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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > Maps > Brooks Range Map Tools > Test Report by Lori Pontious

Brooks Range Map Tools
Test Series by Lori Pontious

INITIAL REPORT - October 12, 2011
FIELD REPORT - January 3, 2012
LONG TERM REPORT - March 6, 2012


Tester Information

NAME: Lori Pontious
EMAIL: lori.pontious (at) gmail.com
AGE: 44
LOCATION: Fresno County, California, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5'7" (1.7 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (75 kg)

I backpacked, camped and fished all over the lower 48 states with my family as a kid, and then life happened. I restarted these activities about four years ago - I dayhike or backpack 2-6 times a month. I am between light and ultralight. I have a hammock system and own a Tarptent. My base weight depends upon season and where I go.

Product information


Manufacturer: Brooks Range Mountaineering Equipment Co.
Manufacturer URL: www.brooks-range.com
Listed Weight, Field Organizer: 1.2 oz (34 g)
Actual Weight, Field Organizer: 1.1 oz (30 g)
Listed Weight, All in One Map Tool: 1 oz (5 g)
Actual Weight, All in One Map Tool: .35 oz (10 g)
Listed Weight, All in One UTM Reader: 0.4 oz (11 g)
Actual weight, All in One UTM Reader: 0.4 oz (11 g)
MSRP:
Field Organizer: $19.00 USD
All in One Map Tool: $18.00 USD
All in One UTM Reader: $11.95 USD
Emergency Latitude/Longitude Ruler: $4.95 USD


Product Description

The Brooks Range Map Tools I received consists of the field organizer, an All in One Map Tool Pro, an All in One UTM Reader, and an Emergency All in One Latitude/Longitude Ruler. All items were new in clear plastic packaging with instructions, warranty information and two of the items came with a Brooks Range sticker. All seem to be in excellent condition and without flaws.

IMAGE 1

The field organizer is made of 100% nylon, and features six pockets for maps and map tools, a compass pocket, holders for pens, pencils or temperature probes, and a velcro strap to hold the organizer shut around the contents. Dimensions of the field organizer when folded are 4.5 x 7.5 inches (11.4 x 19.1 cm). When opened, the field organizer measures 9.5 x 7 inches (24.1 x 19.1 cm). The field organizer (aka the organizer) is advertised as weather resistant. There is a red ribbon to be used as a bookmark, potentially in a guide or notebook.

The All in One Map Tool Pro (aka Map Tool) is a clear plastic sheet of 4 x 7 inches (10.1 x 17.8 cm). On the face of the Map Tool, there are eight UTM scales, seven corner readers, nineteen distance scales, twelve slope indexes (useful in determining risk of avalanche in winter), and compass marks in 360° and 64°.

The All in One UTM Reader (aka UTM Reader, or Reader) is also a clear plastic sheet, measuring 4.25 x 7 inches (10.8 x 17.8 cm). The UTM Reader has twelve UTM scales, eleven corner readers, ten distance scales, fourteen slope indexes, and the same compass marks as the Map Tool.

The Emergency Latitude/Longitude Ruler is printed on plain white paper with a glossy finish. Instructions on usage are printed on the back. This is specifically intended to be used by search and rescue personnel, for facilitating communication between air and ground crews, if crews are using different coordinate systems.

Warranty: The Brooks Range "no hassle guarantee" states that "if you are not satisfied with one of our Products when you receive it, or if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction when used with reasonable care under normal circumstances, please return it to us for repair, replacement or a full refund." Brooks Range reserves the right to inspect the item before replacement or refund.

Initial Report

After unwrapping all the items and examining them, I assembled everything in the organizer along with my pens, compass and a map. My Rite in the Rain notebook is a spiral top bound so I won't be able to use the bookmark with it.

IMAGE 1 IMAGE 2

I note that there is some overlap in the scales and readers on the Map Tool and the UTM Reader. For the purposes of this review I will be taking both tools; under normal circumstances I would probably take the tool best suited to the tasks I expect to face on an outing or search, matching the tool to the scale(s) of the map(s) I would be taking.

The literature for the organizer assures me that it will fit in my pocket. I may have to put it in a pack pocket, since the organizer is a little too wide for the cargo pocket on my pants.

The scales and corner readers on the Map Tool and UTM Reader are intended to be used with a UTM grid on a map; with these I can plot UTM coordinates with reasonable accuracy to within 10 meters (33 ft) on a map, or determine coordinates of a point on a map. With the compass rose at the center of each tool, I can determine bearings between points on the map.

For those unfamiliar with navigation using topographical maps, a brief explanation is probably in order. UTM is Universal Transverse Mercator, one of many coordinate systems based upon a grid superimposed on a flat representation of our spherical planet. Using navigational tools with maps does not require an in-depth knowledge of the technicalities of UTM; it is sufficient to know that it is metric, and the digits of a UTM coordinate can be understood as being arranged into three components: a zone notation (two digits followed by a letter), an easting coordinate (horizontal position), and a northing coordinate (vertical position). The purpose of having many different rulers/scales on a tool is clearer with an understanding that maps can be in many scales. Experienced map/compass navigators often have multiple maps - larger scale maps for trip planning and more detailed, small scale maps for actual navigation in the field. For most of my team's search and rescue operations, maps scaled 1:24,000 are standard; accurate navigation is very important and having the map and compass skills as well as GPS units is mandatory.

I will be taking these tools with me on day hikes and overnight trips to experiment with using the Map Tool and UTM Reader with maps of different scales. I will also use the organizer and map tools on search and rescue trainings as needed, and on searches as I am called out. I'm looking forward to some cross country exploration and navigation practice. This concludes my Initial Report.

Field Report

Field Conditions/Use

Twin Lakes, Kaiser Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, California, USA, November 1

Sykes Hot Springs, Ventana Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest, California, USA, November 21 - 22

Frog Lake, Henry Coe State Park, Morgan Hill, California, USA, December 4 - 5

Three planning sessions at home for spring backpacking along a segment of the High Sierra Route

Field Use

I took the Brooks Range Map Tools on a number of trips but list above those on which I used them to locate UTM coordinates on the map while triangulating our position or plotting waypoints. I was able to check with the GPS and determine how far off my estimated location was. The Twin Lakes day hike involved some cross country travel to another lake in the vicinity as well as a cave and a sinkhole. I was not always as accurate as I would prefer for cross country travel, but a part of the equation is the map scale - it is possible to be more accurate on a 1:24,000 map than it is on a 1:63,360 map, if only because it's easier for me to see the tiny markings on the interpolator! I took printed maps of three different scales to practice with different rulers.

The map that I have for the Los Padres National Forest is scaled to 1:64,653, which is not a scale the Map Tools have a ruler for, so I had to improvise and use a 1:63,360 instead. This of course was not very accurate, but again, this is a scale of map with less detail and it's harder for me to pinpoint a location within a few meters. Using the map tools on my trip to Sykes was again my pinpointing my location on the map and determining coordinates to the best of my ability. Practicing this way on trips where I also have a GPS is my way of sharpening these skills before putting them into action on a trip where inaccuracy has less desirable consequences.

IMAGE 3
planning a trip in Big Sur

On my trip to Henry Coe, I used the latitude/longitude ruler, as there have been no Search and Rescue actions where it was called for, just for the practice. Many maps have degrees and minutes in the margins, as well as UTM markings. I was able to plot coordinates using the ruler in latitude/longitude and then use the All in One Map Tool to plot UTM coordinates, and double check both with the GPS. My map of Henry Coe is a 1:24,000 scale, which I prefer, and I had more accurate results.

The markings on the All in One Map Tool and All in One UTM Reader are in black for feet and in red for meters. I find that the markings are reasonably easy to read (I have a challenge with very small markings, I require reading glasses just to read a book and have difficulty with fine print).

IMAGE 3
taking a break at Lower Twin Lake, plotting the location of the cave

The Map Tools are holding up well; the ruler is protected in part by the stiffness of the All in One UTM Reader and All in One Map Tool, I think, and the Field Organizer is doing its job keeping the items from being abraded or crumpled in the pack. The Field Organizer itself also looks to be holding up very well, with no visible wear and tear. I usually put the Field Organizer in an outer pocket and sometimes in the pack lid, if I am using the pack that has a lid. Having a pen and pencil along has come in handy sometimes, and I am also not hesitant about drawing my own UTM grid on a map that has only blue tic marks on the perimeter. The edges of the UTM Reader or Map Tool also make a good straight edge.

As mentioned above, I am using the Map Tools on printed maps to plot a cross country route - the Sierra High Route, specifically a segment starting at Mt Conness (near the border of Yosemite National Park, north of Tioga Pass) and ending at Reds Meadow. Part of this route is on trails. A large portion of this segment is off trail, often going over high mountain passes that require some rock scrambling. Of course, plans can change on the fly depending on the actual terrain in front of me - so it will be important to take the Map Tools along to help me with mapping my actual route versus the planned route, to further develop my off trail navigation skills. While this backpacking trip is not likely to happen within the testing period I may come back and post an update to my final report to discuss further my experience with the Map Tools.

Long Term Report

Field Conditions/Use

Dewey Point, Yosemite NP, California, USA, February 4 - 5

Huntington Lake, Sierra National Forest, California, USA, February 17 - 19

Map and compass class, Woodward Park, Fresno, California, USA, February 26

Henry Coe State Park, California, USA, March 3 - 4

Field Use

I took the Map Tools with me on three more overnight trips, including our Search and Rescue winter training at Huntington Lake. During this phase of testing the tools were exposed to freezing temperatures. I also used the tools during a basic map and compass class to show how to use an interpolator with a map.

The Field Organizer is starting to show signs of wear and tear; there are a few ink stains and an abrasion on the front cover. It's been riding around in pack pockets for a while now, so I was expecting it to show some signs of use. I've found that the contents will bend around the compass, putting curvature in the Rite in the Rain notebook I have in one of the pockets. I wish that the compass pocket were on the outside of the organizer and had a small hook and loop tab to keep it inside the pocket. This would help me keep the contents of the organizer flat. On one occasion, I found that I had stuffed the organizer in the pack upside down, and when I pulled it out again the compass fell out into the snow.

The UTM reader and All in One Map Tool have not suffered damage due to cold or being bent over the compass in the organizer. Both are still in good condition, with no degradation of the markings.

Using the Map Tools in the field to determine bearings, locate our position on a map, and cross check it with the UTM coordinates provided by GPS units was straightforward. I was able to use the slope indexes while determining which side of a ridge would be safer for the team to snowshoe down while we were on our mock search. Even when given a map that was twice the normal scale, having everything in UTM made it easy to simply double or halve the numbers.

All in all, I have found the Map Tools are useful in increasing accuracy of my navigation off trail. I had no opportunity to put the ruler to actual use but managed to experiment with it. The All in One Map Tool and UTM Reader were each used on a variety of maps with UTM grids, and were helpful in my efforts to hone my map and compass skills.

Summary

Likes:
- legible against the background of topo maps
- no sign of wear on the UTM Reader or Map Tool; no fading of print

Dislikes:
- compass pocket does not allow the organizer to fold flat
- compass sometimes slides out of the organizer

This concludes my test series of the Brooks Range Map Tools. My thanks to Brooks Range Mountaineering and BackpackGearTest.org.



Read more reviews of Brooks Range Mountaineering Equipment Co gear
Read more gear reviews by Lori Pontious

Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > Maps > Brooks Range Map Tools > Test Report by Lori Pontious



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