Friday, 10 June 2011

Navigation by Map & Compass

There has been a lot of coverage in the press recently about people walking the Fens, Moors & Mountains and relying on a GPS like a Garmin or a GPS application (i loathe the term "App" it's yet another bastardisation of the English language in my opinion) on their Smart phone, and getting lost i have nothing against these pieces of technology and indeed, i own a Garmin GPS myself, but it should never ever be used as your primary means of navigation - ever.

Technology is all well and good all the time you have power, but what happens when the batteries run out, or you drop it in a puddle and it shorts out?, basically, your buggered id say, now how about learning to use a map and compass?, they don't need batteries, chances are it wont break if you drop the compass and neither will short out if you drop them in a puddle, the map might go a bit soggy if you don't keep it in map case though, the other bonus is a compass will work in a ravine or under the tree canopy, did i say it doesn't need batteries?.

It's frightening when you see people using a GPS as their primary means of navigation when they are out and about, sure i use mine too to double check my grid ref or if  the weather closes in and i was stupid enough not to realise it and get a grid ref and a bearing before it became too foggy to see landscape features, generally i use it to measure my walking speed, distance travelled, elevation covered, OK, i can also work all this out with a map and compass, but the GPS makes it easier, and therein in my view lies the problem, it's easy, why learn to use a map and compass, when your phone will tell you exactly where you are?.

Learning to use a map and compass is not a black art, in all probability basic navigation is easier to understand than the menu system on a GPS and studying a map is incredible fun, not only plotting your route, but the number of discoveries that can be made by studying a map and  then planning a small detour in your route to see a waterfall or other landscape feature that's off  the beaten track,  something, that in all probability you might have never seen if you had followed your GPS, and you don't need a super duper compass,  a bog standard orienteering compass costing under £15.00 will serve just as well as the sighting compass pictured.

I urge anyone who has not learnt to use a map and compass to learn how to do it, there are plenty of courses out there from a number of different organisations, indeed, I'm instructing on a basic navigation course in the not too distant future, there are also a number down loadable booklets on the Ordnance Survey website and numerous other resources, but learning from another person is so much more fun than learning how to do it in a book,  you will be shown how to do it and then have the opportunity to  do it for yourself under controlled conditions where mistakes can be made in total safety, rather than venturing out into the  great outdoors and getting into trouble and putting not only your own, but the rescue teams lives at risk.


  1. Sound advice! Unless you're an officer in the British Army, map reading isn't too difficult at all. GPS units do have their place though, I use mine to log my trips and take a look at the route I've taken in google earth when I get home -brilliant technology :)

  2. My iPhone navigation programs saved the day when my clumsy, oblivious hiking partner stepped on my map case and destroyed the compass.

    Also, I agree with Paul regarding logging routes - cool!

  3. Exactly the reason i carry two compasses when im out and about, my main sighting compass and a backup, just in case one gets lost or broken.

    Yep, logging info is fun though, nice to see altitudes reached etc logged on a graph on the computer when you get home