You’ll often find it necessary to travel during a survival situation, and you’ll need to be able to reach your intended destination quickly, safely and efficiently. And because you’ll rarely be able to confine your movements to areas with which you are familiar, you’ll often require the assistance of one or more navigational tools.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the most important navigational tools you’ll want to include in your bug out bag, explain some of the primary things you’ll want to consider when selecting these items and make a few product recommendations.
Maps may seem like antiquated tools in the modern world, where GPS devices are the norm. But maps have guided explorers for millennia, and they are still useful for understanding your surroundings and plotting a course.
Additionally, while GPS devices rely on a network of global satellites to function, maps require nothing more than a focused mind to use. This means that in the case of a global catastrophe or an EMP blast, which would render most electronic devices useless, a map will still help you find your way.
Accordingly, no bug out bag is complete without a pair of good maps. One should be a topographical map, which will detail things like elevation changes and major land formations, while the other should be an up-to-date roadmap that indicates the positions of fire stations, hospitals, airports and other places of potential value.
You’ll have to choose a map with the most helpful scale for your needs, which can occasionally be tricky. Pick a scale that is too small and you’ll be unable to distinguish between close locations or appreciate some of the fine details that may be helpful to know. On the other hand, if you select a scale that is too large, you will be able to identify fine details more easily, but the map will not cover as large an area. This may be a problem if your travels take you “off the map.”
There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for selecting a proper scale for your needs, so the best solution is to purchase several different maps in advance, and try each of them out to determine which one will be most helpful in a survival situation.
Always be sure to mark important locations on your map before you are faced with a survival situation. This may include things like:
- Your home
- The homes of close friends and family
- Your temporary camp or shelter site
- Any caches you’ve prepared
- Places in which you can obtain food, water, medical supplies, fuel, ammunition or other valuable resources
- Places you’ve already traveled or explored
You may also want to trace out routes to and from important locations. Examples would include:
- The route between your home and any places with important resources
- The quickest route out of the area
- The quickest route to high ground
- The quickest route to navigable waters
- The quickest route to the hospital
Many survivalists like to trace out multiple routes to these types of locations. This way, if a road is closed or a given trail is rendered impassable, you’ll already have an alternate route at the ready.
GPS devices are tools that rely on the Global Positioning System – a network of Earth-orbiting satellites – to determine a user’s precise location. And although they were only available to those with significant means for many years, GPS devices are now quite affordable and ubiquitous tools in the modern world. They were originally (and continue to be) manufactured as standalone devices, but they are also incorporated into smartphones, laptop computers and even automobiles.
In addition to providing a user with their exact location, GPS devices are capable of providing a wealth of other information to the user. This includes things like altitude and speed of travel – both of which can be important data points in a survival situation.
Some units will also allow you to trace the path you’ve taken on a digital map and mark locations (these locations are typically called waypoints). This will allow you to return to find important locations at a later date. It is wise to pre-mark important waypoints on your GPS device before an emergency occurs, just as you would do with a map.
There are a variety of different GPS manufacturers, but the market is dominated by products made by Garmin. They produce GPS units ranging from simple to incredibly feature-laden, and you’ll be well-served by selecting one that only provides those capabilities that you’ll actually use.
You’ll need to compare and contrast the various models available carefully to ensure you select the best one for your needs. However, two models that deserve serious consideration include:
The Oregon series offers a superior slate of features, and they also feature touch-screen interfaces, which most customers tend to prefer.
No matter which model you choose, be sure to scrutinize the unit’s power requirements before making your selection. GPS units are notoriously power thirsty items, who require frequent charging or battery replacement. If at all possible, try to select a model that can accept multiple power sources or can be charged in different ways. In an ideal scenario, your GPS will be compatible with your emergency radio (discussed in our chapter on Communications) which will likely be capable of charging electronic items.
Don’t forget to consider the durability of any GPS unit you are considering purchasing. GPS devices are complicated machines, which unskilled individuals are unlikely to be able to repair. The best models feature rugged housings and screen guards, but you may want to invest in a protective carrying case for additional protection.
In use since the beginning of the 3rd century, compasses were one of the most important navigational aids for off-road travel for hundreds of years. They aren’t commonly used by laypersons in the modern world, but military personnel, outdoor adventurers and sailors still use them from time to time. And in a survival situation – particularly one in which an EMP has been activated or global satellite systems are disrupted – they are sure to be worth their weight in gold.
Indeed, precise movements are very difficult without one, and it is very easy to find yourself walking in circles in unfamiliar and monotonous terrain if you try to navigate without one.
Simply put, compasses serve to orient or calibrate your map and sense of direction. They detect the magnetic North Pole and help to keep your path true while walking.
There are a variety of different compasses on the market, and although they are all essentially similar products, they offer a wide array of different features. For example, bare-bones models will feature nothing more than the floating needle in a sealed compartment and a plastic base with a few rudimentary markings.
Better units will feature things like glowing surfaces to make them easier to use in dim light. Some models also feature protective cases, articulating sighting mechanisms and advanced markings, which will help you determine your position. Some even have rings that display various confidence intervals, to help account for small differences in headings.
If you are in need of a good compass, you’d be wise to consider the following three models:
Additional Navigational Aids and Supplies
While a map, GPS and compass will form the backbone of your navigational tool module, you’ll want to include a few other items in the kit as well. Some of the most noteworthy items you’ll want to pack include:
- Pencils – Pencils are helpful for making quick annotations on your map or marking routes or important points of interest that you may want to erase later.
- Pens – Pens are ideal for making permanent notations on your map and markings made in ink will be much easier to see at a glance than those made with pencils. Try to bring several different colors to give you more flexibility for making notes and tracing routes.
- Grease pencil – A grease pencil is a great tool for drawing on laminated maps, which are difficult to mark with conventional pens or pencils.
- Map wheel or distance measurer – A map wheel is a tool used for measuring the distance between two points on a map. You will have to calibrate the scale of the wheel to your map before using the tool, but it is then easy to determine how far you’ll have to travel to a given location.
- Flashlight – It can be difficult to consult a map in the dark, but you’ll surely find it necessary to do so from time to time. So, you’ll definitely want a dedicated map-reading flashlight in your navigational module to make it easier to do so. Select a light that is relatively dim or one that emits a colored light (such as red), to avoid constricting your pupils in the dim light.
Packing Your Navigational Tools and Supplies
Like most of the other items in your bug out bag, it is a good idea to pack similar items together in a small bag or box. This way, you won’t have to go hunting through your bag to find your GPS or map – you can simply locate and remove your navigational tool module to access the necessary tools.
It is important to use a waterproof container for your navigational supplies, as moisture may ruin maps and GPS devices. Several waterproof boxes and bags are available, but you can also place vulnerable items in sealed plastic bags to protect them if you prefer.
You’ll need to check your navigational aids frequently as you travel, so it makes good sense to keep your navigational tool module in an easily accessed place in your bug out bag. You may even want to keep these items in a fanny pack or small backpack, to provide even easier access while you are making your way through unfamiliar lands.
As you should do with your first-aid kit and several other high-value modules in your bug out bag, select a bag or box that is brightly colored, to make it easy to find quickly. You may even want to affix a bit of reflective tape to the outside so that it will easily catch and reflect the beam of your flashlight when you are searching through your bag.
The Importance of Practice and Preparation
It is easy to panic if you find yourself bewildered in the wilderness, and panic often leads to poor decisions. Such choices can significantly reduce your chances of survival, so you’ll always want to do everything you can to keep a clear and calm head when facing a difficult situation.
Fortunately, the navigational tools detailed above can help you find your way in even the most unfamiliar lands, but you must be sure that you can use these items properly, before betting your life on them.
Most people can read a map, but it takes some practice to learn how to use things like compasses and GPS units effectively. Accordingly, it is always wise to take the time to practice with your tools before facing a life-or-death emergency situation.
Most navigational tools come with instructions that will teach you how to use them, but you’ll want to go further than this and read as much about the tools as is possible. Only by doing so can you be certain of your competency with the items. There are plenty of resources you can consult to learn how to better use these tools, including everything from the Boy Scout Handbook to books intended for professional sailors and military personnel.
It may even be advantageous to participate in orienteering activities, in which competitors use compasses and maps to travel between predetermined locations, as this will sharpen your map-reading and compass-using skills. Similarly, geocaching clubs often set up GPS-led scavenger hunts, which will help you become more competent with your GPS device.