Other Useful Tools

Tools for measuring Area, Slope, Length, and for Unit Conversion
Map Gridding Tools
Map Bags
Map Overlays and Marking
Magnifiers
Sighting Compass
Pacing Aids
Map Wheel

Over the years I've found a few products that I use over and over again as I work with maps, GPS receivers and geographic coordinates. I think you will find them just as useful as I do.


Tools for measuring Area, Slope, Length, and for Unit Conversion

Acreage Estimator Slope Ruler

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Scales: 1:24,000 x 2 miles
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Scales: 1:24,000 x 2 miles
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Map Gridding Tools

If you print your maps from a digital source you can probably get the grid lines printed as well. But if you are still using traditional paper sheet maps, you may need to draw the grid lined yourself. Frequently maps come with coordinate marking on the edges, but no grid on the map. These cork backed stainless steel rulers, and the archival quality technical pen are ideal for drawing grid lines. The 24 inch ruler is long enough to grid USGS 1:24,000 quadrangle maps. If you need to add grids to 1:100,000 scale maps, Forest Service maps, or other larger sheets, You'll want the 36 inch version.

SS Ruler Grid Pen

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Map Bags

Nowadays most of the maps I use, I print myself from a digital mapping program or online resource. Since I can print another one for my next outing, I don't coddle them like I did my USGS quad sheets. But I still need to keep them dry.

You can spend a lot of money on a fancy map pouch, but that's not my style. I put my maps into simple clear polyethylene reclosable zip top bags. I use two sizes.
9 x 12" 4 Mil bags are a good fit for an 8.5"x11" letter sized sheet of paper.
13 x 18" 4 Mil bags are a good fit for larger map sheets folded into quarters or 11"x17" paper.


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Map Overlays and Marking

In a tactical field operation, be it military, law enforcement, or search and rescue oriented, it is common to do planning and situation status on a map covered with a clear overlay. The set up I use is based on a sheet of 1/4" hardboard for my local building supply outfit. They typically sell it in 4'x8, 4'x4' 4'x2' pieces, but they'll even cut it to the size you want. I use binder clips to attach a sheet of Grafix Clear Dura-Lar film to the board. My map goes between the board and the clear overlay. I keep everything secure with a combo of binder clips at the edges and blue tape elsewhere. For multi day operations, I use additional clear overlay sheets, one for each operational period.

My favorite pens for marking on the overlay sheets are, Staedtler Lumocolor Fine Point marking pens. I usually use water based pens for planning and operational situation status as they are easy to erase when you change your plans or your teams move around. For for debriefing records, I switch to the permanent pens. I don't want my operational history to be accidentally erased. The permanent pens can be erased. I make minor changes with a Mars plastic eraser. For bigger changes or to erase an entire sheet, I turn to an alcohol soaked rag.

When I'm teaching navigation, I use laminated maps and have the students use Vis-A-Vis overhead transparency pens. These low cost pens can be erased with a damp paper towel. And unlike my Lumocolor pens, I'm not so distraught when a pen or two disappears.

Finally for you old school wall map folks, we carry the round headed colored map tacks and pins with colored flags.


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Magnifiers

I've reached the age where it's starting to be difficult to read the elevations on the index contour lines. We have two sizes of flat fresnel lens magnifiers. The pocket sized version is the same sizes as our other pocket sized tools. The larger one is sized to match our larger tools.

When I'm inside, warm and dry, with a map spread out on the table, I like to use a Magnabrite acrylic dome magnifier.


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Sighting Compass

I take a lot of bearings with my compass. I need them to be fast and accurate. My solution is the Silva Expedition 54 Compass. It looks like a regular baseplate compass, but is has a clever direct sighting mechanism. Hold it up to your eye, line up your target, and read the bearing, with one degree accuracy.

Brunton 54LU Compass


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Pacing Aids

I spent a few years helping local SAR teams get their members through the NASAR SAR-Tech testing process. The navigation test requires accurate compass bearings and good pacing distances. I found that when I was working with someone having trouble with the navigation portion of the test, when I had them use a sighting compass, and a tally counter to keep track of their pace count, they were far more successful on the test.

I've used pacing beads, but the tally counter is far simpler. You do have to hold it in your hand and keep pushing the button with your paces. I suppose if you would rather be holding your rifle, it might not work so well.


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Measuring Distance

Using a set of dividers is a time honored technique for measuring distance on a map. For straight line distances, set the dividers between the two points, then move the dividers down to the scale bar and read the distance. They really shine when you use them to measure a distance along a road or trail. Set the dividers to a known distance interval using the scale bar, say a tenth of a mile. Now walk the dividers along the trail, rotating them from point to point and counting the number of intervals you measured. At a divider span of 0.1 miles, 12 intervals would be 1.2 miles.

When you have a lot of measuring to do, turn to an electronic Map Wheel

I've been in a few planning sessions where I need to measure a bunch of trail and road distances. The Scalex MapWheel makes this an easy task. Set it to the map scale, zero it, and roll it along the road or trail of interest. The distance reads directly on the display in either miles or kilometers.

This tool is also a win when you have a map at a really odd scale. You can enter any desired scale and the wheel will happily measure distance for you. I've even used it in a pinch to measure UTM coordinates on a weird scale map.


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