How easy is it to get lost or turned around in the wilderness? Very easy!! This point was driven home last September when I went on one of my first hikes. Actually, it wasn’t even a hike. My friend and I just wanted to walk a little way up the Windsor Trail in the mountains outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a heavily wooded area and after about a ten minute walk, we decide to venture off trail a bit to look around. We didn’t go far at all, but we did go far enough to lose sight of the trail and we didn’t have a topo map, compass, or a GPS with us. We tried to retrace our footsteps to get back to the trail, but couldn’t find it. In this area, I knew we would eventually locate the trail, but when we did, we were about 50 yards down-trail from where we had originally left it! Lesson learned. 🙂

And I would never rely solely on an electronic device like the Garmin GPSmap 62s to get me into and out of a wilderness area without getting lost or turned around. So prior to buying the Garmin, I bought the Suunto M3 Compass and have spent quite a few hours learning how to use it, not only from online resources, but I also took a 2 1/2 hour class on Land Navigation at my local REI store. At this point, with the knowledge I have acquired, I feel reasonably confident that, if my GPS unit malfunctioned or the batteries went dead, I could use the compass and my topo map to find my way back to the trailhead. As a note: I always have fully charged lithium batteries in my GPS unit when I go hiking, as well as a fully charged set of backup batteries, just in case.

Also, before I take off on any hike, whether with a friend or with the ASCHG group, I always go to the USGS site and download the free topo map of the general area I intend to hike. After opening the topo map in Adobe Acrobat Reader, I zoom in on the specific area I intend to hike and print that part of the topo map out. The topo map and compass, along with the GPS unit, gives me two ways of finding my way back to the trailhead.

Below is the Suunto M3 Compass I bought, as well as the topo map I took with me on my recent Buckman Mesa hike, followed by the Google Maps Terrain View with my GPS hike track overlaid.

Suunto M3 Compass

Suunto M3 Compass

Buckman Mesa Topo Map

Buckman Mesa: Topo Map Downloaded from the USGS Website

Buckman Mesa Actual Hike Google Maps Terrain View

Buckman Mesa: Actual Hike Overlaid on Google Maps Terrain View