There is lots of information about navigation on the internet. Here are a few selected good quality resources. Many of them provide the same information, because in the end there are a limited number of navigation skills, and most focus on the basic theory which is easiest to convey with a simple explanation. We have provided a range of resources because sometimes the way one site or person describes or illustrates the theory will help you understand better than another – you certainly don’t have to read or watch all these resources (unless you want to) as it would be very repetitive (you may spot some of the diagrams or videos popping up on more than one site).
To help guide you in what you need to know about navigation we have added the relevant parts of the Gold expedition training framework as an appendix at the end of the post.
Navigation is an art, not a science, so you will never be able to learn everything you need to know from reading instructions or watching videos – you need to practice the skills yourself. The true art of navigation is being able to use the simple techniques detailed below appropriately at the right time. An easy way to practice these skills when it is convenient for you (and get some exercise and fresh air) is to use one of the seven permanent orienteering courses around Edinburgh. You can get the maps by sending some money to the club, or they are sold in The Hermitage of Braid or Cammo Lodge Visitor Centres. Orienteering maps are slightly different to walking maps, so make sure you look at the key, and be aware they are at a larger scale than a walking map so they show much more detail. Once you have a map the posts that mark the controls are always there, and the maps include suggestions for a variety of courses in the same area, so you can practise your skills a number of times in the same area – start with the easiest suggested course to get used to the map and scale.
The Navigators Dozen is a fantastic resource originally created by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. We have altered it slightly to make it as useful as possible to DofE. You were given a paper copy of this, but if you mislaid it then here is an electronic copy: navigators-dozen. If you understand everything on here, you are on to a great start for DofE nav.
The Ordnance Survey Mapzone is aimed at younger kids, but the information is still correct and useful, and is very clearly presented – a good basics refresher. There are also games and quizzes, for some light hearted interactive practice.
BBC bitesize is also aimed at students revising for standard grade, so its another basic refresher on maps, with options for a test to check your understanding.
Mountainsafety.co.uk has a really good summary of most of the theory of nav you need to know – be aware there are a few topics you don’t need to know about such as latitude and longditute and using a GPS.
Glenmore lodge (the highly respected Scottish national outdoor training centre) have a series of videos showing navigation skills in use by very experienced instructors on the hill (and in the woods):
- Choosing the right map
- Setting the map using the ground features
- Setting the map using the compass
- Keeping the map set while on the move
- Using tick off features
- Taking a bearing from the map to reach your target point
- Using timing to improve your navigation
- Taking the bearing of a line feature to confirm your location
- Aiming off while navigating
- Combining our navigational skills to complete an entire leg note: this nav leg is more complicated than we would expect you to need on DofE, but its a rare example of a demonstration of strategies in use
The Ordnance Survey magazine has advice aimed at adults on using a compass and taking grid references, both articles have some videos embedded. If you like the videos from Simon King there are 4 more available on choosing a map, map symbols, contours, and preparing for a walk.
Learn orienteering is written to help people get into the sport of orienteering, where use of the compass is key, so this is a good introduction to bearings and using a compass, although the website itself is very dated.
How to use a compass is a good if brief video introduction to nav from Silva (compass manafacturers)
The Scouts have a PDF downloadable information sheet on using a compass
Matthew has 10 great tips for navigation.
Lyle Brotherton author of The Ultimate Navigation Manual (remember him from the emergency phone video?) has also done a series of videos on navigation:
- Orienting a map to the landscape
- Taking a compass bearing from a map
- Taking a compass bearing from a landscape feature
- Walking on a bearing
- Using timing to gauge distance travelled
There is only a limited amount of information online about navigation strategies which help you plan a route or use a bearing usefully (attack features, aiming off, handrailing, catching features). These are covered in the mountaineers dozen, but this website has a brief written summary of each. There are also a series of videos on youtube aimed at orienteers dealing with these strategies. These all start by defining the strategy, then using a map and computer game to demonstrate the strategy in action. You should be aware that they use some features which are not on walking maps (knoll, depression) but the techniques are transferable:
Appendix: extracts from the Gold Expedition training framework
Preparatory map skills
- The nature of maps.
- Map direction.
- Scale and distance, measuring distance, distance and time.
- Conventional signs.
- Marginal information.
- Grid references.
- Understanding contours, recognition of major land forms such as hills, valleys, ridges, spurs.
- Interpretation of contours into mountain land forms and relief, slope and gradients and the determination of height.
- The ability to give a verbal description of a route linking two places from the map.
Practical map skills
- Setting the map.
- Relating the map to the ground.
- Locating position using the map.
- Determining geographical direction, and direction of travel from the map.
- Checking the direction of paths using the set map.
- Identifying and locating features in the country by using the map.
- Locating features marked on the map in the countryside.
- Relating the map and contours to the ground. Estimating journey times in wild country.
- Planning a route, preparing a route card. Estimating speed of travel and arrival times. (ETA estimated time of arrival.)
- Following a planned route.
- Navigation in restricted visibility. Action to be taken in the event of being lost
- The care of the compass.
- The influence of ferrous objects and electromagnetic fields.
- Magnetic variation and the relationship between True, Magnetic and Grid Norths.
- Direction from the compass in terms of the cardinal and inter-cardinal points. Measuring direction in degrees.
- Setting the map by the compass.
- Determining the direction of footpaths or direction of travel.
- Travelling on a bearing. Obtaining a grid bearing from the map, allowing for magnetic variation where appropriate.