By: Blonde Two

The question above about using phone step counters to judge distance was one posed, very sensibly, by one of our navigation trainees (it was very dark and misty at the time). Successful navigation using a map and compass is all about two very important Ds – Direction (usually with a compass) and Distance. Most people remember to work on their direction but far more people (in our experience) get lost because they fail to judge the distance they need to walk and, subsequently, have walked. You can walk in the right direction for as long as you want but, unless you know where you have stopped, your next navigation leg will be off kilter. Trust us, we have seen teams of youngsters walk right off the other side of the moor doing just this.

Bearing in mind that, on an Ordnance Survey map, each blue grid square denotes 1 km, there are two ways to judge your distance when walking, one is through timing and the use of Naismith’s Rule (approximately 4km per hour on flat ground for the average walker). The other, and often more accurate, method is through counting your paces. Once you have found out how many double paces (count on the same foot each time) you walk to 100 metres, you will be surprised by little this figure changes and by how many things you can find in the pitch darkness.

Many of us now carry phones that have step counters on them and it makes sense to consider this as an alternative to pace counting in the head, which can be an unsociable process as counting and chatting at the same time are definitely an advanced navigation skill. Blonde One and I are traditionalists and were a bit dubious about the idea so we put it to the test. On a flat piece of moorland road we took it in turns to pace out 100 metres while the other Blonde used her step counter. There was a bit of maths involved at the end but the results were surprisingly accurate. There are reasons, however, that we wouldn’t recommend using a step counter instead of your brain when the chips are down and you need to get your navigation right.

  1. Step counters count single paces and can’t always be set to measure a single leg of a journey.
  2. The ensuing maths involved due to point 1 above could lead to mistakes.
  3. Navigation is best if it is kept simple. ‘Which way?’, ‘How far?’ are the two most important questions.
  4. We have said this before… but phones run on batteries and batteries are not infinite. Far better to learn a manual (or pedial) skill really well and be able to do it easily in a crisis.

Dartmoor Navigation Courses