I wanted to share my go-to navigation equipment for navigation in the bush. Just like other skills, this one has different pieces of equipment that are better suited to some uses than others. For those interested in learning to use this stuff check out my fieldcraft classes.
GPS, like so many modern conveniences is great until it runs out of electricity or the system that it relies on doesn’t work anymore. For these reasons I treat my GPS as a training aid to help me get better with traditional map and compass. It works really good to double check myself to see how accurate my land nav skill is.
I’ve got a fairly old Garmin E-Trex that I’ve had for a dozen years or so. It’s pretty bare bones by today’s standards but it still works good enough to give me a 10 digit grid when I need one.
I’ve always tried to protect it in a semi hard case and I always take the batteries out when I store it.
All three of these have some pros/cons that I feel make them best used in certain situations.
The 3H is a heavy duty piece of kit. It’s all aluminum housing has proven to be grunt proof over the years. For this reason this compass rides in my chest rig (dummy corded of course). This compass isn’t my first choice for land navigation, for reasons I’ll detail below, but it’s a very solid piece of gear that will get the job done.
There are different versions but I prefer the one with Tritium for night time navigation. This is the other reason I like keeping it in my chest rig, since if I’m doing nighttime land nav I’m probably going to be wearing my chest rig too.
Two cons for this compass are that its is less accurate and also harder to sight. I’ve personally compared multiple 3H’s and they’ve been off by a few degrees each. Since one degree is equal to 90 feet at a mile, this is something to keep in mind. The sighting system also introduces errors when shooting an azimuth. Think of it like the same error when trying to shoot a rifle with a short sight radius. The closer your sight is to your eye the less accurate your sight picture.
Overall it’s a good compass though and it’s tritium makes it a great choice for night time land nav.
The Suunto MC2 is my preferred compass for land navigation. It has a few design features that make land nav easier when you’re tired and your brain is hazy.
For starters, it has built in declination adjustment that once set you no longer need to compensate for magnetic declination. It’s sighting system is the opposite of the 3H. You aim an MC2 just like you would a pistol, out in front of you. By adjusting the mirrored lid you can still see your bezel while doing this, allowing you to shoot that azimuth more accurately.
While it does have luminous markings to aid in nighttime land nav, it doesn’t have tritium so it needs recharged with a light source. I’ve heard rumors that there were some made for SF guys at some point but I haven’t been able to track any down. While it’s built good, it’s not as heavy duty as a 3H, so you can’t use it for a hammer in other words.
Mine rides dummy corded in my front left pants pocket as part of my line 1 gear.
The last compass I routinely carry is a Suunto watch band compass. It is a good little compass and a great way to always have one with. I’ve found it to be accurate enough (within about 5 degrees) for quick azimuth checks, but I wouldn’t use it for anything needing a lot of accuracy. I used it during the Brushbeater Scout course last year and it was a great way to get my bearings quickly when I needed to relay Cardinal directions to other team members.
It has a luminous face and an adjustable bezel in 5 degree increments. I like that it is low profile enough that it doesn’t snag on things also. For a compass of its type I can’t really think of any cons.
Protractors are used to help plot grids and azimuths when you are using a map. These too come in different styles and I’ve found I like some styles better for different tasks. I’ll be honest and admit that I haven’t used every protractor out there, but I have used the following ones quite a bit.
For plotting azimuths I like to use a round protractor. The one from MapTools has a small hole in the center and I like to use a small elastic band that wraps around the edge and back through the hole. It’s thin enough that its only about one degree wide on the protractor and snug enough to stay put wherever I set it. I like this better than using the square style since the elastic band will stay put while I’m making my marks on the map.
For plotting grids I like to make sure I have a full sized 1,000 meter scale (at the map scale) to work with. For a 1:10,000 scale map, which is going to be your most accurate for land nav, a lot of the multi purpose protractors only go out to 500 meters on their 1:10,000 scale, so I use a dedicated protractor for that size map. For smaller scale maps I can get away with the multi use protractors.
Pens, pencils, and paper
Another component needed for good land nav is your note taking gear. For laminated maps a good set of fine point map pens is a must have for plotting grids. These markers from Staedtler are all I’ve ever used and I’m pretty sure they are the go to for everyone else as well. They come in a nice hard case too. They are fairly permanent but will clean off with alcohol. There’s also a correction pen that is handy, so don’t forget that.
For pencils I like a thin lead mechanical pencil. I really like these from Pentel. They are very sturdy and I typically always have a few stuffed in my gear.
For notepads I use Rite in the Rain. I use many different sizes but the 3×5 spiral bound is a great size to ride in your gear. I take a lot of notes when I’m doing land nav so I keep a pencil handy with the note pad. I know Ranger Beads are a common land nav item but I’ve never really cared for them, I prefer to write my azimuths and pace counts down as I pass land marks as I am going. Having a small notepad and pencil handy means I can take lots of notes that come in real handy if I need to back track.
That’s pretty much it, nothing really high speed about it, just simple, rugged and proven equipment.