NASAR Guides - Pocket Backcountry Refresher Courses
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The knowledge you carry into the backcountry is as important, if not more so, than the gear.  The more you cram into your skull, the better your chances of successfully dealing with emergencies.  And, it’s just plain old fun to tie sleeping tentmates up with cord.  Two major areas where we can all use a refresher course are navigation and knots.  You’re likely to use one or both on a regular basis.  Lucky for you, NASAR (the National Association for Search and Rescue) put together handy, ultralight, pocket guides for each topic.

Backcountry Knowledge and Education

There are folks who think a granny knot works just fine in every situation and that maps and compasses are vestigial in a world of GPS.  Those people are not your friends.  Certain knots are appropriate for certain situations.  It benefits you to have a repertoire of knots at your disposal and the knowledge of when to use which one.

And, while GPS is a handy tool to have in your pack, electronics break, run out of batteries, and are generally less than 100% reliable, no matter how much you protect and pamper them.  No matter what, it’s always a good idea to have a paper map backup, a compass, and the skills to actually use them effectively.

The two guides that NASAR sent us to check out go over knots and navigation.  Between them, you’ll be covered in (I’m estimating here) 90% of unexpected, backcountry incidents.  Let’s go over what’s in each:

NASAR Basic Navigation Guide

When you open the NASAR navigation guide, the very first thing you see is a red box reminding you to stop, think, and get yourself oriented.  The guide assumes you’re opening it because you’re lost.  Remember that if you’re in trouble, the best course of action is to stay put.  Only move if you have a darn good reason.

Once we get that out of the way, the guide is laid out in a logical fashion to help you work through the steps to properly navigate yourself out of trouble.  It first goes over the tools of navigation – map and compass.  You brought those with you, right?  It reminds you to set the declination on your compass and goes over basic topo map reading skills – is that group of contour lines a ridge or a valley? Next, the guide refreshes you on map orientation and measuring distance.  It has a generalized map legend that goes over standard symbols you’ll see on maps, in case your topo printout doesn’t have a legend.  After that, the guide drops the pretense that you’ve remembered to bring a map and compass and goes over methods of compass-free navigation, orientation, and time measurement.

On the flip side, you get an overview of US National Grid (USNG) coordinates, the system that many SAR teams use for navigation and location.  the guide also goes over multiple navigation techniques like bearing, triangulation, and dead reckoning.

The NASAR Basic Navigation Guide is a great resource to refresh your knowledge at home.  It’s also great to carry with you on your excursions as a backup to your brain.  Sometimes, when things go wrong and hints of panic appear, it’s good to have a reference that you can read and follow to help prevent mistakes.  NASAR lays the guide out in a logical fashion that’s easy to follow, especially in stressful situations.  Definitely money well spent.

NASAR Essential Knots Guide

While you may not be whipping the NASAR knot guide out in an emergency, it still earns its place in your pack.  Divided into five sections, the knots guide goes over terminology first, then dives into hitches, knots, anchors, and lashing.

NASAR’s knots guide has something for everyone.  From the most basic Clove Hitch (to tie cordage to something) and Overhand Knot (to stop rope from running), it bumps up to some complex rope-tangling like the Radium Release Hitch (for tandem triple-wrap belay systems) and the Double Loop Inline Figure Eight knot (for tying in a rescue litter with a tail for controlling it).  Some parts of the guide are for everyone.  Other parts are SAR specific and most people (hopefully) will never have to use them.  The guide also diagrams tree anchors, useful for SAR, but also for top-roping climbers and 4-wheeling.  It shows you how to make a body harness out of webbing.  It also diagrams rescue litter lashing methods.

While most backcountry travelers will only need about half of the NASAR knots guide, it can still find a place in your pack.  The knots are useful for everything from bear-bagging to lashing extra gear to your pack, bike, kayak, or packraft.  Or, you could turn it into a campfire drinking game – who ties and properly faces the Figure-8 Follow-Through fastest after three beers?

NASAR Guide Review

Each NASAR guide is made from waterproof, tear resistant “paper.”  I tried to tear them.  No dice.  Weighing in at 22g each, the guides pack a lot of knowledge in a small package.  Though true ultralighters may not want to add 1.5 oz to their packs and mess up that sub-8 pound base weight, us mere mortals won’t notice the extra tonnage.  And, quite frankly, having the equivalent of a SAR refresher course in your pocket is worth the weight and cost.

So, grab these NASAR guides and don’t forget to take advantage of the classes and events at your local REI.