Junk On The Bunk: Navigation Kit

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

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.

Compasses

I’ve had a good amount of experience with three different compasses; the USGI Cammenga 3H, the Suunto MC2, and the Suunto Clipper watch compass.

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.

3H tritium at night

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

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.

Get some elastic thread from the sewing shop, run it through the hole and tie it together in a blood knot.

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.

To use this protractor for a 1:10,000 scale divide the 1:100,000 by 10.

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.

8 comments

  1. Very concise overview of nav tools! We think a lot alike on this subject; very few differences in choices. I’m a Suunto fan as well, leaving the Cammenga Lensatic in a back up role as the Suunto is much faster with the adjustable declination feature.

    Thanks – very refreshing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much. Excellent post. One question: I’m not following the elastic band on the round protractor. Could you please put up a photo of how you have it rigged? I was taught to put one strand about 6” long from the guts of a piece of 550 cord, put it through the center hole, tie knots both ends so it doesn’t pull out of the hole, then use the string for marking azimuths.

    My setup is exact same as yours minus the lensatic. I carry a Silva Ranger as backup. Only other thing I do is I carry a cheap small scientific calculator for trig calcs when doing SOCKNAV. I have the gear set in front pocket of the HPG chest pack for quick access.

    Just want to say this is an outstanding blog. I have learned so much. Please keep it up. Thank you!!

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    • Thank you and you’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed it. As soon as I get my new protractor I will get it rigged up and add a photo to the article. I had mine in my cargo pocket and knelt on it and cracked it so I have another one en route. The method you were taught works good as well, I think they are about equivalent in fact. Maybe the one difference being that the elastic band will stay put on the particular azimuth you set it on, but the longer string in your method is better when it comes to marking those longer azimuths.

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    • That’s a good idea carrying a small calculator, can come in handy for so many things. I enjoy the HPG chest pack and it’s my go-to if I’m not needing a chest rig.

      I appreciate your kind words, I’m happy to share and I appreciate your input as well, take care!

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  3. Hey brother late reply here, but a quick article on how to measure your pace count I think would be super helpful. It’s not as straightforward as you might think at first. Loaded ruck, loaded day pack, unloaded, uphill, downhill, steep hill, not so steep hill, rifle only, smooth vs rough terrain, pavement: each of those is different and some can be much different, leading to huge errors if you get it wrong. Also how to count the pace. I use the beads but some guys put pebbles in their pocket, or write it down as you do, or tie knots on a piece of 550.

    Shoot, just accurately measuring out 100 meters to do your pace count can be a challenge itself. I took a yard stick, measured out 39-3/8” to 1 meter, calibrated my stride length against that heel-to-toe and went out and stepped off 100m. Or so I thought. Following week I borrowed a surveyors tape and went out and double checked my measurements and danged if I wasn’t off by nearly 5 meters. Only 5% error you may say, but over 10km that’s enough to miss your target especially in forest or brushy country where you can’t see very far. Cumulative error adds up. Not everybody has access to a surveyors tape so there has to be some other way to do that.

    First time I had land nav we were out on a 10km exercise in the mountains. Rugged terrain. Platoon size group. Cadre set one compass man but two pace count guys. He didn’t say why but told us to keep the pace count to ourselves as we moved. At one of the halts he asked us the pace counts. The two counters were different from each other by several hundred meters. Oops. Many Thanks brother.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good idea, I’ll add it to the list of articles. I personally cheat and use a laser range finder to measure mine. 😁 I know guys that have made a 100M piece of 550 cord and used that as a measuring tool as well. One thing I’ve noticed is that certain people tend to keep track of pace better than others. If you’re in a group it’s a good idea to figure out who they may be and designate them the pace keepers. It’s also great to have a pair that way they can compare and improve off of each other. Take see buddy!

      Like

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