Mike's Backpacking Reference


In my view navigation skills are key to a safe and enjoyable experience.   No matter what gear you use you will need the skills to use the tools.   Getting lost is no fun and can be life threatening.  

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Map & Compass

I'm still a believer in a good map and sighting compass.   I carry a Silva Ranger that I have had for many years.   Works in all weather and no batteries.  (Compass mirror can be used for signaling too.)   I like Tom Harrison maps; he covers much of the Sierras.    Forest Service wilderness maps are good as well.    Hikers should be able to read and use a topographic ("topo") map.    If this is new to you practice on day hikes with well marked trails. 


GPS units range from simple to those with build in topo maps.    If a GPS is your only source of navigation, be sure to carry extra batteries.   A GPS is very good at reporting your current location.    

Navigation Apps

Phone apps provide GPS location and a map.   I have used GAIA GPS.   It provides a fair topo map and your location.   With a paid subscription you can download topos for the area you are hiking.   You can plan a route on your desktop then use on your phone.    See Cell Phones under Other Gear.   It is cool to see your exact location on a map, but it does take some of the fun out of the adventure.   As with GPS units keeping the phone charged is important.    My biggest complaint about this technology is that it is hard to get the big picture on the small screen. 

Personal Locator Beacons

Some folks are carrying these now, but I don't as I'm unwilling to carry the weight.   If you are unsure of your back county skills and want to hike alone you might consider this technology.

Pre-Trip Planning

I really like planning trips.  It is fun to make a plan then have it unfold on the trail.  I still enjoy laying a map on the table and looking for routes.  As we have became more digital I stared using TopoUSA from Delorme.   This was a great tool, but is now unavailable.   I have used some options like National Geographic TOPO! and Gaea maps for planning.   The features I look for are the ability to select points and have the software find a route can compute a distance.   When planning scout trips the ability to determine the up and down (profile) was very useful in determining the difficulty of the route.