By: Blonde Two

If your favourite outdoor locations are currently feeling the pressure of a pandemic-induced increase in visitor numbers, you might like to consider picking up a few map reading skills. Over years of walking on Dartmoor my observations suggest that a very small proportion of people walk more than thirty minutes away from their starting point.

Why would I need to map read?

Put simply, navigation and map reading give you the tools you need to explore further, and find even more special locations. There is, after all, plenty of space out there for all of us, it’s often just a question of having the confidence to find it.

So where can navigation skills take me?

When it comes to walking, there are all kinds of navigation. You might want to explore your local footpaths further, investigate the history behind your favourite area, or even climb your first mountain. Each of these has its own nuances when it comes to navigation ability and safety, but success with each starts with the same basic navigation skills.

We’re talking about reading a map?

Understanding what the symbols on your map are showing you is an important part of learning to navigate but it’s how you relate the map to other tools that really matters. Namely your compass and the environment around you.

The environment is a tool?

Well obviously the environment is more than that but successful navigation depends largely on being able to relate what you see around you to what is written on your map. Navigating successfully without a compass is possible, navigating without a map is more difficult.

So do I need to know how to use a compass?

It’s really helpful if you do! Whilst it is possible to use your map to navigate, what a compass does is confirm directions (i.e. north, south, east, west) when the features around you are less clear.

Do I need to know where north, south, east and west are?

Sometimes you do. Which means that sometimes you need to know how to use a compass. Here are two examples:

Without a compass: Your walk has taken you to a river bank, and you need to find a bridge. With a few map reading skills, you’ll be able to work the bridge location out according to the direction of water flow (always down hill), your route to that point, and what you can see around you. You will probably be able to do this without a compass.

With a compass: You want to walk to a trig point but can’t see it. The land in front of you is fairly flat, with no obvious features (not all trig points are at the top of mountains). You need to walk in a straight line, in the right direction. Unless you are an expert at celestial navigation (trickier than you might imagine) you will need a compass to do this.

So what would you say were the top five navigation skills?

There’ll be some argument about this because all navigators work slightly differently. Here’s our top five.

  1. Understanding your map in relation to the ground (what you see around you).
  2. Pinpointing your current location.
  3. Working out which direction you need to go next (with and without a compass).
  4. Working out how far you need to go.
  5. Travelling in the right direction (with and without a compass), for the right amount of time.

Why is it important to know how far you’ve walked?

That’s an easy one to answer. We’ve seen far more people get lost because they walked too far in the right(ish) direction than because they’ve walked in the wrong direction.

So is it easy to learn these skills?

Not without help! But once you find the right teacher, learning to navigate can happen more quickly than you think. Like so many great things in life. Excellent navigation skills come with practice.

How can I find the right navigation course for me?

These days there are lots of people teaching navigation skills. Which means you have lots of choice, which means it is possible you might choose the wrong instructor. Here’s our list of what you need to look out for.

  1. Navigation and group leadership qualifications (look for someone with Mountain Training England’s Mountain Leader or Hill and Moorland Leader qualifications).
  2. Navigation and group leadership experience (it’s worth remembering that the above training and qualification programmes don’t actually require candidates to lead groups).
  3. Positive comments from previous trainees (these are really important).

Can I learn to navigate with the Two Blondes?

Yes! We love teaching navigation but spaces are filling up for our final beginners’ course this summer. Don’t hesitate to get in touch though if you have any questions or fancy some bespoke learning.