If you’re an outdoors junkie, knowing how to use a map and compass is perhaps the most fundamentally important skill we can learn. Not only will it allow you to explore the world with the confidence and discover all the hikes out there, but it will also allow you to find your way back home.
Before you do anything, speak to people that know about orienteering. Find out exactly what you need, easy places to start exploring and any other wise words of wisdom!
Understand your map
It may seem obvious, but you need to have the correct map for the area you’re in. You should also check the age of the map and make sure it’s up to date – bridges, roads, tracks and buildings can appear and disappear over the years. Most maps come as 1:25000 or 1:50000 – so check the scale works for the detail you need.
Use reference points
Reference points are crucial as they allow you to understand exactly where you are on the map. Look at the features around you (rivers, roads, streams, bridges, etc) and try to match what you’re. If you have a compass, use it to orientate the map to North and then line up all the features, which you’ll then use to navigate yourself from point A to point B.
Shortest isn’t always fastest
Providing that you’ve got the right map, you also need to understand the terrain, because as any veteran hiker will tell you, the shortest route isn’t always the fastest or the easiest. In fact, the direct route from A to B often can be more time – and energy – consuming than taking a longer way around – especially if there’s a large mountain blocking your path. Look for contour features that allow you to handrail a peak rather than go over the top of it.
It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re going in the wrong direction. So it’s vital that you keep it simple, slow down, and continuously refer to the map so that you’re always area of where you are. One top tip is to place your thumb on your location and move it along as you progress.
Keep it Safe
You never know what weather or situation you may end up in. So make sure you have a good waterproof case for your map – ideally one that goes around your neck. So that any gusts of wind, rushing rivers, torrential rainstorms won’t ruining your chance of finding your way home.
Most importantly, make sure you enjoy yourself!