/ Map or navigation tips
Spending time rereading my mountain nav guidebook and map use.
Got to thinking what tips I would share if asked.
No 1: aiming off
No 2: The height interval on maps can hide a lot of up and down and small crags or gullies. If 10m intervals, that's just over 30 ft and more than the size of a two storey house.
Areas of crags on a map may have an easy way through or not. Sometimes its a gamble. Likewise forest.
Get a GPS but make sure you still know the old ways would be my top tip.
Thats not really a tip! Thats basic equipment. Otherwise my no 1 would be to have a map.
The tip part is the knowing the old ways!
Bin the GPS and embrace the joy of getting lost every now and again.
> Bin the GPS and embrace the joy of getting lost every now and again.
I can manage that WITH GPS!
> I can manage that WITH GPS!
Doesn't the GPS tell you where you are. Or am I missing something?
> Doesn't the GPS tell you where you are. Or am I missing something?
Yes you missed the fact that I was joking.
Make sure that the direction of travel arrow is pointing the way that you’re going before taking a bearing.
> Doesn't the GPS tell you where you are.
I would have thought that someone with your vast experience of using GPS would know that GPS sometimes lies. Especially in canyons, natural and urban...
> I would have thought that someone with your vast experience of using GPS......
What vast experience? I've only used one twice to get a latitude and longitude.
If you are not sure of your position. Stop and see which direction the slope is dipping using your compass.
Then look on the map to find slopes of that orientation in your vicinity. Often ad not you can confirm your position.
Ditch the map. Read the land. Like the Polynesians read the sea.
Always orientate your map to the ground. The rest will happen more automatically any way.
Stop and look at the map every so often. I recently decided to contour around the norther corries on my first real trip up the Cairngorm plateau (an impromptu modification of the plan of the day due to partner boot problems), in reasonably poor visibility, and found myself at the top of Fiaciall Ridge (obviously) instead of the ridge to the west of Coire an Lochain. Why? Because I modified the plan of the day in the moment and then confidently blasted on based on my memory.
Not a huge issue - very easily identified and corrected - but a great example of confirmation bias!
"Make sure that the direction of travel arrow is pointing the way that you’re going before taking a bearing."
Better still - estimate the bearing using the map before you even start looking a the compass. That way if you've put the compass on the map the wrong way round, you'll know straight away rather than risk heading off 180 degrees from your required course.
My top tip - never get complacent; even if you're an ace navigator. Complacency can creep up on you!
> Better still - estimate the bearing using the map before you even start looking a the compass.
> Ditch the map. Read the land. Like the Polynesians read the sea.
Or, if no low cloud, maybe just look at the map once at the beginning of the day and memorise the shape of the day's hills. Then read the land.
carry your map so's you can easily reach it, not in your sack meaning you have to stop and get it out
The Polynesians could sense an island to windward, an island out of sight, below the horizon. They could sense it by the feel of the waves on their craft. The waves changed shape.
Get out on the hill, feel the land 'neath your feet...navigate ;)
> "Make sure that the direction of travel arrow is pointing the way that you’re going before taking a bearing."
> Better still - estimate the bearing using the map before you even start looking a the compass. That way if you've put the compass on the map the wrong way round, you'll know straight away rather than risk heading off 180 degrees from your required course.
I like that a lot. Good tip Kate.
> My top tip - never get complacent; even if you're an ace navigator. Complacency can creep up on you!
I think my tip would be: it isn't that hard. By which I mean don't let navigation become some huge issue and dominate your thinking. Just use a map and compass, and enjoy being outside.
ALWAYS trust the compass.
I tell DofE groups that they already know all the basic techniques used for navigation; they use them to get about in their everyday lives. The trick is to get them to recognise what those techniques are, and how to apply them when using a map in unfamiliar country.
My top tip for them: pay attention; don't wander along with head up bum and brain in neutral. Its much easier to keep track of your position than it is to find yourself when you're lost.
> ALWAYS trust the compass.
- but beware of magnetic deviation and declination.
> ALWAYS trust the compass.
Bill Murray sums it up very nicely in his "Cairngorm Blizzard". "After an hour had gone by there arose the dangerous feeling that most of us experience sooner or later on mountains - a feeling tantamount to an absolute conviction that our compass was wrong, quite wrong, that the true course lay much more to the south. It is easy to yield, dreadfully easy to compromise, but any man who does either is set for a nasty surprise at the end of his journey". Despite being written 70 years ago, those words have kept me on the straight and narrow when the temptation to yield or compromise has sometimes been a strong one.
Except on the cuillin ridge
Yes, definitely. Been in similar and have learned that my instinct is highly fallible! My sense of direction is usually good but out on unfamiliar ground in poor vis...so easy to go wrong.
> ALWAYS trust the compass.
Ironically, my top tip is "Be prepared to mistrust your compass". I was heading north west in the Brecon Beacons, my compass held out in front of me, when suddenly it started telling me I was heading south east. (I'm not sure why, since I was on limestone, and it wasn't anywhere near my mobile or any other personal source of magnetism, but that just serves to underline my point). It was very easy to confirm the original bearing through the shape of the land, but it was very disconcerting just the same.
Unless it inverts. Then don’t.
Building a picture with as many disparate data points as possible maximises your chances of avoiding error. Even high reliability bits of data like compass direction can be wrong due to user or equipment error. If something does not match the overall pattern of data then you need to question what’s going on.
> Get out on the hill, feel the land 'neath your feet...navigate
Whilst in good visibility, I very much prefer to follow my feet, and find the route in front of me, I do have to be able to have a good idea of where I'm going. So that means being able to see my goal, even if intermittently, or to have been there before.
If I'm in unfamiliar territory, or I can't see where it is I'm heading, then following my feet won't help me much. That's when a map becomes useful; it allows you to 'see' what's around the corner, or over the next hill, or range of hills.
> Ironically, my top tip is "Be prepared to mistrust your compass"
Magnetic rocks, magnetic equipment, inversions, etc. mean your compass may not be working properly.
I'd extend your tip to a more general 'always question discrepancies'. If things don't make sense, stop and try to figure out why. Don't plough on, hoping things will start to make sense.
Compass errors are very rare so unless you're on known magnetic rock I'd say "trust your compass".
Learn to read the contours.
ditch the GPS map and compass - so polarising - better to aim for a location neutral attitude as we are moving to a more enlightened age.
There's no such thing as a bad location or bad way down, just labels
There is something under the trig on Cadair Fawr that sends compasses out, and the gas pipeline that runs across the NP interferes with the needles too. We use the latter with our MR trainees to find out how 'on the ball' they are navigationally.
In addition to all those above I'd say always keep looking behind you, so you can visualize the landmarks looking in the other direction, in case you have to turn back!!
Think what happens to a vehicle Sat nav, When you turn a corner or manouver at a junction your Sat nav will Move the picture so that you are always following your route. Do the same with your map. Orientate.
> I'd extend your tip to a more general 'always question discrepancies'. If things don't make sense, stop and try to figure out why. Don't plough on, hoping things will start to make sense.
Also never try to make the map features fit what you see on the ground. I had an unexpected bivi one night as I was convinced that I was in a differrent valley from the one I was actually in.
"That crag there must be that one on the map, that must be the tarn..looks a different size and shape from the map, but maybe there was a drought when the map was drawn, this ground seems a bit steeper than the contours suggest...no...I'm definately in the right location..."
Always no where you on the hill. Don't get lost in the first place.
And always take a map - they don't run out of power or break down.
> Do the same with your map. Orientate.
If you're unsure, yes, set the map.
But, like many aspects of navigating, individual mental skills vary from person to person. Some people can rotate the map mentally, and don't need to set the map. I can usually do that unless I'm very confused (lost...).
Whereas I can't do the 'look at the map once at the start of the day' thing that Robert suggests. My brain doesn't remember. Now, it may be that I haven't learnt to do that, because I can read a map, and actively navigate by referring to the map very frequently.
They're both valid navigation techniques; play with the bag of tricks, and see which ones suit the way your brain works.
Very easily done in the Lake District, where there may be a Raven Crag on your chosen route and another Raven Crag on the adjaecnt map fold. Don't ask me how I know this...
> And always take a map - they don't run out of power or break down.
They do however get blown out of your hands occasionally in gale force winds, never to be seen again.
Maybe I wasn't being literal. It was quite possible, that I was drunk. Still, the Polynesians could teach the GPS heads and map and compass D of E freaks, a thing or two about place and how to find it.
Make sure you leave a summit in the correct direction by taking a quick bearing. Very easy to head off in the wrong direction if the visibility is poor and/or you've spent a bit of time on the summit wandering around.
Yes, if I’m the Clag it’s the first thing I do. Another top tip. If you’ve arrived on a bearing and are going back the same way simply rotate your compass round 180degrees.
> Make sure you leave a summit in the correct direction by taking a quick bearing. Very easy to head off in the wrong direction if the visibility is poor and/or you've spent a bit of time on the summit wandering around.
My tip is, if navigating, explain your reasoning for where you are and your next course of action to someone else. If there's no one else, explain it to yourself out loud!
Works for me anyway.
> Think what happens to a vehicle Sat nav, When you turn a corner or manouver at a junction your Sat nav will Move the picture so that you are always following your route. Do the same with your map. Orientate.
I'd prefer the analogy that it relates to orienteering, a sport which arguably has the best navigators. Whilst many people will argue they can read a map upside down etc.. try that running or on a mountain bike and it will soon fry your brain.
The key to orienteering the map and yourself is that you have already pointed yourself in the pretty much the correct direction(+- a few degrees), before you've even considered a bearing, attack point, aiming off etc..
Not disputing the ability of the Polynesians to navigate around their known world (and to explore beyond). But we do have maps that nice people have made for us, so we don't have to rely on the smell of peat bog, or rotting deer carcass to come and go.
Your post made more sense that wercat's musings; I'm still trying to figure that one out... I obviously need enlightenment...
Yes I was about to speculate on how long it would take a Polynesian to get from Ben Macdhui to the top of the Goat Track in a December white out. A lot of Polynesians set off into the blue yonder and were never heard of again;-).
That said Inuit navigate round the Arctic by using wind blown ridges in the snow and by the shade of the clouds, clues like that. The clouds are darker when they a re above open water and in the Arctic there are stretches of open water that don't freeze over or move and thus act as reliable land marks.
Now you are getting it, Eric.
> If you’ve arrived on a bearing and are going back the same way simply rotate your compass round 180degrees.
Same for taking back bearings to check your forward direction is still correct (i.e. looking back to a landmark you have passed): check the bearing using the S end of the needle (but still compare with the N markings on the bezel). No need to alter the compass if you are still going in the right direction.
 actually, I like your method even better: saves having to remember to align S:N, rather than N:N). But I have a mirror compass, so taking sighting bearings with a reversed mirror compass is a bit tricky...
If in doubt check the map!
Especially so if you are tired, cold or running out of light. A few minutes carefully checking the map can save you several miles of unnecessary walking and actually get you back to civilisation quicker.
Know what's coming up on your route before you get to it i.e. The path should contour round the righthand side of the mountain, over a wall, across two streams to a T-junction. Then when it doesn't do what you think it will you know to stop and sort things out.
Routecards - especially useful for planning if using an unfamiliar map scale and ensuring you can catch the last cablecar down.
> If in doubt check the map!
> Especially so if you are tired, cold or running out of light. A few minutes carefully checking the map can save you several miles of unnecessary walking and actually get you back to civilisation quicker.
My objective is always to get away from civilisation
The first tip is useful but I've never used a route card. Part of that is due to my tendency to make up my route on the hoof, wandering over to explore or cutting out bits if tired / too many sheep and so on.
> Also never try to make the map features fit what you see on the ground. I had an unexpected bivi one night as I was convinced that I was in a differrent valley from the one I was actually in.
There is a very well told episode where this leads to trouble in one of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books - a very well told developing "group think" where they do just that rather than immediately realizing they are not where they thought. It is so well explained it could be used as required preparation reading for a navigation/expedition session.
> My top tip - never get complacent; even if you're an ace navigator. Complacency can creep up on you!
Really is the top one, and also don't be complacent that someone else is navigating in a group, sometimes no one is! Have seen this happen several times, with parties containing very experienced people
Useful in mist - check the wind direction and whether it is constant as this can help you tell when you've come back to near your start point if going round a hill or be an extra clue as to your direction. Have actually used this several times but obviously the wind/breeze has to be pretty constant for the time you are using it.
Having an idea of the movement of constellations through the night and hpw to find the pole star
Before starting walking a leg of a route, apply the 4D's:
Direction: roughly what direction will you be heading in? Can be done just off the map, not neccessarily using a compass. (similiar to WelshKate's tip above).
Distance: approx how long is this leg? e.g. if it's 500m then you don't want to be still walking it after 30mins.
Description: what do you expect to find as you proceed? Can be as simple or detailed as needed.
Destination: how will you know when you have reached the end of the leg? What will happen if you overshoot?
Employ a really decent local guide/porter
Don't forget reading specs if carrying a map. Even if not, if someone you encounter asks you to do their mapreading for them it saves having to make an apology
In filthy weather get someone who doesn't need glasses to do the map reading for you.
check someone in the party has reading glasses or is young/lucky enough not to need them - I can still remember the time a very experienced party I was in realised that despite having a map and compass no one could read a map well because of this
- Slope Aspect and Back Bearings on slopes (taking bearing into the slope) work really well for relocation.
- Bearings against linear features and referenced to the Map
- Like you already mentioned - Aiming off
- Handrailing the steep ground thats above you
- Turning your whole compass to East or West when boxing in large shake/sink holes takes the math out of the boxing in process.
- A 2 point Resection to get location on the map, or even a single point if your wondering where you are on a linear feature works quite well.
My tip is if there is someone else around and your aren't sure where you are, don't be too proud to ask.
My tip: Don't be colour blind. On OS 1:50,000 maps I can distinguish between a bridleway, permissive bridleway and certain administrative boundaries in good light conditions, but in winter or near dusk...
> My tip is if there is someone else around and your aren't sure where you are, don't be too proud to ask.
Yeah. The worst that can happen is that they’re wrong and you were right! Or they could post about you on here;)
back in the late 80’s as a newbie to the Lakes I walked the Langdale horseshoe and tagged along with an older man and his son. After descending Bowfell and walking around Angle Tarn, the older guy tries to convince me that Langstrath was Langdale. He listened in the end and bought me a pint at the ODG.
> My tip: Don't be colour blind. On OS 1:50,000 maps I can distinguish between a bridleway, permissive bridleway and certain administrative boundaries in good light conditions, but in winter or near dusk...
Using coloured LED headtorches to preserve night vision can cause this problem - contour lines often disappear under red light for example!
> ALWAYS trust the compass.
Except when it has reversed polarity, as I found out last year...!
> ALWAYS trust the compass.
Unless you fall over, it stops working, but you don't realise until you're in the middle of a featureless moor with the clag down.
Note to self - carry a spare...
In the absence of other compelling evidence place more reliance on data from the compass than your own naive assumptions...
Not so catchy though...
Always check the compass before you leave the car/civilization/ before you need it.
> Always check the compass before you leave the car/civilization/ before you need it.
Yes. However, in this case it was a multiday trip. It was fine on day 1 when I left the car. It reversed some time in the night - I think I dumped my jacket with my phone in the pocket on top of it in the tent. I didn't really use it on the morning of day 2 as visibility was good, so I didn't realise until lunch time when the clag came in and I needed to navigate across a featureless spot. At that point, visibility went down to less than 5m. I could tell something was off, but didn't realise what the problem was until I ended up at the base of a cliff that was in the opposite direction to where I thought I was going.
So based on that, I would agree with your point, but add:
Always pay attention to where you phone is, in the tent as well as in bags and pockets
Carry a spare on multiday trips!
good to know a phone can demagnetise a compass. Of course, if you have a compass app on your phone you can cross check.
Agreed. Don't trust one's judgement or knowledge of an area, or "navigating by one's feet" if the cloud comes down. I once geologically mapped an area in NW Scotland, and knew it "like the back of my hand" so didn't get my compass out when the cloud came down whilst leading a group around the area. All seemed to be going well until I walked into a loch "that shouldn't have been there" and realised that I had wandered off 180 degrees in the wrong direction. This detour cost several hours. Later, when I was working for the Greenland Geological Survey, I had a rule with my field assistant that we should start navigating by compass the moment the cloud came down.
I have also found, that when I have been without a compass, using the wind as a very rough guide to direction is way better than nothing. And stars at night are really good. Far better to be going in roughly the right direction rather than in badly wrong and unknown directions. (A bit like politics!)
Here's a really useful tip... as I usually carry a fine permanent marker on me anyway to scribble on maps (thats not the tip.. or an intended pun), I make a small line in the middle of my thumbnail that goes all the way to the tip (it doesn't have to go all the way to the base). This line is very useful when you hold it on your location, discuss route choice with others etc.
The other tip here is to use a piece of grass to point at your location when discussing the location with others. Its way more accurate than a finger or the corner of a compass (though the compass corner method is ok as that should be in your hand anyway).
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