Archive for February, 2015

How to take map bearings for land navigation

| February 4, 2015 | 0 Comments

Photo: Mark Beresford

Photo: Mark Beresford


If you’re like many hikers, you’ve found that navigation with a compass is a perishable skill that’s often forgotten just when you need it most — when you think you might be lost. You may have tried to learn how to use a compass before, following the “easy” 1… 2… 3… step system, but somehow it just didn’t stick and the next time you pulled your compass out you couldn’t remember exactly what to do.

If you’re planning to stay on obvious, well-signposted trails, and you have a map, and lots of people are around, you probably don’t need a compass. But, your compass skills should be fluent before you think about going:

  • Off marked trails
  • Where the trails are hard to follow because of low use, snowfall, or long stretches of rock or sand that show no wear from foot traffic
  • Where the trails are poorly signposted
  • Where visibility could be reduced because of cloud or snowstorms

This is true even if you carry a GPS receiver, because a GPS doesn’t replace the need for a separate compass, even if it has a built-in electronic compass.

In this article, you’ll learn how to perform a common and basic navigation task — taking a map bearing. You’ll go beyond rote memorization of the steps and finally understand the principles involved. This means that you’ll be less likely to forget what to do when you’re in a tight spot and really need to get off the mountain before dark.

But first, a story to illustrate how powerful it can be to use a compass with confidence.

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