Simple Navigation in the outdoors hiking

simple navigation in the back coutrySimple backcountry navigation

Well, this subject is pretty serious and the short amount of space here isn’t really sufficient to go into depth. I would say one of the most important rules of navigation in an unknown area is to do some preliminary research beforehand rather than to just plunge in; a topographical map, compass, and GPS device are also very handy items to have and know how to use.

Serious hikers MUST know how to read a compass and topographical map. Obtain a topographical map of the area and plot your course, own a quality compass and know how to use it. Mark on the map your point of departure, route, and destination, and study it. When you are in the area you will likely be inclined to be distracted by all of the natural beauty, but make a point of identifying obvious landmarks and mark them on the map.

If you plan to go off trail, mark on the map where you left the trail, and use your GPS device to obtain as accurate of a position as possible. Also, if possible, a very specific and identifiable landmark can be helpful. Another very important aspect of navigation is distance. It is very wise to know your average stride length; it actually takes a fairly large man to have a 3 foot stride while walking at a comfortable relaxed pace. The average height male of 5’ 10” has about a 30” inch casual paced stride.

When navigating with a map and compass distances will be a factor so you must know your stride in order to be able to judge the distance walked. A pedometer could be used but since it is a mechanical device it could be inaccurate, or even break, then where would you be? Education is the key, if you plan to make the journey, put in the work before hand to make sure you make it back.

Let’s recap; learn to use a compass and topographical map, obtain them and use them. Know your average stride length, use of GPS and pedometers are good, but don’t rely 100% on them. Use landmarks and always mark the map for locations of the landmarks, points of departure, destination and routes. And most important of all, ALWAYS tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.