Posts made in March 2019

Backpacking the Wind River Range (Wyoming)

Navigating A Wilderness Area Using Terrain

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Land Navigation is a topic that I enjoy writing and talking about.  Modern technology, such as GPS units have made it much easier for wilderness backpackers to head out and safely navigate wilderness terrain.  I enjoy using this technology, but I also know that this technology can run out of power, (batteries dying), or the satellite network may go down. When these unexpected events happen it could leave you lost in the wilderness. Knowing basic land navigation skills will keep you from getting lost.

Using a map and compass is becoming a lost skill as our society advances.  This article is about a basic land navigational skill know as terrain association. Using this method requires you to visually identify terrain features around you. This method can be used without a compass and map but I do not recommend you doing this. You should have a compass and map with you so you can identify these terrain features on your map. There may be a situation for whatever reason that you do not have a compass and map and using terrain association is a field expedient way to for you to navigate.

Wind River Range (Wyoming) Bridger Wilderness
Wind River Range (Wyoming) In this picture you have various terrain features that you can visually use (Hilltops, saddles, spurs, draws)

Terrain association is an ancient method that has been used by adventurers of the past and it is still be used today by many backpackers. Terrain association can help you stay on track or it can guide you from one point to another and back.  To use terrain association you need to be able to identify the 5 major and 3 minor terrain features on a map.  You may also use other prominent landmarks in the wilderness area such as large boulders, trees, or other objects to help you navigate. Below is a review of the 5 major and 3 minor terrain features.

5 Major Terrain Features

Hilltop:     

An area of high ground sloping down in all directions. You can use a hilltop as a reference point as you navigate to it.

Saddle:      

A low point between two areas of high ground (Hilltop). A saddle is another good reference point to navigate to.

Ridge:        

A sloping line of high ground in 3 directions. You can use a ridge as a path to follow and return back to your original starting point.

Valley:       

An area formed by streams or rivers. You may use a valley or stream as a guidance point as you are navigating.

Depression:   

A low point or sinkhole. A depression is a good reference point

Backpacking the Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)
Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)

3 Minor Terrain Features

Spur:  

An area jutting out from a ridge. A spur can be used as a reference point

Draw: 

A less developed stream course with the ground sloping upward in 3 directions. A draw can be used as a reference point.

Cliff:   

A drop-off or abrupt change in various terrain. A cliff can be used as a reference point.

Backpacking the Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)
Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)

Using the above terrain features along with a compass and map is a solid foundation for navigating in ay wilderness area.  Using terrain is one technique but you can also use other prominent landmarks to navigate. These can be.

  • Rivers
  • Streams
  • Lakes
  • Rock Cairns
  • Large boulders, trees, or other land-made structures such as towers.
  • Trails
  • Game trails

My favorite way to bushwhack is to use a river, stream, or creek.  This feature makes it much easier for you to navigate in all environments or weather.   Terrain association has its advantages for quick travel, but it also has its disadvantage when you are in low lying areas where there is thick vegetation and you have difficulty identifying specific terrain features or prominent landmark.  In this situation you need to have a compass with a good pace count as you travel from point to point much slower due to the thick vegetation.

Land navigation should be practiced before entering a wilderness area. When you are on your adventure take time to stop and identify these features or landmarks.  Many times, backpackers are so involved with getting in the distance/miles and they miss out on the wonders around them.  These wonders may save your life or the lives of others when you use them to navigate in a wilderness area.   

Short Video Clip on Using Terrain
Ocala National Forest

Backpacking The Alexander Springs Wilderness

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

The Alexander Springs Wilderness is located in the Ocala National Forest (ONF). The Alexander Springs is one of 4 wilderness areas in Ocala. I recently returned from an overnight adventure into this rugged wilderness area. I began from a portion of the Florida trail by the Alexander Springs Recreation area. This portion of the Florida Trail allows you to park your vehicle in a gated area overnight for a small fee, ($6 dollars a night). This part of the trail is one of the oldest sections of the Florida Trail. I headed South from the Alexander Springs Recreation area a few miles out and then I did some bushwhacking off the Florida Trail into the heart of the wilderness.

In the below video, I discuss how I bushwhack with other important land navigational skills you should know when backpacking any wilderness area. The weather was good with the day time temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s and the evening temps in the mid 50’s. The best time to take on the challenges of this wilderness area is during the winter months, (Nov-March). February and March are ideal since general hunting season runs between October through January.

The video below is my documented travels on this adventure.

Alexander Springs Wilderness located in the Ocala National Forest (Florida)

NEMO Hornet 2P Tent

NEMO Hornet 2P Tent (Field Test)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I recently conducted a field test on the NEMO Hornet 2P Tent in the Ocala National Forest. This is my second article on this ultralight tent. My first article was my backyard setup discussing the specifications of this tent and its re-design features. My field test was conducted in the Alexander Springs Wilderness. One of four wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest.

I left from the Alexander Springs Recreation Area heading south on the Florida Trail. This section of the trail is one of the oldest portions of the Florida Trail. The temperatures were in the 70’s during the day and the evenings dropped down into the 50’s. Backpacking during this time of year in Ocala is very pleasant. The summer’s bring the heat and humidity which can be brutal if you are not prepared. I did some bushwhacking off the Florida Trail, and I set my basecamp up near the Alexander river. I found an elevated area with relatively flat ground. I had my basecamp setup in less than 30 minutes with time for me to explore my surroundings. Evening rolled in fast with a light fog giving the evening a mystic feeling.

When I choose a tent I look for 2 things. The first is comfort and second is protection. A good tent for me involves how easily I can move around within it and the protection it will provide for me during inclement weather. This is especially important if I have to stay in it for an extended period of time. There was no rain or bad weather during my stay. Below is a picture of the NEMO Hornet tent illuminated at night with my led headlamp in the top mesh pocket. This mesh pocket is designed to allow you to put a headlamp in this pocket that illuminates much of the tent.

NEMO Hornet 2P Tent (Ocala National Forest)
NEMO Hornet with my headlamp in the inner mesh pocket (Ocala National Forest)

Below is a video I shot discussing my thoughts on the tent. That video was also posted on my You Tube Channel. Overall I see the NEMO Hornet as my go to tent for future adventures in remote and rugged wilderness areas.

My Field Test of the NEMO Hornet 2P Tent