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Have you ever heard about how to create a tactical land navigation kit? Land navigation is critical to emergency wilderness survival. The U. S. Army has a vested interest in the vital skill of moving on the battlefield. Navigation over familiar and unfamiliar terrain in all types of weather conditions during daylight or evening hours makes our military a formidable force. An essential element of this task is training individual soldiers, Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers, and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) to be proficient at land navigation with a map, compass, and map protractor. Our sergeants prohibit the use of GPS devices during individual training on land navigation.

One of the techniques that I picked up in my military career was to have a personal land navigation kit in your rucksack as part of your packing list. It was during my time at Fort Benning, Georgia, that this technique first came to my awareness. Leaders are to be ready at all times to plot accurate map coordinates, mark accurate azimuths, and calculate and covert map and compass azimuths at all times. Of course, some did that better than others, as the old puns demonstrate regarding “butter bars” and land navigation. I still have my land navigation kit. It continues to have the original items that I used over the years. In this article, I will discuss how you can create your own Land Navigation Kit.

The Pouch

 

Spec-Ops Brand® Pack Rat Drop-In Organizer

 

The starting point for creating your land navigation kit is to purchase a tactical administrative pouch. The one that I use is the Spec-Ops Brand® Pack Rat Drop-In Organizer pouch. It has been around for a while and is now only offered in two colors: Black and Multicam®. The one that I used was initially in olive drab, and then I changed it out for the ACU digital camouflage version. This pouch is a little bulky for the average outdoorsman. However, it holds all of the items that I will identify for the packing list.

Description: 10” high, 7.25” wide x 3” thick. Total Capacity: 217.5 cubic inches.

The Packing List

 

1. Staedtler® Lumocolor® Permanent Markers, Super Fine Point

 

 

The Staedtler company makes the most excellent tools and equipment for draftsman, architects, and engineers. These markers are unique for using with laminated topographic maps. The recommendation for using permanent markers is that the ink will not run or bleed when it gets wet. Thus, this makes these markers and valuable tool for marking maps in rainy or wet conditions outdoors.

The super fine tip is excellent for making small marks and notes on a laminated map. For example, if you find a stream that is not on your map, the blue super fine tip marker can be used to mark it. You can also make small notes and labels near key terrain features as you navigate over your chosen route.

2. Staedtler® Lumocolor® Permanent Markers, Fine Point

 

These fine point markers from Staedtler are superb for making larger notes or markings on your map. These markers are great for marking roads or trails or other larger items on your map. The eight-count pack has all of the colors usually associated with maps. The fine-point and super fine-point markers are valuable writing instruments for your land navigation kit.

Note: Staedtler also makes an alcohol marker for removing lines and marks made with these pens. Thus, you can purchase this item if you are going to use permanent markers. Additionally, some people like to use hand sanitizer to remove lines, markings, or notes from their laminated maps.

3. Staedtler® Lumocolor® Permanent Marker 350 Wide Chisel Tip

 

The Staedtler broad-tip makers are great for marking tactical or operational boundary lines on a map. However, there is little application for tactical markings on a civilian map. So why the wide-tip markers? These markers are a great back up in case you need to make notes on objects like rocks if you become lost in the wilderness. The waterproof qualities of these markers allow them to be used as an alternative to the Sharpie® Industrial Permanent Markers.

4. MGRS-UTM Map Protractor

 

Map protractors are a must if you have a topographic map. My kit has typically at least three protractors. My kit has at least three protractors stored in the interior pocket of the pouch. You should always carry extra map protractors. If you are not sure about which ones to purchase, check out my previous article on map protractors.

5. ACCO® Banker’s Clasps

 

Banker’s clasps are used to hold your map to a map board. Some people still use map boards. These are exceptional items to help keep your map or other things in place. An alternative to these clasps is paper binder clips. Paper binder clips have other uses besides holding a map to a map board. However, I used the clasps during my military career, and they were great for my land navigation needs.

6. Westcott® Metal Ball Bearing Compass with Pencil

 

A pencil compass has limited applications outside of military map use. They are useful items for drawing arcs from a known point. The military use for a pencil compass is to identify distances and ranges from a known location, like your patrol base. However, there are a few instances where these would be helpful to land navigation for civilians. The most likely use would be to draw a communications arc for your handheld radio (HHR) from your bivouac site or bugout location on your map. Another use for the pencil compass is to help determine the range for line-of-site (LOS) considerations. Additionally, the golf pencil on the compass can be a backup writing utensil in an emergency.

7. Zebra® M-701 Stainless Steel Mechanical Pencil

 

A Zebra mechanical pencil has its best use on a non-laminated paper map. The permanent markers mentioned above will smudge or bleed through a paper map. The mechanical pencil is useful for drawing accurate azimuth lines and plotting grid points. It is also helpful for making marks or notes on the map as you use it.

8. Zebra® F-701 Ballpoint Stainless Steel Retractable Pen

 

The Zebra® pens are the best on the market for general use considerations. As with the mechanical pencil, the ballpoint pen is best for making notes and lines on a paper map. It also can be an emergency writing device should you need one. The other advantage of a ballpoint pen is that the ink is waterproof. A good alternative for the Zebra® is the Skilcraft U.S. Government pen.

9. Sharpie® Accent Pocket-Style Fluorescent Yellow Highlighters

 

The next item in the land navigation kit is a yellow highlighter. The highlighter is a versatile item. It not only highlights important or critical information on your map, but it also glows in the dark when a blue-filtered light shines on the marked item (Tscherne, “A Map Marker Lighter,” Ranger Digest No. VII, Paradise, CA: Loose Cannon, 2017, 117). Incidentally, this technique does work. I tried it by highlighting something on a note card that I had laying around my office and using the blue filter on my L-light flashlight.

Final Comments

A land navigation kit is a great item to consider adding to your loadout. The kit discussed in this article is a little bulky for most outdoorsman. However, I would recommend that you use this article to come up with your own user-friendly land navigation kit. The items in this kit have been used in a multitude of environments and scenarios. They work for their intended purposes and help make the task of map reading and land navigation more efficient. Therefore, enjoy experimenting with your own personalized land navigation kit.

There are three outstanding map protractors to consider for your land navigation needs. Land navigation is an essential part of both emergency survival and enjoying the outdoors. Many people prefer to use GPS devices such as those from Garmin®. Other people prefer to use some kind of GPS and Map application on their smartphone or tablet. However, land navigation with a paper topographic map can be cumbersome without the aid of a map protractor and a compass. Therefore, it is good to know the two basic kinds of map protractors.

Map protractors have some essential functions regardless of their calibrated scale. The three primary functions of protractors for map reading are plotting points on a map, measuring distances and determining azimuths (angles). They are helpful tools for navigating on air, land, or sea. There are different types of protractors for each of these applications. This article will focus on those protractors used with land navigation and topographic maps.

1. Military Map Protractor

 

Description

The most recognizable map protractor is the one that is in use with the U.S. military. They are scaled to the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS). They use the metric system for measuring distance and feature both compass degrees and mils around the edges. These protractors are for use with the military topographic maps. This style of the protractor is available on the civilian market. However, some are scaled for commercial maps, like a UTM map, rather than military maps. Also, you can find military protractors sometimes being sold in military surplus stores.

The significant difference between the genuine military protractors and the civilian copies is labeling. There is a label on the military-issued ones that reads something like this:

GTA 05-02-012, June 2008
DEPARTMENT of the ARMY
GRAPHIC TRAINING AID
Title: COORDINATE SCALE
AND PROTRACTOR

There are military style map protractors available by civilian vendors online. However, they are prohibited by law from putting the above label on them. Why? Because once a company does that, the product becomes the property of the U. S. government. Since they may not be under contract with the Department of the Army to supply these products, they would be in violation of the law if they put the U. S. Army label on them.

Primary Use

Moreover, military protractors and maps are for use in training and operations. Thus, genuine military protractors and military topographic maps have to be updated often. The purpose of these updates is to account for the changes in the magnetic declination of the earth. For example, if you have a genuine military protractor with a date from the 1990s, it may not be as accurate as one with a more current date. For civilian use, this factor is not as critical to land navigation.

2. UTM Map Protractor

 

Description

A commercial version of the military map protractor is the UTM map protractor. UTM stands for Universal Transverse Mercator. UTM is based on the metric grid square system of measuring distance. It has similarities with the MGRS system. These protractors have two basic styles: the military style and the nautical style. The maritime version of this protractor incorporates both topographic map scales and marine navigation tools. The sailing version looks complicated to read. However, it is not that much different than the military MGRS protractor.

Primary Uses

The UTM map protractor is most useful with civilian topographic maps, such as the ones that you can purchase from map stores. In some cases, the UTM protractor can be used with non-topographic maps. However, these protractors may not be compatible with your typical road atlas map book. So be careful about how you use one of these protractors on maps purchased at your local store.

UTM maps and protractors are mostly used for hiking and backpacking. A common way of reading UTM coordinates is “Northing and Easting.” UTM squares are further divided into kilometers similar to the MGRS system. UTM is similar but different from the MGRS system in the way that it is read and annotated on a map.

3. Corner Rulers

 

Description

The third kind of map protractor are the corner ruler protractors. These look similar to the UTM and MGRS military-style protractors. However, some of the features are different. Corner Ruler protractors do not have any compass degree markings around the edges. Next, the grid-square scale is upside down. They are designed to find a coordinate with a known grid quickly. They are not intended to find grid azimuth readings on a map and route plotting.

Primary Use

The Corner Ruler map protractor has a primary use in two applications: aerial photography and adventure racing. Their use for aerial photos is to quickly find a point on the photo within an identified grid square. Adventure racers operate on predetermined routes. Therefore, they do not need a tool that helps them traverse over open terrain by plotting a course. They just need a protractor to help find where they are on a known grid-square.

Some Final Thoughts

Map reading and land navigation are vital skills for those who love the outdoors. It is also an essential skill for emergency survival. I have found that some trail maps that are available at a trailhead or ranger station are little more than sketches. They are not to scale and are not very accurate. If this is your only map in your backpack and you get lost, a map like that might be your worst enemy.

It is vital to have an up-to-date and accurate topographic map of the area you are operating in. Along with that map, you should also have an excellent manual compass and map protractor. The MGRS and UTM protractors are the two most common kinds of protractors available. Some companies sell map protractors with both MGRS and UTM scales. Therefore, shop around and find the protractor that you are most comfortable. Then, use it regularly with your hard-copy topographic map.

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