Navigational tips;


Well-Known Member
Navigational tips;

More and more folks are turning to outdoor adventures these days (trekking, hiking, backpacking, etc). If this is something new for you, here are a few navigational tips to consider. When starting out on an adventure, whether it’s a short local hike or an overnighter, proper planning in navigating is essential. Today, we have not only map and compasses but also GPS devices to aid in our journey. Folks who are new to navigating should learn the basics of map reading and compass work. Many people are turning to GPS devices and forgoing the map and compass. This is not a wise direction to follow. Little subtleties in GPS operation can create more work than necessary in your trek. Let’s consider a planning sequence to follow before heading out.

One of the most important points of navigating is prior planning before heading out. Study a map of the area you wish to venture out in. No matter how small of an area you choose, it is essential to know your boundaries. Even a short hike can turn into a long and dangerous journey if you are unaware of what lies ahead. Knowing what the cardinal directions will provide for terrain can assist you greatly if lost. Even with a map and compass. When lost, one may loose their confidence in map and compass skills and doubt their navigational abilities. Knowing what the general directions have to offer in way of terrain can help you getting your bearings again if you were to loose your map, compass or GPS.

Now that you know your area or have a basic understanding of what you can expect. You need to plan your route. Closely study your map. When planning your route, be sure to note directions and distance, this will aid in determining back azimuths for returning. Look for additional points along your route of travel that will allow alternate routes if primary become impassable and allow possible alternate routes. Reason being, that if you are injured or tired. Is there a way to shorten your journey or do you need to totally backtrack?

Different types of terrain will determine how you navigate. Open terrain that has rolling hills, valleys or other prominent terrain features is easier to navigate in using “terrain association” by using your map to located the identifiable land features to guide off of. In wooded areas with limited visibility, you may rely more on compass headings and pace counts to assist in navigation. Here it is important to know how to effectively use a compass. Terrain association can be used in limited visibility areas but may be somewhat more difficult to the novice, depending on the scale of the map being used. Sometimes lack of detail in the map and small changes in terrain can go unnoticed by someone who is a newcomer to navigating.

Consider these points.

1. Map scale. Smaller scale maps provide more detail. It’s
always good to know as much as you can about the terrain.

2. Does the map cover the entire area of where you want to
go? Would adjacent map sheets benefit you.

3. Map datum. When was you map made? Does it show any
new terrain such as roads or built up areas? Also, if using a
GPS device, does the map datum coincide with what is set
on your GPS.

4. When choosing a compass, consider a good base plate
style that’s liquid filled. Don’t allow price steer you away
from a good compass. Also consider a compass with a
minimum of 2º increments on the bezel ring.

5. If using a GPS device, ensure that you:

* Have the “bread crumbs” set to ON.
* Know how to use the “backtrack feature”
* Know how to mark and save waypoints.
* DO mark points of interest along your travel, such as
points that varied from your original planned route,
water sources, crossing points etc.
* Carry spare batteries.
* Most important of all, have a map and compass!

Here are a few references for learning map and compass skills:

OA Guide to Map and Compass - Part 1

OA Guide to Map & Compass - Part 2

OA Guide to Map & Compass - Part 3
Last edited:


Active Member
Lexington, KY
If you are using a GPS to navigate to waypoints, it's probably a good idea to make sure you also have those points marked on your map, as well as keep a log book with the waypoint coordinates wrote down in. Also, if you find new Points of Interest along the hike, along side marking the point with the GPS, write those down in the logbook as well.

That way, if something happens to the GPS, then you have the coordinates in case you ever want to return.

I like the idea of using the log book along with the map, because it's easier to keep up with, and just keep. I print off a lot of my own maps, so they get thrown away pretty often. Also, even with full size maps, they can get cut up, wrote on, etc. I like the rite in the rain logbooks myself.

Also, if you are using a GPS as a supplement to the map and compass, be sure to pick and use a coordinate system you can use. I prefer UTM coordinates to regular Lat/Long.


Well-Known Member
Also, if you are using a GPS as a supplement to the map and compass, be sure to pick and use a coordinate system you can use. I prefer UTM coordinates to regular Lat/Long.
I wish they would standardize the MGRS system for obtaining coordinates, it simplifies the UTM method and is even easier to read and plot. Also, if you loose your protractor/plotting tool you can guess at it and still be pretty close to your location. With Lat/Long, it's angular measurement and is a real pain to guess at without the tool. UTM/MGRS is soooooo much simpler to learn and use.

Thanks Bojib for the additional tips, great points!!!