By: Blonde Two

Before I start this discussion, I want you to remember two things:

1.  I enjoy and am very comfortable with computer technology.

2.  I don’t own a bobble hat.

As you know, on Friday night, Blonde One and I went out night-navving with a very lovely group of DofE leaders.  We Blondes took a map and compass (obviously) but we also took an electronic ViewRanger trace on B1’s phone.  The electronic wizardry proved to be a most excellent way of being sure that we had all found the points that we were looking for.

No problems there, and it was great to be out with people who wanted to keep their navigation skills honed and ready to use with the young people that they take out walking; however, I find myself wondering whether or not the speed and accuracy of GPS based electronic gadgets is a temptation that might eventually lead to the deskilling of hill walkers.

There are an enormous number of benefits to mapping and GPS software when you are working out on the hills with youngsters. Trackers, for example, mean that you don’t have to be with them to know where they are.  This means that a leader can keep an eye on multiple groups and position him/herself in the best location to give support if that is needed.  All good stuff, but think again, how much of your wisdom and experience are you imparting from the minibus, cafe or even Sittaford Tor?  How many little decisions are you questioning and how well are you understanding your group’s level of skill?

The same with following a map trace instead of using your map and compass.  Definitely quicker and more accurate, but how long would it take before map and compass skills became rusty?  Before you experienced a panic if your battery ran out, or before you forgot the nuances of teaching someone else how to use those skills?

I am definitely not a luddite and my Blonde head doesn’t really appreciate getting stuck in the sand but I am cautious.  Not cautious enough to throw the electronic baby out with the river water, I want to play with electronic maps as much as I want to play with paper ones; but I am cautious enough to also want to make sure that I keep practicing the basic navigation skills that have guided centuries of explorers safely home.