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Assignment: Download maps in Gaia GPS for offline use

By Andrew Skurka / March 20, 2020 /

On most trips and in most locations, to navigate I rely primarily on my: Paper topographic maps, Watch (good), ABC watch (better), or GPS watch (best), and Magnetic compass. As both a backup and supplement to these tools, my smartphone has a GPS app like CalTopo (good) or Gaia GPS (better) along with downloaded map…

Assignment: Create a topographic mapset with CalTopo

By Andrew Skurka / March 18, 2020 /

For at least five years, CalTopo has been my preferred map-making platform, and I use it exclusively for personal trips, guided trips, and guidebooks. The service was launched in late-2011 by Matt Jacobs, and its functionality eventually matched and then greatly surpassed my prior go-to, National Geographic TOPO! desktop software, which has since been discontinued.…

How to navigate || Part 5: Skills + knowledge checklist

By Andrew Skurka / September 1, 2019 /

Within a few days of starting my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002, I learned dead-reckon navigation using my watch and the datasheet. With surprising accuracy, I could now monitor my hiking pace, pinpoint my location between known landmarks, and predict my arrival time at upcoming points of interest like water sources and shelters. On an…

How to navigate || Part 4: Navigator’s Mindset & “staying found”

By Andrew Skurka / August 30, 2019 /

With just a credit card and reliable internet connection, an aspiring navigator can acquire the proper maps, resources, and equipment. The final two steps to navigational proficiency require more intention, self-study, perhaps an evening or weekend course, and most importantly field practice. In other words, the process is more time-intensive, but also more fun. These…

How to navigate || Part 1: Navigator’s Toolkit + Navigation Mastery

By Andrew Skurka / August 22, 2019 /

Navigation is one of the most important backpacking skills, and certainly the most liberating. It allows you to drive your own adventure, rather than being a passenger. As a new backpacker with only rudimentary know-how, I was confined to backcountry thruways like the Appalachian Trail and high-use areas like Rocky Mountain National Park, where I…

Tutorial: Dead-reckoning navigation | Basic but oft-used skill

By Andrew Skurka / September 11, 2017 /

Dead-reckoning is the simplest navigation skill. It’s much easier to learn than reading a map, or operating a compass, GPS, or altimeter watch. Yet I find it to be one of the most useful and frequently used, especially when hiking on well-maintained trails where a consistent physical effort yields consistent results. Such trails include well-known long-distance footpaths…

The trail is just a tool: Navigation skills, resources & gear for early-season backpacking

By Andrew Skurka / April 3, 2017 /

Even if your itinerary is entirely on-trail, you should expect an occasional off-trail experience when backpacking in the Mountain West in early-season conditions. On trade routes like the John Muir Trail, a continuous boot-track across lingering snow will develop by July, especially where the terrain funnels the foot traffic (e.g. at a pass). In less popular…

Map & Compass: Find & transfer bearings in the field & on a map

By Andrew Skurka / August 11, 2016 /

This is the second of a 7-video instructional series from Sierra Designs. This one, as well as the first, are dedicated to map and compass, which is a subcategory of navigation. If you haven’t already, learn to adjust for declination and to orient a map. Got it? Good, let’s move on to a more advanced…

GPS sport watch settings & displays for backpacking

By Andrew Skurka / August 2, 2016 /

Most backpackers wear a simple watch, an altimeter watch like the Suunto Core, or no watch at all. My pick, however, is a GPS sport watch. In this post, I will explain how I customize the watch’s settings and displays for backpacking trips. The case for a GPS sport watch I used a simple watch…

Map & Compass: Adjust for declination & orient the map

By Andrew Skurka / July 16, 2016 /

Backcountry navigation is an art. The basics can be learned quickly, like dead reckoning, reading a map, and using an altimeter watch. But extensive practice is necessary to seamlessly and flawlessly apply these skills in the field, especially when under duress or in challenging situations, like off-trail in a heavily forested area with rolling hills.…