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peter has commented on (6) products.

Land Navigation Handbook: The Sierra Club Guide to Map, Compass & GPS by W. S. Kals
Land Navigation Handbook: The Sierra Club Guide to Map, Compass & GPS

Peter, January 3, 2007

It's beyond me why people recommend this book for first-time backcountry hikers, adventure racers, or backpackers who want to learn how to read a map and use a compass in the wilds. Even the old time-encrusted 'Be Expert With Map and Compass' book is easier to use, and that's saying something!

The writers take far too long getting to the point in teaching map and compass fundamentals. Mr. Kals was an amateur sailing enthusiast and this influence shows in his frequent references to this sport - but sea navigation bears little resemblance to wilderness land navigation! Kals' frequent deviations from the relevant topic are worsened by the fact that the book pages are small (you can't even crack the book flat on a table while referring to it and doing a few nav exercises) and the resulting illustrations are less than clear. The whole book reminds me of an old first-year astronomy text - interesting discussions of abstract planetary and magnetic concepts, but very long in coming to the point when it comes to practical instruction. Furthermore, Kals tries too often to be clever when he should be trying to be clear and concise. Even with the so-called revision, it remains a slow-reading book that takes too long to get across the concept of practical back-country navigation in most wilderness environments. I am convinced that someone interested in backcountry navigation will want a modern teaching guide that helps them learn quickly, and not three pages on the virtues of an obsolete 1902 compass design! Oh, and the added-on GPS information is far too scanty to serve as a useful guide - better to master map/compass work first, then try a few geocaching exercises while using the factory instruction manual.

The fact is most every new backcountry navigator will want and need to practice mapreading and compass skills in the field with ANY instruction book. But there are much better instructional texts (and, with easier-to-follow illustrations!) than this one for learning basic map and compass skills, and learning them quickly (try The Essential Wilderness Navigator, for just one example.)

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(8 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)

Surviving the Desert: Greg Davenport's Books for the Wilderness by Gregory J. Davenport
Surviving the Desert: Greg Davenport's Books for the Wilderness

Peter, December 31, 2006

Surviving the Desert is one of a series of books by Greg Davenport, in which the author attempts to provide survival advice on every single kind of wilderness environment - forest, arctic, water, etc. This time, it's the deserts of the world. Davenport's other books on forest and mountain survival are pretty good, but this desert version doesn't live up to his previous standards, and seems to cover the same old ground as prior books.

To me it would seem nearly impossible to be a survival expert on all environments, especially deserts, unless one has traveled and lived for years in each particular desert and acquired local knowledge and expertise. First of all, deserts aren't all alike, yet most desert survival books treat them identically. They vary tremendously in weather, terrain, plant and animal life - and any survival book, to be truly useful, must note how these differences affect how one obtains shelter, how to find water or edible plant life, obtain shelter, negotiate dune sand versus lava rock, etc. Davenport's book doesn't cut it, and most of the advice is fairly generic. If you really plan to backpack, or to explore the desert in a vehicle away from immediate aid, and want the best book on desert survival, try The Ultimate Desert Handbook.
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(6 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)

The Ultimate Desert Handbook by Mark Johnson
The Ultimate Desert Handbook

Peter, December 30, 2006

There just isn't as much literature on desert hiking and desert survival as there is for other wilderness environments. I've read all of the desert hiking and desert survival books out there, and this is the best of all of them, and that includes the much over-rated SAS desert survival book.

Now if you're looking for a travelogue, a novel of personal discovery, or a bio-guide to desert plant life, The Ultimate Desert Handbook isn't going to to be the book for you. This is a no-nonsense guide to safe hiking, backpacking, and vehicle travel in all kinds of deserts and all kinds of desert terrain. How to prepare, what to carry, how to stay found, how to avoid getting hurt - and how to care for yourself or others if you do. If that's what you're looking for, this is the book for you. I know of no other book on desert travel or desert survival that comes close to providing as much specific and complete information as this one, and that's about all that needs to be said.

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(12 of 15 readers found this comment helpful)

The Essential Wilderness Navigator (Essential) by David Seidman
The Essential Wilderness Navigator (Essential)

Peter, December 30, 2006

You want to learn how to use a map and compass? For navigating on land, especially remote wilderness? This is the best comprehensive book I've found on the subject, bar none. Reasons:

1. It gets to the point quickly in teaching you map & compass fundamentals. No fluff, no wasted time on esoteric principles of magnetism, rules of orienteering competitions (a fine sport, but one bearing little resemblance to actual wilderness navigation with its special large-scale magnetic-north maps and simplified compasses etc.) Instead, this book concentrates on one objective: accurate land navigation in a wilderness environment.

2. It teaches realistic methods, and does not emphasize the unrealistic ones (one glaring example: penciling a lot of inaccurate magnetic declination lines all over your map the night before your trip (because the author used the method once for an adventure race with a special large-scale map and thinks it's cool) instead of just buying a compass with adjustable declination or pasting a pointer indicating a true bearing on your compass baseplate! Hey, sitting atop a windblown mountain is no place to attempt to draw magnetic lines of declination with a three-inch compass baseplate when you walk off your pre-marked map or have to use a friend's copy!

3. It has large, clear, easy-to-follow illustrations. Believe me, this is a rarity in most map/compass books.

4. It teaches BOTH compass dead reckoning (compass only) AND terrain association (map priority) navigation principles and shows the advantages and weaknesses of each in a given situation. Some orienteering-biased books would have you believe the compass is only good for aligning a map to magnetic north!

5. It has nice large pages and lays flat while you refer to various sections and practice using your map & compass. Don't laugh. Remember, you will learn land navigation by practicing outdoors what you're reading. One session of trying to refer to the tiny pocket paperback pages and dingy photos of competing books will make you a believer in a large-paged instruction book with clear illustrations.

6. It covers more advanced map/compass skills (such as plotting your position using lat/long and UTM grids, resection, etc.) as well as beginner exercises, and does so in the same clear, practical way without excessive verbiage or attempts to be clever. One competing book spent 3 entire pages on how to use a 1901 compass design!

7. It warns you of the great inaccuracies of some improvised 'navigational' methods (like telling directions from a wristwatch and the sun) while still giving you useful information on finding direction from Polaris and other methods that do work well enough for emergency navigation.

8. While it has the mandatory chapter on GPS, it does not attempt to be a 'all-method navigation' book. Such a book does not exist. Either the GPS material will be inadequate (because no general GPS book can cover each model of GPS and their widely varying operational characteristics in different outdoor environments) or the map/compass material is too abbreviated.
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(7 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook by Bjorn Kjellstrom
Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook

Peter, December 30, 2006

This was the first book I ever bought on the subject of using a map and compass. It was recommended by everyone I knew, as there wasn't a whole lot else out there at the time, and it had been in print since 1955. Today, about the best I can say for Kjellstrom's book is that it is better for beginners than the turgid Sierra Club Land Navigation Handbook (revised edition or not), but that's about it. The illustrations in Be Expert With Map and Compass are few and small, and the book has an ancient feel to it, with outdated references and quirky language (it's been in print for nearly 50 years, and the author died over 10 years ago when in his nineties). A smaller quibble is the tiny format and paperback-size pages - difficult to lay flat and read while attempting to orient the map or set the compass (you'll have to practice this stuff in the field, remember).

The age of Kjellstrom's book is revealed in the obsolete recommendations on adjusting the compass for declination, where the hoary old methods of memorizing rhymes or worse, of drawing magnetic declination lines all over your map with a pencil (usually inaccurately) and obscuring important detail is advocated. The latter method, still practiced by orienteering or adventure racing competitors (who get nicely pre-marked magnetic-oriented maps or draw their lines at home on a draftsman's board with a protractor), it's not easily accomplished without error using only a ruler. And if you have to improvise in the field, imagine doing it in the wind on some rock with only a compass baseplate for a straightedge! Modern books recognize better methods: either buy a compass with adjustable declination, or else tape a separate pointer for local east or west true declination for your area onto your compass baseplate. Simple, easy, and virtually error-proof.

A more serious problem is that fully half the book doesn't even deal with real-life wilderness navigation, but is instead devoted to the sport of orienteering (a fine sport, but with little relevance to practical backcountry navigation with its use of special large-scale maps and simplified compasses used only to orient the map to north). As a result of this emphasis, the book completely omits important advanced map/compass navigational techniques, sun/star navigational methods, position-finding, latitude/longitude and UTM grid systems, etc. - information a wilderness navigator ought to know.

To conclude, the book is simply outdated and outmuscled by modern competitors that are easier to follow. Once you've read newer books like The Essential Wilderness Navigator, you'll not pick up this book again.
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(19 of 23 readers found this comment helpful)

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