Beads and a protractor, and beat feet.