ome people can’t even successfully make it to the grocery store without Google Maps guiding them. It’s not their fault; Google, Apple, Waze, Garmin and others make it so dang easy to get from point A to point B that no attention needs to be paid to how they got there. We essentially drive and carry teleportation devices: type in an address, click GO and then zone out until you magically arrive. (Unless you’re this guy.)

Our phones, cars, motorcycles and watches can all give us directions. But what do you do when there’s no cell signal, as is usually the case when you’re on a decent adventure? Even worse, what happens when your phone runs out of juice, your car or motorcycle runs out of gas and your watch breaks? If you’re not lost already, you’re about to be, once you make a move.

If only you had first read this article about never getting lost. Then you would know about PACE planning and would already have applied it to your navigational choices. If only…

What Is PACE Planning?

PACE stands for:

  • Primary
  • Alternate
  • Contingency
  • Emergency

PACE planning originated in the U.S. military for communication planning to ensure that units could continue to talk within and between themselves. The idea is that, while we all love using the coolest new gear, stuff breaks, things happen and nothing in life is guaranteed, especially electronics. So you plan for the worst and when something breaks, you (and everyone else) know immediately how to pivot.

Let’s break it down, using communications as the example.

  • Primary: the best tool for the job, however that is defined. It could be based on ubiquity (cell phones), geographic capability (satellite phones) or some mission- or group-specific criteria.
  • Alternate: can be just as good as the primary method and may even be used alongside the primary. But it’s designated as alternate so everyone’s not using different methods. An example might be SMS text messaging during a widespread emergency since they are more likely to go through than mobile voice calls. (SMS messages are very small chunks of data, can be transmitted on a channel separate from voice traffic (which may be overloaded) and are asynchronous, meaning that the mobile operator will keep trying to send it and you don’t have to wait around.)
  • Contingency: not nearly as easy to use as the first two, but you can make do. If you’re off grid, your Garmin inReach device could be an example; they’re laborious to text directly on, but they send/receive via Iridium satellites instead of the cell phone network.
  • Emergency: the suckiest option, but it will work. Could be a handheld radio or, God help you if it’s gotten this far, a signal mirror, whistle, signal fire, etc.
When you get to the end of your PACE plan, you gotta do whatever you can.

So May I Have a Comms PACE Plan Please?

We’re always looking for the quick answer and we wish we could give you the exact PACE plan for the communication devices for your next adventure. But PACE plans are more than an individual thing; they will vary every time you head out the door. Driving around town, running errands will require different devices and solutions than when you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail.

But being handed a PACE plan is nearly as bad as not having one in the first place! The most important reason to create a PACE plan is it forces us to think about and decide on options BEFORE stuff starts breaking. You need to be asking questions like:

  • When and where am I going and for how long?
  • Will I be off grid (ie, no cell or wifi service) for extended lengths of time?
  • How am I traveling (truck, sailboat, motorcycle, dog sled, feet)?
  • Who is going with me? Do we need to talk to each other? What is their experience and capability? Heck, what are MY capabilities, if I’m honest with myself?
  • Do I have the ability to charge the devices? Backup charging capability?

As you answer these questions, you’ll find the solution for each PACE element becomes quite obvious.

PACE Plans for Navigation

We here at Adventure Monkey would argue that navigation is at least as important as communication, so it only makes sense to apply the PACE methodology to navigation.

Ask yourself the same sort of questions as above, with special emphasis on your skills and knowledge. The time to learn how to read a topo map is not when your bike is in five pieces, your Garmin is in three and your right leg is in two. (Get ahead of the game now and learn what a topo map is, here on Adventure Monkey!)

Let’s run through a couple examples. Remember, these are examples to get your creative juices flowing, not holy writ.

Navigational PACE Plan for Overlanding

  • I am taking a truck into southeastern Utah for 4-5 days. The truck is relatively capable and I have enough skill to get out to the fun stuff and enough experience to not get too far out of my comfort zone. My buddy’s going too, in his Jeep.
  • I’ve heard that chunks of the area have no cell coverage but I have a cell signal booster in the truck and I’ll likely be within a few hours’ drive of a city.
  • I have the ability to charge devices on the go and if my truck craps out, my buddy’s Jeep could still power devices to navigate us out.
  • My goal is to be able to plan some routes in advance, scope some potential camping spots along the way and navigate there and back from my house. While there, we’ll be exploring off road so we need good trail maps and the ability to create some tracks. (For an explanation of these terms, check out this article on The 7 Terms You Need to Know for Off-Road Navigation.)
  • Neither of us is familiar with the area, so if we run out of navigational options, we get lost and sad.

Given this scenario, a decent PACE plan would be:

  • Primary My iPhone or a tablet in a  mount, using a combination of Google Maps and Gaia GPS app (or onX Off-Road, or whatever floats your boat). I have vehicle power to keep it charged and odds are I’ll have a cell signal most of the time so I should be good to go. Unfortunately, this is as far as most people get before heading out. But what if I’m wrong and cell coverage is nonexistent for huge swaths of the area, or my beautiful glass-backed iPhone falls out of my pocket, bounces off a rock and devolves into its component parts?
  • Alternate I have a ruggedized Android phone with no SIM card, on which I download all the maps I’ll need in the Gaia GPS app before I leave home. Could I also download maps for offline use on my iPhone? Absolutely, but what if my phone breaks? Better to have another device. Two is one and one is none. (Don’t even try to count the navigation systems in your vehicle as an option. They’re usually only mapping asphalt and you haven’t paid to update the truck’s map database since you bought it. Be honest.)
  • Contingency Since I also apply PACE planning to my communications, I never leave home without an inReach-capable GPS, like the GPSMAP 66i. The screen is small and the processor is much slower than my primary and alternate devices, but if those go down, I can use the GPSMAP to get out, painful as it may be.
  • Emergency Stuck in a surprise snow storm, we both run out of juice to keep stuff charged and we’re in the middle of nowhere. Good thing I stuck a compass and a stack of topo maps of where we’re going in my glovebox!

Is this the best PACE plan for this scenario? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s at least a plan and I’m heading out with some redundancy in place. Is this the best PACE plan for you and your next overlanding trip? Almost certainly not. If you’re driving the Road of Bones, there is almost no infrastructure and your PACE decisions will include heavy use of paper maps, satellite imagery and even local tips when you drive through towns.

Navigational PACE Plan for Adventure Riding

Now let’s take the same scenario as above but instead of taking trucks and Jeeps, we’re on adventure bikes. What might our PACE plan look like now?

Primary A Garmin zumo XT mounted on the bike, which gives turn-by-turn directions on the ride to the fun, as well as off-road routes to follow once there. Why not mount an iPhone? We could, but iPhones are not the sturdiest of devices and, if you’re not careful, you’ll ruin the camera in your $1,000 wonder-device.(A great alternative if you regularly use multiple vehicles offroad is a Garmin Montana.)

Yes, Garmins can be fidgety and limiting, but it doesn’t get much easier. zumo XT

Alternate A ruggedized Android phone with maps for all possible areas downloaded. Could you use your main phone for this with an Otter case or something? Yes, but we believe that navigation is so important that it requires dedicated devices and attention. When Adventure Monkeys head off road, we tuck our personal cell phones away and use GPSs, handhelds, tablets, phones, etc. that are dedicated to navigational tasks.

Ruggedized Android phone with downloaded Gaia GPS maps. It doesn’t get much more versatile.

Contingency An inReach device that has mapping and navigational capabilities. The satellite messaging capabilities fit into our PACE plan for comms and choosing a device that can double as a navigational aid is just smart. It’s not primary or alternate in this scenario because that 3” screen is not going to cut it as a primary navigator.

Garmin GPSMAP 66i with a 3” screen. It doesn’t get much more awkward to use.

Emergency A stack of paper topo maps for all the expected travel areas, plus a good compass. Compact, light, no batteries required; what’s not to like? Just make sure you know how to use them before you need to use them.

Suunto MC-2 compass, Gotical protractor and topo map. It doesn’t get much more critical to know how to use BEFORE your life depends on it.

Navigational PACE Plan for Hiking

We’ll go a little faster through this one since you’re getting the point. Hopefully.

Primary A handheld GPS. A Garmin GPSMAP is a good choice or a Garmin eTrex or even a Foretrex. You’re hiking, so size and weight are greater factors than if you were in a Jeep.

Alternate Your phone, with maps downloaded to Gaia or another app for offline use. We’d recommend this as alternate instead of primary since Murphy’s Law will first strike the device you’re using most frequently on the trail. Let that be your Garmin, not your phone.

Contingency We actually like a good GPS watch here, like a Garmin fenix, Coros Vertix or Suunto 9 Baro.If you’re an avid hiker or backpacker, you likely have a GPS watch for fitness reasons and while the navigational capabilities of watches are somewhat limited and extremely cumbersome to use, they’ll work in a pinch.

Emergency No prize if you guessed what we’re going to say...compass and maps. Noticing a trend?

Adventure Monkey Conclusions

You could argue with any of our choices above. Heck, we argued among ourselves and any adventure-oriented forum is filled with opinions both good and troll on the correct navigation device for any vehicle and adventure. And even if you agree with our choices for, say, your next hike, the hike after that may require different choices.

The important thing is that you spend the time developing your navigational PACE plan before heading out on your next adventure. And make sure you do it far enough in advance that you can actually learn how to use the darn things before your life--or even your fun--depends on it.

And that is how to ensure you never get lost again.

May 6, 2021

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