Basic Land Navigation Course Overview

You may recall the story of Geraldine Largay, who was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2013.  She had become disoriented in the woods and ultimately perished.  Her body, backpacking gear and journal were found 2 years later not far from the trail and civilization.  Or the story of Ed Rosenthal, an experienced hiker who was on a day-hike then took a wrong turn in Joshua Tree National Park and was lost for 6 days before being rescued. Neither had expected the direction that their well-planned trips would take.

Signpost in Acadia National Park

Think about your recent adventures.  Has there been a time where you came across a trail that looks like the one to the right and you shift your map around to guess at the next ‘logical’ step? Maybe you encountered a big hill and thought ‘Gee, this looked flat on the map!  How long will I have to hike up before this misery ends?’  Regardless of the level of hiking and outdoor experience, the difference between an enjoyable adventure and a potential catastrophe is knowing how to use a map and compass to help navigate the way.

With all of the technology available, it is easy to fall into a comfort zone to check Gaia GPS or MapMyHike; however, in the woods, phone batteries can die and cell service can be spotty (at best).  A map and compass will always function and should be part of your 10 Essentials regardless if a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip is on your agenda.

Each spring, SOLAR members teach others about Basic Land Navigation.  The lead instructors have been teaching this class since 2009 and the class size is limited to ensure students receive the attention they need when learning the material.  The course provides a thorough introduction to map and compass navigation learning, which includes:

  • Map reading and terrain visualization
  • How compasses work and how to use them
  • Finding your location using triangulation
  • Declination and how to account for it in order to navigate accurately
  • Navigation strategies and route planning basics

This class provides hand-on experience navigating in a wilderness environment, including a trail hike focused on topographic map/terrain recognition skills and culminating with a cross country route finding exercise.  The route finding exercise helped tie everything together as my partner and I ‘bush-wacked’ through the forest using a map with contour lines and compass to find hidden orienteering flags.  The skills learned in this class will carry students far in any wilderness adventure. This learning opportunity is open to SOLAR members as well as non-members.

Check out some pictures from the 2019 class! Photo Credit: Linda Seng and Jeff McWilliams

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