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Owning a compass isn’t everything. Knowing how and when to use it is! Contrary to what many walkers think, using a compass is straightforward and easy to learn.
This practical handbook to navigation - the techniques of using map and compass - will help you master the key skills necessary for walking and mountaineering in the mountains. As a small, pocket guide, this is an ideal companion to take into the hills, and since practice will make perfect, time spent navigating will provide the freedom and confidence to enjoy our hills and mountains. Chapters include instruction in map reading, taking bearings, route planning, navigation at night or in bad weather, as well as details on GPS navigation. Navigation is a fundamental skill, and with this handbook, you can enjoy exploring the wilds with confidence.
Pete Hawkins is a qualified mountain leader, freelance journalist and the author of Map and Compass published by Cicerone. He writes the monthly navigation column for a leading leading walking magazine.
This mini-guide handbook is small, lightweight and pocket-size
includes a PVC jacket and comes complete with a Navigational Aid card
with full-colour diagrams and photography throughout, this handbook will have you enjoying the hills to their utmost.
We do not yet have any updates available for this book
We are always grateful to readers for information about any discrepancies between a guidebook and the facts on the ground.
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They will be published here following review by the author(s).
Preface by Alan Hinkes OBE
Chapter 1 Why Use a Map and Compass?
Chapter 2 Map Essentials – Scales and Grids
Chapter 3 Map Symbols and Contours
Chapter 4 Walking with the Map
Chapter 5 Choosing your Compass
Chapter 6 Taking a Bearing from the Map
Chapter 7 Taking a Bearing from the Ground
Chapter 8 Walking with Map and Compass
Chapter 9 Route Planning
Chapter 10 Night and Bad Weather Navigation
Chapter 11 New Technology – GPS and Computer Mapping
Chapter 12 Where Now?
Appendix I Answers to Questions
Appendix II Useful Contacts and Addresses
Appendix III Further Reading
Appendix IV Navigational Aid
Why Use a Map and Compass?
Glance along the bookshelves of any outdoor equipment shop and you’ll see a wealth of guidebooks to every corner of the UK and the world. The quality will vary, but all will contain a number of routes in your chosen destination along with some kind of a map, varying from a simple sketch map to an extract of the full colour ‘proper’ map with the route overdrawn. The better guides will also give some indication of the history or ecology of the area.
On the face of it that’s great: all you need in one handy book. Sadly many walkers would agree, only to discover – too late – that the sketch map is inadequate, the route description contains errors, and the overdrawn route obscures some feature vital for the successful completion of the route.
Guidebooks are an ideal way of getting to know an area in advance. Study the guidebook and locate the most interesting places. Then compare the sketch maps with a ‘proper’ map. Put the guidebook away and then study the map. Turn the suggested route into something that suits your purposes, depending on where you are staying, proximity to a bus stop or a safe place to park, an interesting feature you’ve seen on the map that wasn’t mentioned in the book, and so on. The walk then becomes yours and you can use your own map skills to follow the route rather than rely on the book.
As you progress through this book you’ll notice that your map skills will improve. You will be looking at the map in far more detail than previously. The symbols you missed before, or ignored, will be more familiar; you’ll be able to spot features on the ground that you’ve predicted will turn up from a close study of the map. Your days of getting lost will fade into distant memory, your confidence will increase, and thus your reliance on guidebooks will decrease.
Most walks can be enjoyed without using a compass, but when you hit bad weather or fading light, or are in remote countryside with few features, you’ll soon discover you need to know how to use one. Many walkers who have learnt how to read a compass will then use one at every possible opportunity. By all means practise and show others that you can use it, but you must also learn when using one is appropriate and when you can navigate sufficiently well without.
Even the most experienced walker will become uncertain of their location at some stage. They’ll know roughly where they are but may not be sure, for example, where they are in relation to a particular path that will take them off the hill. Simple locating techniques will come into play in such circumstances.
Knowing the right compass techniques in bad weather or at night is invaluable. If you know you can confidently continue with your route, or come up with a safer alternative, you’re less likely to panic and get into greater danger. If you’re walking with less experienced companions your confidence may be what turns a potentially terrifying situation into an enjoyable and challenging walk.
Getting used to maps in the UK with different scales and from different publishers will help you adjust to using foreign maps. Take out a Harvey map or a 1:50,000 one for a change. The more variety you experience the quicker you’ll adjust when abroad.
Take a map of your local area. Choose a short walk a couple of kilometres long. As you walk this route try to match the features on the ground with those marked on the map. How accurate is it? Are there features on the ground not shown on the map (and vice versa)? If so, you need to decide whether the presence or absence of those features would affect the accuracy of your navigation. Would you use a particular building, for example, as a point to look for prior to a change in direction? Would the absence of the building on the ground mean that you would miss the direction change?
This exercise comes into its own when you are using unfamiliar maps (perhaps when abroad). Study the map closely and see how well it matches the ground before setting off to remote areas where you have to rely on it. Bear in mind also that the map symbols may differ from those you are used to.
Does the map match the features on the ground, and how well? The level of accuracy will obviously affect how much you rely on the map. If it’s not very good, navigate with care. Also bear in mind that (even in the UK) urban areas are resurveyed far more regularly than rural areas because changes are more frequent. Changes do also occur to the landscape in rural areas, however, and you should never assume that any map is 100 percent accurate. They become historical documents as soon as the ink is dry!
Map and compass skills are practical ones. Reading about them in a book is a good start, but backing them up with a training course (see Appendix II) and plenty of practice on the hill is vital. Practise what you learn in this guide and when you find yourself having to navigate for real you’ll do so efficiently and with
This book uses examples drawn from the UK using maps available in Britain. However, the techniques and skills covered are applicable to navigation in other countries.