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Two things that immediately come to mind when we talk about navigation gear are compasses and GPS units. Both items have their strengths and weaknesses but they can also serve to supplement each other.
Regardless of what navigation aids you get, you need to understand some of what you would need them for. First, you would want them for planning travel routes. Second, knowing your location is usually valuable when communicating with people in order to coordinate activities. You should be able to know or quickly find out your progress on a given trip to estimate fuel and supply expenditures and the appropriate times to rest.
Other items include
Maps. Obviously you will need these for the areas you anticipate operating in. Maps come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with different emphasis on detail. Get a map that covers everything and it is likely on such a large scale you will not have much use for it. Get maps that are very detailed, and they probably do not cover a wide enough area. Get all of the above, and you will have a lot of paper to carry. It is going to have to be a judgment call on your part that takes into account your anticipated survival situation. My suggestion is to do something to preserve the maps since paper does not tend to do well in rugged conditions.
Pace counters, pedometers. These neat little toys are used to measure the distances you travel. when combined with a map and compass, they are a decent low tech tool for quickly determining your location. One fairly common military item is a "ranger pace counter" essentially a series of beads tied onto a knotted cord. Beads are repositioned on the cord as the person steps every so many paces. The location of the beads in relation to the knots is relative to the distance traveled. This same effect can also be done by tying knots in a cord as you go along, usually a knot for every hundred full strides (like every time your left foot hits the ground).
Compasses that you will want come in four basic types.
Survival compasses. These are small compasses that are generally for telling you the four cardinal directions (North South East West) They are common components of compact survival kits. You can find them on watchbands, key chains, zipper handles and even in the handles of knives. They are not all that accurate, but they are better than nothing. Endeavor not to depend on one of these if you can help it, but it is better to have one than nothing else at all.
Orienteering compass, or "Silva Compass". Silva was the original maker of compasses in this pattern but many good knockoffs, copies and improved models are on the market. Most are reasonably priced, easy to use and accurate. They usually feature map navigation aids like a magnifier and a ruler. What makes the compass unique is the rotating bevel and direction of travel arrow that makes traveling along a certain azimuth fast and fairly easy. These compasses are lightweight and actually every durable. Prices range from $6 to $25 but overall performance is about the same regardless of the price. This is the cheapest acceptable way to outfit yourself with a navigation aid. Make sure you read the owner's manual when you get it because it takes a little skill to use one to its fullest extent.
Lensatic military compass. This is the most common pattern military compass used throughout the world. They are usually very accurate and built to be durable, but they can be slow to use and their high sensitivity can give you problems when there is magnetic interference around, even from your weapons, commo equipment and other gear. They are almost a total write-off for use in a vehicle. One advantage is that they often have some rudimentary improvements for use at night with luminous markings, sometimes made of Tritium that does not need to be "charged" with a flashlight. This European model has a range finder built into it. US military models have very fine adjustments that are used in directing artillery fire. While these compasses are the standard for military use, their weight and cost makes them a marginal choice for the survivor, but the durability and night use options are appealing.
All of the compasses shown here are available from Sportsman's Guide and you may visit their site by clicking here.
GPS navigation receivers are some of the best items to ever come on the scene of useful consumer electronics in decades. They are larger and bulkier than compasses, and the cheapest GPS can cost more than the most expensive handheld compass, but they are still well worth it. While it does not totally replace the compass, it is a very handy aid in navigation by land, air or sea.
Without going into details on how the system works, I will tell you the basics. The GPS unit is a radio receiver that gets signals from satellites and uses those signals to determine your location. It also has a built-in clock that is usually set by the satellite signals so that it is perfectly accurate. Once it determines your location, it can track your location every second or so and determine your speed speed and direction of travel. The internal computer can then use that information and compare it to other information in its memory to give you the date, and with that the times of local sunrise, sunset, moon cycles and distances from various locations. It can also calculate the estimated travel time to various locations that are either programmed into it, or saved in the memory as the unit passes over those locations WHILE IT IS TURNED ON. All of these calculations could be done by other methods with other equipment, but not as quickly with such integration.
The weaknesses of the GPS are two: they take batteries and eat lots of power, and they require a good satellite signal to be useful. In short, if your batteries die or it does not get a signal, you are just about screwed. Fortunately one weakness GPSs do not share with other electronics is vulnerability to water. They are usually sealed against moisture because they are commonly used by boaters. Don't count on it, but it is usually the case.
One of the biggest advantages of the GPS over normal compasses is that they work in vehicles. A car's engine will usually cause enough magnetic disturbance to render a compass useless. It will usually not interfere with a GPS. I personally favor the Garmin 12 series because they fit nicely in the ammo pouch on a combat vest. They also are compatible with several useful grid systems, including MGRS which is the coordinate system on military maps. Many other GPS units will not give location in MGRS format and translation is onerous. All GPS units are capable of giving coordinates in universal lat/lon format (hours, minutes, seconds) . Prices range from around $120 to $200 depending on the features.
Kits are available to adapt these common GPS to external power sources and computers so they can interface with advanced mapping and navigation programs. That can be a real convenience when vehicles play an important role in your survival preparations. In the real world, you are likely to have a vehicle in a crisis and a GPS needs to be an integral part of mobile survival.
Always Always have a good set of batteries for your GPS and keep spares around. One problem with the units is they usually take AA batteries and AA rechargables are usually too weak to last long in them. If you use rechargables, keep Alkalines around as a backup.
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