Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Surviving A Wilderness Emergency 2

This is the tenth post based upon educational sessions and syllabus material presented at the Wilderness Medical Society Annual Meeting & 25th Anniversary held in Snowmass, Colorado from July 25-30. It’s based upon an excellent presentation given by Peter Kummerfeldt, who is President and Chief Instructor for OutdoorSafe, Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colorado. In his presentation, Peter wisely made the point that the information provided was designed for educational use only and would not be a substitute for specific training or experience. When going into the outdoors it is the reader's responsibility to have the proper knowledge, experience and equipment to travel safely.

Everybody should carry and know how to use a map. Many kinds of maps are available and can be obtained from county, state or provincial agencies, the US Forest Service and other sources. The most useful maps, called topographic maps, may be purchased at many sporting goods outlets; some book stores or ordered directly from the US Geological Service (888-ASK-USGS.) Topographic maps show both man-made features (drawn in black or red) and natural features (drawn in green for vegetation and blue for water). Contour lines, lines drawn on a map joining points of equal elevation above sea level, are drawn in brown and show the altitude and the terrain features of the land mass covered by the map.

You will find other useful information in the marginal information of the map. The scale enables the user to measure the distance between two points on the map. The declination diagram shows the difference between True and Magnetic North. The date the map was printed - remember changes take place over time that may not be reflected on the map. Map symbols enable the user to interpret the information shown. Remember, unless shown otherwise, north is always at the top of the map.

Also consider using A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. These devices can be extremely useful navigation devices in the backcountry. GPS receivers enable the user to mark a departure point then hike all day long and at the end of the day return to that departure point regardless of the weather conditions or darkness. These devices should not replace the need to carry a compass but when used in conjunction with an orienteering compass and a USGS topographic map take all the worry out of becoming lost!

Basic navigation skills are taught to enable outdoor users to relocate themselves after becoming disoriented and make their way back to safety. Orienteering clubs, mountaineering equipment shops and other recreation programs offer additional wilderness navigation training that is designed to refine navigation skills and increase one's confidence in the ability to travel the back country without getting lost.

To be continued…

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.