Competent use of a map and compass, even in fine weather on a waymarked route, adds a positive dimension to the landscape beyond knowing where you are and identifying features around you. In more demanding country and deteriorating weather conditions, basic navigation skills are more than just useful, they’re essential.
At best, good navigation skills avoid spoiling a day’s hillwalking by getting lost and tired. At worst, they avoid getting into more serious trouble as the causes of so many mountain rescue incidents can be traced back to poor navigation. There is no substitute to spending time on mastering map and compass in practice rather than theory.
Happily, there are plenty of courses available as well as books to set you on the right track. The National Navigation Award Scheme has info on training courses at approved outdoor centres throughout the country and offers tests of navigational skills – bronze, silver and gold. Contact: www.nnas.org.uk. Who knows? You might get hooked and take up competitive orienteering – where brains and navigation skills matter as much as fitness.
A simple navigation checklist includes:
- appropriate scale map – waterproofed or carried in a map case folded to the right place.
- compass kept to hand and used with the map for reliable route-finding including diversions from the plan you made at home.
- wearing a watch helps you to judge your pace and progress allowing an opportunity to adjust plans in good time.
- if you are relying on a GPS unit which uses satellite signals to pinpoint your position and route, then make sure it’s powered up to last the whole of your route and carry a map as well. A traditional compass comes into its own in case of GPS problems and weighs next to nothing in your rucksack.
- pen or pencil to make notes; a waterproof notebook means you don’t have to rely on your memory. It’s really useful to avoid that when you’re tired!