Why compass is still important hiking equipment

With modern technology it is easy to overlook simple navigation equipment like compass in your hiking trips. You have GPS with maps and you have your smart phone even with GPS and maps, you know exactly where you are.

The drawback of this technology Is that it´s powered by battery packs that can run out of power. What are you going to to when that happens?

Compass is easy to use. It´s a lightweight device that you can have hanging from your backpack or hanging around your neck. It is all about having it in a reachable spot during your hike.  The biggest advantage is it does not run out of battery and it can tolerate bad weather and rain.

As a part of search and rescue team, INLHQ team members where reminded about the importance of proper navigation tools when called out searching for hunter that got lost in the Icelandic high lands for two days. Over 400 team members looked for him for over to days in tough conditions.

Fortunately the hunter survived and was found on the third day of searching.

But the moral of the story is this, if correctly equipped this huge search had never taken place.

Compass navigation

How does compass work?

Compass is a simple tool that works with the earth magnetic field. The magnetic field runs between north pole and the south pole. The compass points in the same direction as the earth magnetic field and showing us in what direction we are walking compared to the magnetic field.

For simple navigation you hold your device in front of you with your arm straight out so you are like a pointer. Now you can read from it in what direction you are looking.

When you have decided in what direction to walk you look at the compass and it will give you the direction. When you start walking you can look at it regularly to see if you are heading in the right direction.

For more advance use you can take direction from map and put it in your compass to get between two point. You can as well take direction from the compass and put it down on maps to see what is in head of you. This methodology has been used through the centuries in navigation.

Learn how to navigate like the pros

What type of compass

There are many tapes of compasses available and for simple navigation all of them works. You can have:

  • Simple hiking compasses to take heading.
  • Durable metal compasses.
  • Baseplate compasses specially made for maps.

Avoid all compasses mounted on key rings and wrist bands, a fun toys not made for hiking.

INLHQ prefer baseplate compasses used with maps. They are light weight and durable. The prices varices based on features and build quality / durability and the prices are in the 9$ – 100$ range.

The basic features in a baseplate compass are following:

  • Magnetised needle that points to the magnetic north.
  • Rotating bezel (or azimuth ring) that adjusts the heading
  • Baseplate with build in rulers to use on maps.
  • Orienting arrows and lines to work with maps.

Other features to consider when buying compass are:

  • Declination adjustment to account for difference between the magnetic pole and north pole.
  • Sighting mirror for more precise navigation.
  • Clinometer to measure hill angle for avalanche risk etc.
  • Global needle for world travellers.

What to be aware of when using compass

So compass is great little device that is easy to use. But it has weaknesses that can easily be worked around if known.

Electrical devices can affect the accuracy, but you will decrease the risk by putting your arm straight out from your body when navigating. Power lines can also affect your compass, just be a ware of it when you cross area with powerlines (normally around 100 meters / 300 feet’s each side of the powerline.)

And above all do not have magnet or equipment with magnets anywhere near the compass when navigating it´s will affect the accuracy greatly. It can also affect the accuracy to store the compass near magnet for long period of time even though it is not near the compass during hiking.

Remember to take good care of it during hikes and as well back home. Do not store the compass near magnetic or electric fields then it will work just fine.

Conclusion

Compass and map are essential part of your hiking gear even if it is only for short hikes it can be your life safer. It will continue to work when other devices are out of power or stopped working due to weather (cold, rain and water etc.).

Learn how to navigate like the pros

 

Best time to visit Iceland

When people are planning there trip to Iceland the first question they often ask is, “should I go in May or September?”, “should I go to Iceland in October or November?” So when is the best time to visit Iceland?

There is only one answer to this questions!

What is your main goal visiting Iceland?

Depending on your goals, what time is the optimal for your visit to Iceland? To be able to decide when the best time is for you to visit Iceland you need to know how things go around the year. Each month is like a one of twelve seasons as the weather, brightness, road condition, tourist traffic, services and more changes from month to month.

One point about weather in Iceland. It´s tends go around in 3 to 6 week phases and does not always follow the seasons. So it can be warm and rainy for few weeks during the winter. On the other hand, it can be blue skies and cold or cold and blizzards every other day.

When to visit Iceland

January

One of Iceland Northern Lights HQ least favorite months, but the month can have it charm if the weather is favorable.

Daylight: 4 hours and 22 minutes (11:19 to 15:42)

It´s the northern lights high season and it´s winter. The weather is very unpredictable, can be warm, rainy or cold with blizzard and every thing between.

If you want to see the country and nature during winter time this is not the best time due to short days and very unpredictable weather. Consider February or Mars.

Follow the weather and road condition and be safe.

February

Days are getting longer, but sill less than a regular working hours.

Daylight: 7 hours and 03 minutes (10:09 to 17:13).

If you like outdoors sport like skiing this is the high season that will last into April. You can even ski after dark as the ski areas have their trails lit up when it gets dark.

Mars

The northern lights season is still on.

Daylight:  10 hours and 13 minutes (08:33 to 18:47)

Spring equinox is mars 20th.

It´s still winter. Weather wise this month can be really good or really bad like in January and February.

April

Late April is the end of the northern lights season.

Daylight:  13 hours and 35 minutes (06:44 to 20:20)

First day of summer is April 21th.

The end of the northern lights season is in early April.

May

One of Iceland Northern Lights HQ favorite months.

Daylight:  16 hours and 54 minutes (04:58 to 21:453)

First of all you will get snow in the mountains, the summer is on it´s way and every day getting longer and longer.

May is often sunny, but can be could and windy as well.

June

The tourism season is kicking in.

Daylight:  20 hours and 09 minutes (03:22 to 23:31)

Summer solstice – the longest day of the year: June 20th. Daylight 21 hours and 08 minutes (02:55 to 00:03)

The roads to the highland start to open up late June, it depends how much snow is in the highlands and the weather in the spring.

The best info for the road condition can be found here.

July

It´s the high season in tourism, a lot of people in many of the popular tourism attraction.

Daylight:  20 hours and 48 minutes (03:06 to 23:55)

But keep in mind, if you are traveling on your own car you can control at what time of the day you visit the popular places, early in the morning or late in the evening. Passing the bus traffic.

August

The biggest travel weekend for Icelander´s is around comer’s day first weekend in August with a lot of traffic all around the country.

Daylight:  17 hours and 54 minutes (04:35 to 22:29)

In good weather the twilights can be really beautiful.

Late August around 20th to be exact is the first change to see the northern lights in the upcoming fall and winter.

September

The autumn is settling in and you can see nature prepare for winter with many beautiful colors.

Daylight:  14 hours and 30 minutes (06:11 to 20:41)

Autumn equinox is September 22th

The tourism high season is over, but there are still many on the roads.

October

Natures theme color in October is, black and brown.

Daylight:  11 hours and 17 minutes (07:37 to 18:58)

First day of winter is October 22th.

This month is often time really wet and windy.

It´s time to start follow closely the weather and road condition to be safe. The highland roads are closed on this time of year.

November

Real transition from autumn to winter.

Daylight:  7 hours and 56 minutes (09:12 to 17:09)

The weather is really unpredictable and this is not the best month to drive the ring road.

Many travelers get in trouble trying to drive between towns way to late in the evening or during the night and get stuck in snow. Remember to check the road condition. Roads are not serviced after 9 pm to 6 am. So if there is snow and windy the roads get blocked really fast.

December

It is the best time to hunt the northern lights. Normally you can see the northern lights after 6 a clock in the evening and through the night to 5 am.

Daylight:  04 hours and 59 minutes (10:47 to 15:46)

Winter solstice – the shortest day of the year: December 21th. Daylight 04 hours and 07 minutes (11:22 to 15:29)

Many restaurants will close during the holidays, specially Des 24th and 25th, but this old habit of Icelanders is changing due to increased tourism especially in Reykjavík. So just be prepared for that.

Ok being in Reykjavik for new year evening is a new and breathtaking experience, the city goes wild with fire works, something that you will not see in many other places. Find a place where you have good view over the city.

 

What you want to see and experience during your stay in Iceland will help you to determine when to visit Iceland.

 

Now, let me know what you think? When do you want to visit Iceland and why? 

Three essential apps for your stay in Iceland

When traveling abroad safety during your travel is the most important thing for enjoyable visit. Now when you travel around Iceland you have extreme everywhere. The weather can be extreme, the nature is extreme and the road condition can be extreme. And you can’t count on the summer for good weather and road condition.

So what help is there available during your traveling?

There are three essential apps for your mobile phone that come in handy when traveling Around Iceland. These are all apps that the INLHQ team use in their outdoor activities all year around. The three apps are:

About the essential apps

112 Iceland

112 Iceland is really simple and need app. It has two language option,  English and Icelandic. It is offered for Android, iPhone and Windows Phone.

The app has two major functions.

  • First function is to call for help by pressing the red emergency button. Your location will be sent by text message to the 112 response center. Remember that even though your phone shows no signal there is a possibilite that you can send text message.
  • The second function is to leave a trace by pressing the green Check inn button. Only the 5 last location’s are stored and it is recommended that you use this, especially when you are hiking in the highlands where mobile connectivity can be poor.
Essential app for mobile - 112 Iceland

112 Iceland app

Here you can download the app for Android phones, Windows phones and iPhone.

Weather app

The weather is one of the hot topics in Iceland all year long. It can change many times a day and can vary greatly in very small area. It´s not uncommon to have rain, have wind, sunshine and calm wind all in the same day.

The weather app is one of the essential apps for your mobile phone when traveling around Iceland. It has two language option,  English and Icelandic. The main screen will show any weather warnings and the weather at your location. The app has as well push notification for weather warnings. Very simple and need app.

Tips: If your app is in Icelandic and you want to have it in english click the main menu in the upper left corner and go to “stillingar”

Essential app for mobile - Weather app

Weather app

Here you can download the app for Android phones and iPhone.

Road condition

The last one of the essential apps for your stay in Iceland is the road condition app. It is not really a app but a mobile friendly web. Like the two other essential apps we have talked about above this is fairly simple to use. Just choose the category that you want to look at. Normally you have the option to look at different part of the country depending where you are located.

If you are not sure about the info you can call the phone services for further assistant.

Tip: Save the bookmark to your desktop and you will have it as a icon like the apps above.

essential apps for your stay in Iceland

Road condition app

Here you can go to the road condition mobile friendly web page: http://m.vegagerdin.is/en

Was this article helpful? Feel free to comment any thoughts or questions.

 

Three major cell phone carriers in Iceland

As the internet is becoming bigger and bigger part of our every day live it is difficult to leave it behind when traveling abroad. Especially to remote country like Iceland. In this article we will go through what the three major cell phone carriers in Iceland offer.

Today people talk less and less in their phones and communicate through social media more and more. They use their phones for navigation, looking for information and so on, the possibilities are endless. However the telecommunication industry has not evolved to support this evolution for people that travel abroad. The only offer fair rates for cellular usage in their own countries/areas. Thats why it is normally very expensive to use your domestic cell phone carrier in other countries.

One option that travelers have is to use hotel or restaurant WiFi or other hot spots but can be quite arbitrary. Many people do not stay in hotels or motels but travel on their own and camp on their own. In Iceland its as well very popular to rent a car that you can sleep in as well.

The best option for traveler is to get a local prepaid SIM card from one of the three major cell phone carriers in Iceland.

Note that some people can not use other cell phone carriers due to phone lock from their provider so check it out before you plan your trip. If your phone is locked you have two option:

    • Check what deals your carrier provider offers for travelers, they might have some international travel plans but they are still more expensive compared with local ones.
    • Get mobile hotspot device and use the SIM card from the Icelandic provider in that device.

Some people would say, ok now people can’t reach my as I don´t answer my regular phone. Well you just let your most important people know how to reach you through social media, Skype or FaceTime. In emergency people can call you directly using +354-xxx-xxx and you can call back as well.

The three major cell phone carriers in Iceland

There are three major cell phone carrier available in Iceland that cover all the country. They are Siminn, Vodafone and Nova. Their GSM services cover most Iceland, there are though some blind spot in all the system, especially around big mountain rigs and fjords.

Internet connection (3G and 4G) is not covered well in remote areas but is normally very good in all towns and villages in Iceland.

Siminn and Vodafone have good web sites in english and Vodafone has web site in Deutsch as well. Nova website is not in english so it is tough for non Icelandic speaking people to figure things out there.

But look at what each carrier provider has to offer.

Coverage

The most important thing for travelers going around Iceland is to lock at coverage that the carriers provide and how it will support your traveling around Iceland. In fact it can be more important than their prices.

3G/4G coverage for each carrier difference a lot around the country as they run their own distribution system but regular GSM coverage (very slow internet connection) is almost the same for them all. 4G is only available in very small areas at the moment. Mainly around Reykjavik.

So lets look at the 3G coverage, thats the most important one.

As we can see on the maps the best 3G coverage is offered by Siminn (it is the oldest phone company in Iceland). It has the best coverage for all the country. If you are mainly traveling around Reykjavik you can go with any of the providers. The big difference is when you travel to the highlands and around the cost of Iceland away from Reykjavik.

Three major cell phone carriers in Iceland

Siminn cell phone coverage map

 

Three major cell phone carriers in Iceland

Vodafone cell phone coverage map

 

Three major cell phone carriers in Iceland

Nova cell phone coverage map

Options and prices

The three major cell phone carriers in Iceland have couple of options when it comes to cell phone plans.

Siminn offers two prepaid plans for voice and data starting at 2000 ISK (15$) and one for data only (for tablets and computers). We recommend to go with the Siminn Prepaid deluxe package. It includes both voice and data and is better when using the data more than voice. On Siminn home page is where to buy section. If you are traveling with Icelandair you can buy your SIM card onboard.

Vodafone offers one prepaid plan for voice and data at 1000 ISK (8$) and one for data only (for tablet and computers). For retailers look at Vodafone where to buy section.

Nova offers four prepaid plans for voice and data starting at 990 ISK (7,5$) and one for data only (for computers). For retailers look at Nova where to buy section.

For usage rate and more details on the carrier providers check their web sites as the rates changes over time (healthy competition)

Mobile Apps for refill and usage monitoring

All of the three major cell phone carriers in Iceland have mobile apps for top up on prepaid SIM cards, usage monitoring along with many other features. They all have apps available for android  and iOS. Vodafone is the only one that offers app for Windows. Here are links to the mobile apps for all the providers.

Siminn

iOS app 

Android app

Vodafone

iOS app

Android app

Windows

Nova

iOS app

Android app

The mobile hotspot option

If you prefer to have your SIM card in your mobile phone and you also want to have only one SIM card you can go with mobile hotspot device. The main advantage are that you only need one SIM card and you can connect all your mobile phones to it through WiFi.

The other advantage is that you are not as dependant on poor mobile signal in different rooms in your accommodation (especially out in the country site). You only need to locate the mobile hotspot device for the best mobile signal and you will have all mobile connected to the internet through its WiFi.

At a glance

The three cell phone carriers in Iceland all proved good services. Their cellular coverage have all their strengths and weaknesses but you are in good hands with all of them.

One tip that you can use when you are traveling more than one together. Purchase one SIM card from Siminn and other from Vodafone (or Nova) if it is really important to be connected. You will be more likely to have 3G connection that way and even GSM connection. The coverage between all the carriers is bit different. You can have good signal on one system and no on the other.

If you are traveling around Iceland alone INLHQ team recommends that you go with Siminn. Their all around coverage is still the best.

To get even better connection we recommend to use mobile hotspot. You can locate it in different places in your accommodation depending on the best mobile signal and have all phones connected to the hotspot through WiFi

Now that you have your cell phone covered, take a look at three essential apps for your stay in Iceland.

About the author

The INLHQ team are native Icelanders living in the east fjords of Iceland. We have more than 15 years experience as volunteers in ISCAR (Icelandic association for Search and Rescue). We are outdoors and snowmobile enthusiast that have compared the Icelandic cell phone carriers extensively through the years in your adeventures.

How to photograph northern lights in Iceland

Seeing the northern lights in Iceland is amazing experience by itself.

For those that are into photographing, catching the phenomenon on a film is a really rewarding thing because the photo can show whole lot more than the naked eye can see. It is also a bit difficult to take a quality photo of the northern lights due to the dark so good photo is a nice accomplishment.

This article will go through the process how to photograph northern lights in Iceland with DSLR camera (Digital Single Lens Reflex camera).

But note it will take some practice to get it right, we will touch on that later in the article.

How to photograph northern lights

Before going out there and start shooting into the dark a proper preparation is needed.

You both have to prepare the camera and yourself.  It will make your live easier during a cold dark night in Iceland.

Camera and accessories

  • Good SLR camera with fully charged batteries and an extra pair. They can last for short while due to the cold in Iceland, from 10°C down to -20°C (50°F down to -4°F) depending on the season and where you are (in the highlands etc).
  • Wide angle lens is recommended, the same as for other landscape photography.
  • Good Tripod. INLHQ recommends a full size one so you can choose to stand upright. You can also have strong winds so bigger tripod helps.
  • Remote shutter. You can also use the shutter delay on the camera but it is more consuming process especially if you only have 10 second delay option)

Other important things

  • Flashlight or headlamp (you can also use your phone, but you would probable want to save the battery for other use than flashlight. The batteries can also last for short while in the cold)
  • Good outerwear (Jacket, gloves, cap and good shoes, it can get a bit cold during the winter)
  • Coffee or hot coco. If you are staying out for couple of hours or longer this is a must.

Where are the northern lights

There are two important things to keep in mind when you want to photograph northern lights. How is the weather forecast for northern lights viewing and where to go.

First check out the northern light forecast from the Icelandic meteorological office. You can find info on how to use the forecast in article about the northern lights forecast for Iceland.

The location where you are staying and aurora forecast control where you are going to see the northern lights (the big picture) but the landscape for the photo shooting does also matter, so keep that in mind.

Photographing around lakes, waterfalls, glaciers or in snowy condition can do the difference as it helps reflecting the light and making the picture brighter.

The photographing procedure for northern lights

So let’s go through the adjustments for the camera, there are probable many different setup that you can use depending on the cameras but this is something that has worked well for the INLHQ team Canon´s.

First we need to understand the nature of the photo shoot. It´s a landscape photographing during the night so the camera adjustment have to be done through the manual mode.

For those that are not used to work with manual mode this can be a little tricky but something that can be learnable and the best way is to go out and practice before. You can take a photo of full moon and stars or street lightning in the city for example.

Prepare

So the camera is ready on the tripod, you have found a good spot and the first wave of northern lights are coming your way. It´s time to get the camera ready. Below are some basic adjustment for the first photo shoots, some adjustment are likely needed during the photo shooting to get the right focus, brightness etc.

  1. Put the camera in manual mode.
  2. Adjust the ISO between 400 – 800 (try to keep the ISO as low as possible to minimize noise in the picture).
  3. Adjust the Av (aperture) to the upper value of the camera lens for the landscape photo shoot (You can se the value on the front of the lens, for example 1:3.5-5.6).
  4. Put the shutter speed between 20 to 30 sec.
  5. Keep the flash turned off.
  6. If you do not have remote shutter turn on the shutter delay but keep the interval as short as      possible to shorten the waiting time.

Focus

Now the camera is ready for the photo shooting but there could be one problem. The camera might not let you take picture as it can not focus due to darkness. This depends on the camera you have.

There are basically two methods that can be used.

  • Auto focus:You can try to find an object that the camera can focus on (normally something visible due to some light source (the moon, street lights, etc. ) The disadvantage it that the light source will affect the photograph. You can also use your flashlight to lumen up the foreground for focus and then turn it off.
  • Manual focus: You can put the lens in manual focus put it on infinity and try to adjust it right from there, but this process can be quite difficult depending on the camera as you can hardly see anything through the lens.

Now you are all set, experiment with the adjustments as you go along. Just do one or two adjustment in a time so you can see if you are on the right track.

Photograph northern lights

Northern Lights in East Iceland – Canon Rebel XTi, Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 18-55mm, ISO 800 – AV f4.5, shutter speed 15.

Useful tips

Snow and full moon will help a lot to reduce the shutter time or lower the ISO value. It help as well to light up the nature. Calm lake will reflect the northern lights giving the photo a new dimension.

When adjusting the camera settings keep this in mind:

  • Lower aperture number = shorter shutter speed
  • Higher aperture number = longer shutter speed
  • Lower ISO = less photo noise and longer shutter speed
  • Higher ISO = more photo noise and shorter shutter speed

Have you some good tips about northern lights photographing? We would like to here about it. Please share your thoughts how to photograph northern lights or share photos in the comments below.

If you like to learn more about night photography take a look at the courses at CreateLive.com
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Where to find Iceland northern lights forecast

One helpful tool in the quest for the northern lights is the Iceland northern lights forecast published by the Icelandic Meteorological office. This article walk you through the site and how to use it.

There are three things that affect the northern light visibility: Northern lights activity, brightness and cloud cover (being the most important factor).

The first thing to look at in the Iceland northern lights forecast

Below is a snapshot of the aurora forecast website. On the cloud cover map white color represents clear sky and green color represents cloudy sky. Normally the forecast is most accurate for current day/night. Below the map is a time axis to view the cloud cover forecast for the next five days. Be aware of the five-day forecast, it can get inaccurate due to quick changes in the Icelandic weather. So do not plan a trip based on the five-day forecast without following up on the forecast every day.

Iceland northern lights forecast

Iceland northern lights forecast

Next thing is to check out the northern lights activity

On the right site of the aurora forecast website is a Kp-scale from 0 – 9 that represents the northern lights activity. 0 means no activity and 9 means extreme activity. Common values for northern lights activity are between 0 – 3. Northern lights can be seen when the Kp-value is as low as 2 but are very visible when Kp-value is 3. Note that the Kp-value gets very seldom to the upper part of the scale so there is no point waiting for Kp-value as high as 7, 8 or 9.

The final thing is to look at the brightness (or the darkness to be exact)

Iceland is located between 63° and 66° north just south of the arctic circle. Due to the incline of the earths axis of rotation the day get very long during summer and very short during winter.

The longest day of the year is during summer solstice june 21st when it will not get dark at all.  So during summer it is not possible to see the northern lights in Iceland. The shortest day is during winter solstice december 21st when it is only bright for few hours a day. So during winter the brightness is not big problem.

Below the Kp-scale on the aurora forecast website are info about sunset and sunrise as well how long it is dark (and when it get dark). Normally the northern lights activities peak around midnight.

The moonlight can impact the exposure of the northern light due to it brightness when it is full moon but the northern lights will be visible.

Let´s summarize it

By applying the steps described in the Iceland northern lights forecast in the example above the likeliest place to see the northern lights is the south cost of Iceland, with moderate northern lights activity (Kp-value = 2) from 8:28 pm to 6:26 am and very little moonlight.