Found on the Internet: How to Make Pace Count Beads

When performing land navigation, it sometimes becomes difficult to remember everything you need to.  The most vital information being your pace count.  Your pace count gives you an estimate of how far you’ve traveled since your last waypoint.  It gives you an idea of where you are and how far you have to go to the next waypoint.  Trust me when I say that losing your pace count can completely ruin your day, you either have to backtrack to the last waypoint, or completely recalculate your location from a more difficult location.  Having pace count beads, also known as ranger beads, helps you keep track of your pace count and is an immeasurable help in a land navigation scenario.  You can purchase these if you’d like, but in the case that you don’t have them when you need them, yours break inconveniently, or you’re like me and are too cheap to pay for something this easy to make yourself, has an article on how to make your own beads from three simple materials, though you can feasibly fabricate these out of any reasonable material.

Army Ranger Beads via []


Found on the Internet: Six Ways to Never Get Lost in the City Again

Tristan Gooley is a writer, explorer and navigator. He is renowned as a “Natural Navigator,” and he recently wrote an article for BBC News outlining six basic steps for getting your bearings in an urban environment without any instruments.  While his guide is geared towards citizens of the U.K. the principles remain the same and the details of what he writes need only be modified to make it work for wherever you are in the world.

Six Ways to Never Get Lost in the City Again via BBC News

How to Read a Map

Nearly ever day, you do land navigation without even realizing it.  When you drive your car, you use known land features (street signs) to get where you are going.  When you use a road atlas to determine your course for a long road trip, you’re performing land navigation.  While not necessary, a map can play a vital role in land navigation.  But you need to learn how to read a map before you can properly use it to navigate.

If I can teach you one thing, let it be proper map maintenance.  You can’t fathom how important it is to keep your map properly folded and clean until you’re trying to read what the map says underneath a mud stain.  The best thing you can do is keep the map folded and in a ziploc bag unless you need to use it.  There is a lot of detail in some maps, especially topographical maps, and the tiniest discoloration or marking can really ruin your day.  If you get something on your map, try to get it off as quickly as possible.

There are several different types of maps.  Physical maps show general physical features such as mountains, desert, water, etc.  Political maps show the boundaries between political entities.  Road maps, as you would expect, shows roads.  Resource maps show economic or natural resources represented by small icons.  Climate maps use color coding to indicate the climate in an area. Topographical maps are highly detailed local terrain maps.  Essentially, most of the maps I described are totally useless for land navigation.  Road maps are only useful if you’re following a road (which is a legitimate strategy), physical maps are only good for getting a general idea of where you are, and resource, political, and climate maps may not even be drawn accurately to scale.

Every map has the same features that you should be aware of.  First of all, the top of every map is always North.  Why is the top always north?  Unfortunately, the answer to the has been relegated to the past so all I can say is that it’s that way because it has always been that way.  There is usually a compass rose (indicating cardinal directions) and a legend.  The legend is key because it defines the symbols used and what they represent, which can vary from map to map.  The color blue is typically reserved to represent water, so if you see blue on a map its probably water.

Topographical Maps

Given the choice of maps, you should always go for a topographical map.  These maps are highly detailed terrain maps and are updated fairly often (often enough that they are usually dated).  For that matter, there is a ton of information written in the margins of topographical maps.  The state and county that the map is in is usually displayed in the upper right hand corner.  In the lower right hand corner is information about roads within the area of the map and a picture depicting where the map is in relation to the state it is in.  The area that the map represents is called a “quadrangle” and is designated a name or label by the United States Geological Survey.  Each adjacent quadrangle is labelled in the margin of each topographical map.  This is convenient if you need to plot things out on more than one map.

Colors play an important part in the topographical map, they define features in a way that is easily discernible from each other.

  • Brown lines show the terrain contour and are called “contour lines”.  They show the shape of terrain and the elevation.
  • Black lines indicate man made features like roads, trails, etc.
  • Blue, as you would expected, indicates water features.
  • Green is used to show vegetation.
  • Red is used for highways and land grids.

Because topographical maps are so detailed, a specific set of symbols was developed to represent a great deal of information in the smallest amount of space possible.


When referring to maps (especially topographical maps) there are some terms that will crop up from time to time that you need to know.

  • contour lines – On a topographical map, each contour line represents a specific elevation.  It is called a contour line because when placed all together they show the contour of the terrain feature.
  • contour interval – The contour interval is the space between each contour line.  The interval is a uniform change in elevation.  This means that contour lines can be space close or far depending on the change in elevation in the area.
  • index contour – Index contour lines are the contour lines that represent the base elevations.  For instance, the index contours on one map may be every 100 feet, or every 1000 feet.
  • ridge – A ridge is a relief feature that is a series of hills in a chain.  This feature looks similar to the knuckles on the top of your hand when closed into a fist.
  • hill – A hill is a feature that rises up from the surrounding terrain.  Each of the knuckles on your hand look like a hill.
  • saddle – A saddle is the depression between a pair of hills.  This is represented on your hand as the space between your knuckles.
  • valley – A valley is a depression in the surrounding terrain that usually extends in one particular direction.  On your hand, this is represented as the space in between your fingers when they are extended.
  • depression – A depression is an area that is sunken in from the surrounding terrain.  If you cup your hand, palm up, it forms a depression.
  • spur – A spur is a minor ridge that extends from a larger ridge.  If you look at your fist, the tops of your fingers are the spurs to your knuckles.
  • draw – A draw is essentially a valley formed in between two ridges.  If you make a fist with your hand, you form a draw in between your fingers.
  • cliff – A cliff is a sudden drop off in elevation, think the side of your hand.

Further Reading

How to Use a Compass

In the modern world, most people don’t have to think about how to get from point A to point B. The most difficult thing anybody has to do is look at a road atlas. While land navigation has become more of hobby than a skill, in the event of an apocalypse, those who do practice it would have an advantage over those who have mostly depended on GPS to get them where they’re going. Of the two basic skills that encompass land navigation, reading a compass is the more difficult but by far the more rewarding.

In the modern world, most people don’t have to think about how to get from point A to point B.  The most difficult thing anybody has to do is look at a road atlas.  While land navigation has become more of hobby than a skill, in the event of an apocalypse, those who do practice it would have an advantage over those who have mostly depended on GPS to get them where they’re going.  Of the two basic skills that encompass land navigation, reading a compass is the more difficult but by far the more rewarding.

Basic Usage

A typical compass face

In general, using a compass is fairly simple.  Most compasses have a floating needle that always points to the north magnetic pole, but there are some (usually cheap keychain compasses) that the face is the floating piece and the needle doesn’t move. Either way, all you have to do to get your “bearing” is to point the north end of the compass in the direction you are facing and read the little number on the outside ring of the compass that the needle points to.  This is called the bearing and gives you an accurate idea of which direction you are heading in.  Most compasses are numbered from 0 to 359 (for the 360 degrees of a circle) and each right angle (0, 90, 180, 270) is a cardinal direction.  Once you’ve taken your compass bearing you need to adjust for magnetic declination (discussed next) to get your map bearing and then you can navigate yourself very accurately anywhere in the world.

If you look at the face of a compass, you’ll notice that the face appears to be backwards.  This is because the needle always faces north.  So if you turn east the needle is still pointing north, but on the face of the compass the needle is pointing at east.  When using a compass, be aware of your surroundings – metal objects and electrical objects can have an effect on your reading.  Anything from power lines (which can affect your reading from within 55m) all the way down to jewelry (which practically have to be touching the compass to affect it) can have an adverse effect on your readings.

Magnetic Declination

Magnetic declination is the term used to describe the difference between “true north” and “magnetic north”.  Where true north lies at the top of the world, the north magnetic pole lies in the Arctic Ocean just above Canada.  The north you read on a compass is actually magnetic north and because of this, you have to account for the difference between the two if you want remotely accurate readings from your compass.  There is no easy formula for figuring this out because the north magnetic pole moves.  Most topographical maps will display the magnetic declination in the legend, but in the case you only have your compass, or your map is more than a few years old, you can take a reading at night of either Polaris (the north star) if you are in the northern hemisphere, or based on the Southern Cross constellation if you are in the southern hemisphere.  Taking a bearing from the Southern Cross takes a little more effort because you have to visualize a point in the sky.  Basically, you find the Southern Cross and draw a line down the long end of the cross, then find the bright pair of stars to the left of the Southern Cross and draw a line that runs perpendicularly to them.  Now the point you want to aim at to get your bearing is the point at which your two imaginary lines meet (see picture).

How to find due South in the southern hemisphere
Picture from

The Lensatic Compass

A lensatic compass
A lensatic compass

There are a number of different types of compasses, but the compass you will want in a survival situation is a lensatic compass.  The lensatic compass was designed for use by the military.  They’re durable and incredibly accurate.  One of the most important features of the lensatic compass is that it uses a copper induction dampening system.  Where most compasses suspend the needle apparatus in a liquid in order to keep it free floating, a lensatic compass does not, so it can be used without fear of the liquid freezing or changing pressure because of temperature or elevation.  If you plan on purchasing a lensatic compass, be careful in your purchase!  Lensatic compasses are expensive, so there are a lot of imitation compasses on the market that don’t work quite right.

Center-Hold Technique

Proper center-hold technique
Proper center-hold technique

The Center-Hold technique is the most common way to hold a compass and get an accurate measurement.  This technique can be used with any compass and can be performed while walking.  It is less accurate than some other techniques but perfectly acceptable if you are only trying to go in a general direction.

To perform this technique, rest the compass on both thumbs at waist level and parallel to the ground, held between your index fingers (as pictured above).  To take a reading, just look down at your compass.  The needle will be pointing in the direction you are facing.  The reason this is ideally suited to taking readings while moving is because while you are walking you can simply glance down to see what direction you are walking in, but this will only give you a general idea.

Compass-to-Cheek Technique

Proper compass-to-cheek technique
Proper compass-to-cheek technique

If you have a lensatic compass and you need a more accurate measurement, the Compass-to-Cheek technique is a much more suitable technique.  It is far more accurate than most other sighting techniques, but it takes longer to get your reading and must be done from a stationary position.

Open the rear sight and cover of the compass to form a front/rear sight configuration.  Hold the compass level and against your cheek.  Line the rear sight up with the sighting wire in the front cover and then line the sighting wire up with the landmark you are trying to get a bearing on.  Without moving, look down through the lens to get the bearing of the landmark.

Reverse Sun Dial Technique

If you find yourself without a compass, all is not lost.  Did you know you can use your wrist watch to tell directions?  Take your watch off and orient it such that the hour hand is pointed in the direction of the sun.  Visualize a line on your watch directly between the hour hand and the twelve o’clock line.  This is the north/south line, where north is in the direction furthest away from the hour hand.  What you are doing is essentially reversing the premise under which a sun dial works.  Instead of using the suns position and a general understanding of directions to determine the time, you are using a known time and the suns position to determine a general direction.  You don’t even need an analog watch for this to work!  You just need to be able to visualize the angle at which the hour hand would be at any given time and where the 12 o’clock line would be in relation.

Alternatively, if you have time to do this, you can put a stick in the ground, mark the tip of the shadow, wait 15 minutes and mark the tip of the shadow again.  If you connect point A to point B you have created the east-west line.  West is always in the direction of point B to point A (the direction the sun is moving).

Further Reading