Hiking navigation

If you are going out into the great outdoors, it is a good idea to have a sense of direction. Having a little basic information about land navigation will keep you safe and others from having to find you. There are many tools that can be used and in-depth courses on land navigation but having an understanding of basic skills is important in case those tools fail. Hand held GPS devices and the compass on your phone are great high-tech tools but if they fail, you can use other low-tech tools like compasses and maps. The easiest thing to do is hike on marked trails and follow them exactly, but if you are adventurous, these skills will help.

Global Positioning System (GPS) have advantages and disadvantages. It is extremely easy to navigate with GPS as it tells you where you are and where you are going with almost pinpoint accuracy. They updated regularly so there if there is a change in the area the GPS will be accurate. GPS is used worldwide so no matter where you hike you can effectively use them. The first disadvantage is they use batteries so if the battery runs out and you do not have a source to charge it you are out of luck. They can be inaccurate with certain structures blocking them like trees. In the odd event that a satellite is compromised or an atmospheric event like a geomagnetic storm happens the GPS will not work.

The trusty compass on your phone is another source of navigation that could be used however; you have to know how to use a compass. The same issues with the GPS could cause issues with your phone such as battery life and satellites. The benefit to the phone is you already have one and should have it with you for an emergency. You also want to track all your amazing steps and distance; this makes the compass on your phone the most readily available tool.

Photo of compass on I-phone

Map and hand-held old fashion compass is the most reliable if you know how to use them. These tools are also the most fail proof, as they do not need satellites or batteries to use them. Learning to use the map and compass is the hard part of utilizing them but with a little practice, you can successfully navigate your hike. The main thing to understand about maps are terrain features. If you can see two mountains in front of you with a river at the base and you can find that on the map you an orient your location to the map. Understanding azimuths is the most important aspect of reading a compass. Knowing that you hiked out at an east south east direction or 120 degrees and that to get back you have to hike back at a west north west direction at 300 degrees is important information. These are just a couple of main points of handling low-tech reliable tools to navigate your hike.

Be adventurous and explore some new areas but be prepared with one or more of these tools.


2 thoughts on “Hiking navigation

  1. Hi Shaun. I remember when I first started hiking trails in Tahoe, I always reminded myself to bring water and a few power bars. I also went with trails that I was familiar with that I had previously gone with a friend. However, as I explored the thousands of trails in Tahoe, I started using a GPS. Keeping in my mind that it’s fully charged and that I had a back-up charger as battery drains pretty quick too. You can easily get lost in trails that have loops and side trails. A GPS is your best friend when your out on a new trail, especially if you’re planning be a bit more adventurous. Great post


  2. Pingback: Hiking with teens – Hike for health with Shaun Cruze

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