Navigation 101 – A basic introduction

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Navigation with a compass is not something that is difficult to grasp. In reality, it is as simple as 1,2,3.

In a new series of Navigation 101 tutorials, we are teaming up with Charlie Sproson from Mountain Run to provide a simple series of articles in conjunction with audio interviews to help guide you to safe navigation.

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If you are heading to any trails, mountains or if you are in a new area looking to explore, a detailed map of the area (1:25.000) and a compass should be part of your all important mandatory kit. More importantly, the knowledge of how to use a map with a compass is essential.

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A compass is a magnetic needle floating in liquid that responds to the Earth’s magnetic field. It’s amazingly simple but equally amazing. Several options are available when purchasing a compass, for running (or hiking), an orienteering compass is ideal.

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I personally recommend a compass with a magnifying glass; it’s not essential but can certainly help when fine detail is required.

Your compass will have:

  • A base plate, depending on your make and model, it may have one ruler or several.
  • A rotating bevel marked with N, W, S, E and 360 degrees around the circle.
  • A magnetic needle. This will usually be red.
  • Cardinal lines.
  • A direction of travel arrow.

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North (N), West (W), South (S) and East (E) are your key elements of a compass making up 360 degrees and as one would expect, they are 90 degrees apart (4×90 = 360).

Taking these four key navigation points one step farther, these degrees are also split into finer tuning such:

North East (NE) – 45 degrees

South East (SE) – 135 degrees

South West (SW) – 225 degrees

And North West (NW) – 315 degrees

These principal points add to the 4-main directional points and thus provide 8-pricipal points that we are able to use in basic navigation.

Making oneself familiar with the compass and these 8-key directions points is a great way to start.

Compass Face

We can take the compass one step on and break it down into 16-points such as North North East (NNE) or East South East (ESE), however, that will come in a later post when we progress from basic navigation to intermediate navigation.

Taking a Bearing

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First and foremost, ensure you have the appropriate map for your area in a suitable scale: usually 1:25.000 is ideal.

Remember, North is the top of the map. It’s imperative you orientate the map correctly.

To take a bearing you need to know where you currently are, point A and where you would like to go, point B.

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

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1: On the map align the left or the right edge of the compass base through landmarks. In this scenario we will use A and B. Make sure the direction of travel arrow is pointing toward B.

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2: Turn the compass dial until NORTH on the compass lines up with NORTH on the map. As a tip and help, the meridian lines on your compass should line up with the maps North/ South grid lines (if available).

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3: Now rotate your body, compass in hand and align the direction arrow with the red compass needle. Read the bearing* and follow the direction of travel arrow to your destination, in this scenario, point-B.

Now…?

GO

 

Easy isn’t it?

*Map bearings and field bearings can differ. For example, in the USA this can be 30 degrees and in the west 20 degrees. This is called ‘DECLINATION’ and will be discussed in our next post when we look at intermediate navigation.

Hints n Tips

  1. Understand maps and spend time in the comfort of your home looking at and analysing maps of areas that you know well. It will make things easier to understand.
  2. Know and understand scale. For example, 1:25.000 means 1 unit in the map is the equivalent to 25.000 units.
  3. Maps have LATITUDE (East to West) and LONGITUDE (North to South).
  4. An Altimeter (many modern GPS sports watched contain this but you must calibrate it) is extremely useful in conjunction with your map and compass, particularly in any orienteering event. However, this is beyond basic navigation.
  5. A GPS (Garmin or similar) and/ or an IPhone with ‘apps’ such as OS Locate are great back ups that can offer security to a basic navigator. However, never rely on such tools as batteries can die, gps signals fade and of course, you may just possibly break or loose such a device. In the early days of navigation, these tools may just help provide you with a much-needed security blanket.

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Common Sense

  1. Check weather forecasts and only adventure out when you are sure of clear weather. Once you have progressed and feel comfortable with your navigation, you can experiment in less favourable conditions.
  2. Don’t venture out alone. Safety comes with numbers.
  3. Inform family, friends or neighbours your intended plans and provide a timescale.
  4. Make sure you have clothing, food and liquid for the worst case scenario and be prepared.
  5. It’s good to test yourself but understand your limits and don’t overreach.

 

READ THE FOLLOW ON ARTICLE HERE

More information:

Charlie Sproson has provided the advice and experience in creating this post. You can hear a full interview in episode 68 of Talk Ultra podcast ‘free’ on iTunes HERE (published Friday 22nd Aug 2014).

Charlie is the creator of Mountain Run based in the UK

Mountain Run

 

In conjunction with our series of podcasts and informative documents, Charlie and iancorless.com plan to arrange a basic navigation day (weekend) in the English Lakes. Dates tbc. If you are interested, please use the form below to express your interest.

Credits – Map images 1,2,3 go are copyright ©SILVA

Disclaimer – this post is geared at a novice runner or hiker looking to venture into navigation. It is purposely written to offer a simple and basic introduction to a compass and how to use it. Please be sensible and understand the dangers that can arise from a lack of preparation.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Navigation 101 – A basic introduction

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  4. Pingback: Navigation 101 – Advanced Navigation – Beyond the Intermediate & Basics by Mountain Run | Ian Corless host of Talk Ultra podcast

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