As we move into another great La Nina winter and 2012 everyone should take stock of their navigational skills and tools before heading into the backcountry. First every group needs at least one set of the correct map(usgs 1:24,000 7.5 min for US travel), compass, altimeter and gps(can now be your smart phone with the right app.) Consider these tools a single set that should be used together to facilitate effective trip planning at home and navigation in the field.
Today we can buy software and print out the maps we want for the area we choose to travel in. National Geographic offers one of the easiest programs to use. Here is a sample tour on Rampart Ridge just easr of Gold Creek at Snoqualmie Pass. With the software, you can trace your route, mark your waypoints (specific spots along your route you mark to help navigate through terrain) and print out the map you need for the tour or tours of the day.
If you own a smart phone there are several options to convert your phone into an effective GPS unit. One such app is Topo.map. Once purchased, you can download an unlimited number of USGS maps and use the touch screen to place your waypoints, a much easier method then an actual gps device!
Even with all these tools you should take some notes to help track your progress such a Tour/time plan. Using an AIARE Fieldbook, it is structured to capture important information about Avalanches, Snowpack, Weather then write up notes for two possible tours. This tool allows you to update your plan and adjust to new or changing hazards that affect your route finding and navigation.
Next up, repair, first aid and ski touring kits that everyone should consider taking into the back country, for now check out this video by OR Ambassador and IFMGA guide, Margaret Wheeler discussing how to take a bearing and put it on a map from the comfort of your living room!