Get yourself an altimeter! This can be one of the most useful planning and navigational tools. I also use this item to help forecast weather events by monitoring the barometer/altimeter at camps. Currently the most common wrist top altimeter watch can be found at just about any outdoor retailer and is made by Suunto. You can also look for a really cool large yellow plastic thing on someone’s wrist at your local rock climbing wall. It’s probably an altimeter watch. Ask them “whats your elevation man?” for me…
A GPS unit can make planning, in conjunction with a computer, super easy. Getting acquainted with these sytems can take time but will create a plan quickly and can be printed out at home custom, with a multitude of different mapping programs. When selecting the right program for yourself realize that they all have there limitations, and one user may prefer one over another, most systems create the same product so it is important to ask around and see what other users recommend with the ever changing technology. Personally I use a basic Garmin GPS unit, in conjunction with the National Geographic TOPO program. This seems to work really well for all of the western US and Alaska. Disclaimer: A GPS is not a replacement for good map reading and compass work! Get really good with your maps.
Now find yourself a Brooks Range (www.brooks-range.com) All –in- One map tool for easy UTM grid reading, and distances on varying scales of maps. This tool incorporates just about all the information you need to formulate an accurate tour plan on almost any type map. Now… put all of this information into a nice weather proof journal. I use the Write in the rain #311 (www.RiteintheRain.com) type book for all planning, forecasting, and snow science reports. That’s a lot of information! Guess what? You will be super excited to have it when making difficult decisions with your friends!
-- Ben Traxler, AAI Instructor and Guide