Tips and Advice for the Outdoors

Navigation by The Stars and Sun

Happy Camper

There are times while hiking when it’s a good idea to be able to fall back on traditional navigation techniques.

Modern maps, compasses and especially GPS units are great. But you can lose your maps, break your compass and run low on batteries. Also, GPS units don’t always work – sometimes the signal gets blocked by, of all things, trees. Well, there tend to be a lot of trees around in hiking areas. As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.

The best way to be prepared is simply to have some basic navigational knowledge that doesn’t depend on anything more than your eyes and intelligence. Fortunately, that knowledge is super easy to obtain and use.

Most people learn early in life that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. And that’s approximately true. But being away from the equator, or somewhere near midday, makes it sometimes a little harder to judge.

In the Northern Hemisphere, at noon the sun will be south of you. If you wait an hour, it will have moved enough to judge it’s general direction easily. It’s always better to take multiple measurements when trying to judge direction.

Take note of the landmarks around you and look at your watch to note the time. Take note of the sun’s position at half-hourly intervals and keep a mental graph of the line along which it moves. That will give you a natural East-West line.

Once you know that, finding North and South is easy. North is 90 degrees ‘to the right’ of West, South is 90 degrees ‘to the left’.

At night you have a potential problem. The sun, obviously, isn’t there to guide you. But, you can still navigate well by the stars. After all, humans have done so for thousands of years. Heavy rain or fog, or even trees, can make that difficult, though. Sometimes you just have to wait until you get a clearer view.

When you can see the stars they’re often very bright. Most hiking areas are far away from city lights. It should be relatively easy, then, to pick out some major constellations to use as guides.

Around 8 p.m. look straight up then around in a small circle. Before long you should be able to locate the Big Dipper. That’s the group of stars that looks like a cooking ladle. The two stars at the end of the ‘scoop’ form a line that points to the North Star.

Another easy to spot constellation is Orion’s Belt. That’s a series of three stars that form part of the Orion group. They’re almost straight across east to west looking roughly south about 9 p.m. at night.

Naturally, the constellations will be in different positions at different times of the night. But the Big Dipper’s scoop stars will still point toward the North Star, and Orion’s belt – so long as it is still visible – will still be in roughly the same orientation and direction.

When you plan any hike become familiar with the positions of some of the major constellations. Even a day hike can turn into an overnight stay unexpectedly. You’ll be very glad to have that knowledge if that happens.

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Hiking Techniques – Beginner – Part2

Happy Camper

Hiking over ordinary terrain requires being able to keep up a steady pace for several hours, with short rest breaks (10 min or so) in between once per hour. But creeks, steep or slippery slopes and hikes at high altitudes can make that almost impossible. In short, your technique has to be tailored to the actual conditions.

Ordinary walking speed on level ground is between 2-4 miles per hour. At that pace a person will burn about 50-150 calories per hours. Compare that with the amount of calories burned simply by sitting, which is at the lower end of that scale. Also, for every hour of hiking you’ll lose about a liter of fluid (more in hot conditions) that will need to be replenished.

But when conditions, as they frequently are, become more hilly or at higher elevations, the strain becomes much greater. As you walk up steeper slopes you’re doing much more work against gravity to stay upright and rise up the hill. And, as oxygen concentration levels drop, the heart has to work harder to pump more blood through the body to re-oxygenate tissues.

Keep those facts firmly in mind when you begin to tackle tougher terrain. Those more challenging environments are often more beautiful and exciting. Hiking up a heavily forested mountainside at 5,000 feet is definitely more interesting than a stroll around the brush in foothills.

But the conditions require much more of a hiker. Monitor your heart rate to ensure it isn’t pounding away in your chest with every step. Resting rate is about 70 per minute, a hard workout will produce 120 per minute for short periods. Try to stay on the lower end most of the time. The figures can vary quite a lot from person to person, these are just averages.

If you do that, you can avoid the symptoms of something called variously: High Altitude Syndrome or Acute Mountain Sickness, and by other terms.

Just as steep slopes and high altitudes present special difficulties, so crossing creeks, rivers and lakes can introduce challenges. Though sheer strength can be very helpful, technique and experience count for a lot as well.

Selecting good boots is the first step. High-top, waterproof boots help keep feet dry. That’s essential for avoiding foot problems. They also provide a little bit better traction on slippery surfaces. Other waterproof gear, like a well-flapped backpack made of waterproof synthetic is helpful, as well.

But the best weapons are inside your head – intelligence and experience.

Avoid the temptation of fording a river when you can avoid it. Cold temperatures, slippery bottoms, undercurrents and other potential dangers are hard to judge. Step on rocks in a creek rather than walking through it, if you can do so safely. Walk around a lake rather than swimming through it whenever possible.

Take a bridge or alternative route. You’ll actually experience less fatigue with a slightly longer walk than a relatively short, cold temperature swim.

Above all, exercise your common sense. The outdoors can be a huge, exciting adventure. But getting injured or even grossly uncomfortable shouldn’t be part of it.

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