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A closeup reveals how much topographic detail is compressed onto these maps. The upper map of Utah is at a scale of 1:75,000, or more than 1 mile per inch; the lower map is 1:250,000, or nearly 4 miles per inch. These maps are most useful when planning a trip, and may be sufficient in the field only for on-trail itineraries.

Essential backpacking topo maps: types, sources & formats

When I mostly only followed established backpacking trails or routes, I relied heavily on existing resources — topographic map sets, route descriptions, databooks, and now digital trail apps — under the assumption that they were sufficient, which they normally were. But when my trips became more of the choose-your-own-adventure variety, I had to develop these […]

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backpacking-in-the-rain

Backpacking in the rain: helpful gear and skills|| SD LIVE (March 31, 2015)

In last month’s SD LIVE event, I discussed multiple ways to help maintain a relative level of comfort and safety when backpacking in the rain. Some methods are simply a matter of packing differently or packing more: sleeping clothes, camp shoes, breathable footwear, group tarp, down insulation, and a pack liner. Other methods are techniques: […]

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Mesh harness and leash, attached via a small carabiner

DIY Skyline Trolley for Cats and Dogs

Last week I partnered with Petco to share tips with pet parents about being outdoors with dogs this summer. While dogs are certainly the customary four-legged friend when hiking and camping, there are safe ways in which cats can enjoy the beautiful summer months, too. Here’s one idea: Our beloved domestic orange shorthair cat, Oden, […]

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Alaska's Arctic Coast gave me reason to learn to use GPS. In this featureless and frigid landscape, a GPS was faster and more reliable than map-reading and dead-reckoning.

Characteristics of an expert navigator: Part II — Proficiency in the understanding and uses of tools

This post is part of a series on the characteristics of expert navigators. I’d recommend first reading the Introduction and Part I, and then returning to this latest installment. Within a few days of starting my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002, I began dead-reckoning using my watch and the Databook. With surprising accuracy, I now had […]

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A powerful combination -- detailed maps, a timepiece, an altimeter, and a magnetic compass with adjustable declination and global needle.

Characteristics of an expert navigator: Part I — Equipped with proper tools

This is Part I of a series on the characteristics of an Expert Navigator. Read the Introduction. More installments are forthcoming. Every “Ten Essentials” list I’ve seen has included a map and compass, and modern versions sometimes also include a GPS. If only the first characteristic of an expert navigator — being equipped with proper […]

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observation-peak-pass

Characteristics of an expert navigator: Introduction

Learning how to navigate was one of the most important and liberating skills that I have developed as a backpacker. On my earliest trips, when my navigation skills were at best rudimentary, I was unable to safely or confidently leave the security of obvious footpaths, foolproof blazes, and accurate signage. I also struggled to reliably […]

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