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Why Do You Need a Topographic Map?
So You Don't Get Lost!

The following article appeared in the March 1999 issue of Outdoor Canada. Written by Gary Ball, it contains useful information about navigating through the wilderness - and why you need to carry a topographic map.
There is absolutely no reason to get lost unless you want to. And you don't need high-tech gizmos like GPS units to keep you on track (although they do make things a lot easier). In fact, all you really need are four pieces of decidedly low-tech equipment and a simple set of rules. Here are the tools: a good compass, a topo map, notepaper and a pencil. That's it. With four simple, ironclad rules, they're all you need to make sure you don't have an extended stay in the bush. Here are the rules:

Rule 1: Always tell someone, in writing, where you are going, what route you will take and when you will be back. Be as precise as possible. Don't deviate from these plans for any reason without notifying your contact. If you get back early, check in with your contact before you head off for other pursuits. Your contact and your plans are your insurance that search parties will start looking for you in the right place, should you fail to return. Failing to check in with your contact as promised will soon leave you in the position of the little boy who cried wolf. Next time, when you really need help, nobody will be looking for you.

Rule 2: Before you enter the woods, pick an exit route using your map. Select an exit boundary: road, river, railroad track, powerline, pipeline or lake, something so big you can't miss it. This is the landmark you'll aim for when you want the most direct route out of the woods.

Rule 3: If you enter the woods by crossing your boundary marker heading north and don't cross it again during the day, simply travel south when it's time to head out. It's that simple. You can wander as you see fit without worrying about exactly where you are. No matter what your location, you know which compass heading leads to your exit boundary.

Rule 4: Your compass is always right. There are going to be times when you and your compass disagree about a direction. Let the compass win all of these arguments unless it has been damaged. Yes, there are spots in Canada where minerals will cause a false compass reading. You find those spots as often as you are hit by lightning. Trust your compass.
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Last modified: May 5, 1999

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