Navigation 101

Don't be afraid to explore your local area

Map reading

Map reading, is one of those word pairings that attracts a lot of sighing and a lot daydreaming when it is talked about. For others reading a map at first appears straightforward and self explanatory, but when it comes down to it, there is a lot of detail. Even us leaders and instructors do additional training on map reading. It’s a very complex and detailed skill, which like an onion, you need to consider all the layers to anticipate your surroundings.

When the map is fuller, it gets harder. The onion analogy above is very relevant, the important features of the map and are usually the last we consider. The bottom layer, the contours, are we going uphill or downhill, is it steep or shallow, are definitely the most neglected, but also the most important. Take a copy of your local area (1:25,000), laminated if possible to keep it waterproof and reusable, and check it out, before heading out. Don’t bother with a compass, get used to honing your ability to orientate yourself with features and buildings that you know and are familiar with. You may need a magnifying glass as well to help with the detail, and get used to scale of the map.

Look at your route and see what you’re anticipating along the way, and see if you can recognise the detail on the map in relation to your village or area:

  • where’s north? orientate yourself.
  • how many contours? are they going up or down? steep or shallow?
  • are you entering access land or private land?
  • bridleways, foot paths, permissive rights of way, etc
  • how many fences or walls are you passing?
  • any interesting features? monuments, trig points, boundary stone, foot bridge, church, post office, police station, railway station, YHA, etc.
  • any streams, rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs

Couple of rules to make sure you don’t lose it

  • Rule 1: keep it simple and local, start on roads and features like a canal
  • Rule 2: making mistakes is part of learning, it’s ok, learn from them
  • Rule 3: keep it fun

If in doubt, take a look at our navigation course. We can get you started with a firm foundation to build from, so you may explore your area more confidently.

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