Hiking or backpacking navigation, when properly applied, lets you know where you started from, where you are, and how you can return to your starting point. It verifies you’re on the correct route, and gives you a reasonable estimate of how much distance you’ve covered and how close you are to your destination.
A Map/Compass/GPS Navigation Class prepares you to use your navigation equipment properly.
Consider how you learned to ride a bicycle when you were a kid. First the bike was purchased, then you went outside on a safe sidewalk and, through much trial and error (maybe with the initial use of training wheels), figured out how to balance the bike, start and stop, and stay on the sidewalk…Read More
Knowing where you are is essential if you have an emergency on the trail.
Only with proper directions can rescue and medical aid personnel quickly and effectively reach your location.
Navigation is something you have to learn and practice. For our purposes, the Navigation Category requires that you:
Assuming you’ve taken the navigation class, you know it’s virtually impossible to effectively navigate without proper equipment.
To that end, a map and compass must be carried by every individual at all times on the trail. You’re strongly encouraged to carry a GPS unit as well.
Land managing agencies (Forest Service, Parks) and search and rescue groups use topographic (topo) maps to the exclusion of all others.
topographic (topo) map– A map that displays contour lines to show the elevation and relief of ridges and valleys.
If the map is out of date, certain features may be missing, or shown on the map when they are no longer on the ground. For example, a trail may have been re-routed due to a slide or other hazardous condition, and the route change would be noted on recent maps, but not indicated on older maps.
Most maps are made of paper, and should be kept as dry as possible. Commercial map cases are available, however a large zip-lock baggie works just as well.
It’s wise to a carry (in the driest, most secure place in your pack) a second copy of your primary map, just in case the original self-destructs or decides to walk away.
There are many types of compasses available. Some are excellent, some are completely worthless. It’s best to purchase, and train with, a quality compass.
With your compass, you use triangulation to find your current position if you have view of at least two landmarks you can identify on your map. Your compass displays the landmark bearings in degrees on the compass scale, which can then be plotted on your map. Your physical location is where the bearing lines intersect on the map.
Search and rescue or emergency services personnel can use your bearings to aid finding your location on the ground.
I recommend without hesitation the Silva Ranger Compass, which has never let me down since 1973.
GPS units are rather new on the scene. They’re extensively used by the military, law enforcement, and search and rescue, and should be considered an essential item when you plan your hike.
GPS units triangulate much like a compass, but use satellites instead of known and visible landmarks. They establish your current location as a latitude and longitude. Once obtained, search and rescue or emergency services personnel can use your latitude and longitude with their GPS units to reach your location.
GPS units, unlike traditional compasses, also display elevation. A known elevation aids establishing current location when used with a topographic map’s contour lines.
GPS units have one distinct advantage over traditional compass navigation. They can be used in the dark, or in the daytime when visibility is poor. You don’t have to have visible map landmarks for triangulation as when using a compass.
A GPS has many other functions, and requires training and practice much the same as the map and compass. A good navigation or orienteering class should include instruction in GPS use and capabilities.
A GPS should not be regarded as a stand-alone device. Your GPS should supplement, rather than replace, map and compass use. Never leave your map and compass behind and expect to rely totally on your GPS.
There was a time when a GPS was an expensive luxury, and many opted not to make the high-tech jump. Times have certainly changed. Excellent, state-of-the-art GPS units may be had for just under $100 USD, roughly the same cost as a quality pair of light-weight boots.
The advantage of being GPS-equipped puts it on the “must have” equipment list.
The information given here doesn’t qualify you as a navigator. You MUST attend a hands-on Map/Compass/GPS class before venturing into the wild. Just reading about it and putting the equipment in your pack won’t do you any good without hands-on practice!