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looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills
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Loki Cuthbert

Locale: Portland, OR
looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/03/2013 15:25:46 MST Print View

My goal for this year is to learn new backpacking skills. I have only went out with a guide book and the gps on my phone. I don't even own a compass. I'm planning on remedying this problem ASAP. I had originally thought to take a map and compass class at REI.

I feel like REI can't even begin to compare to the vast knowledge from the collective minds on this forum.

My goals are.

1. Learn more about locating myself through triangulation and the use of a topo map.
2. understanding all of the features of a topo map
3. Finding water sources
4. learning how to make my own maps from topo! or the likes
5. Planning a trip without the use of a guide book and executing the trip this season.

Any suggestions for reading materials that can help me with these goals? Also if you're in the Portland area and would like to help a green horn build some new skills shoot me a PM.


Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/03/2013 16:16:10 MST Print View

There's plenty of good resources online that make a good starting point. Some are more detailed than others, but I think the link below would be a good starting point. (I.e. your questions are pretty general, and it'd take a good deal of typing to replicate what's already out there.)

For a shorter intro, I'd suggest the LandNav articles here (6 in all):
(Downloading the map they use may make it easier to follow along.)

Once you've got a good handle on the basics you should be able to ask more specific questions, and we can point out other ideas (e.g. using "handrails", common sources of error, etc.)

Note: one thing that link doesn't really cover is triangulation. You can find all that and more here:
(In the wild one hill can look much like another. They don't all come with large signs saying "Hollywood", which means unless you're really sure of your target, there will be guessing involved. On the other hand, if you are really sure of your target, you probably don't need to triangulate.)

Richard Reno
(scubahhh) - M

Locale: White Mountains, mostly.
I think this book is considered the standard... on 02/03/2013 17:31:30 MST Print View

... And you can take it out in the field with you to practice, practice, practice!

Edited by scubahhh on 02/03/2013 17:32:07 MST.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/03/2013 18:17:47 MST Print View

Try an orienteering group. There is one in Portland.

There are a ton of videos on the subject through YouTube as well.

Edited by kthompson on 02/03/2013 18:25:33 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/03/2013 18:55:15 MST Print View

The REI class sounds like a perfectly good start to me--- nothing like hands on with someone who can help with the parts that baffle. Once you have the basic concepts down, just get some practice in. Start in a big local park and you can use a smartphone or GPS to double check. In Scouts we practiced navigating in a rectangle or triangle to see if we could end up where we started. I think it is a lot of fun and empowering to learn.

I have several books and they all cover the same stuff. I'll bet the local library has a bunch; you might even find a DVD.

(Schado6) - MLife
Re: looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/03/2013 21:34:53 MST Print View

Not end all/be all but certainly wouldn't hurt:



Edit - also check and see if any local orienteering clubs, those are a blast. Recall many fond memories back in high school being on team (do they even exist any more?) and the competence you gain from navigating while under pressure of time/competitiveness.When you can run and navigate, you got it nailed! :)


Edited by Schado6 on 02/03/2013 22:04:00 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/03/2013 21:40:14 MST Print View

There's a series being published on right now.

More to come!

Justin McCabe

Locale: Southern California
Re: looking for books or articles to learn map / compass and route planning skills on 02/06/2013 14:03:51 MST Print View


Thanks for asking this question! I also am looking to obtain some basic compass/topo skills.

Thanks to Ken's response, I'm going to take my wife to an Orienteering course on Feb 10th here in California, should be a fun way to learn.

Christopher Kuzak
Book on 02/06/2013 14:55:24 MST Print View

All the sites linked to are excellent so I won't bother with more except to say that it's worth checking out You'll find some good tips there.

A fairly cheap and easy-to-digest book for compass reading is Wilderness Navigation by Bob and Mike Burns. It helped me a lot with getting the basics down.

Thayne N
(teethless) - MLife

Locale: Boston
. on 02/06/2013 23:22:32 MST Print View

I took orienteering in middle school way back when and was an eagle scout. Fwiw I found the REI $25 course money well spent as a refresher in the basics of orienteering. Also, "mountaineering - freedom of the hills" will cover all the basics...above and beyond just using a map and compass.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
As a second or third book . . . on 02/07/2013 11:30:59 MST Print View

I wouldn't suggest this as a starting point because, obviously, it deals with on-the-water issues more than land-based navigation. I knew and had done a lot of inland and water-bound navigation when I read it and I learned a number of new things.

I'll paraphrase what I thought was the coolest trick in there. Three fingers (your index, middle and ring fingers) held at arm's length are 6 degrees wide. 6 degrees has an easy to remember tangent of 1/10. i.e. if that mountain is 10,000 (2 miles) feet tall and covers 6 degrees, it is 10 x 2 miles = 20 miles away. Conversely, if you know a ridge is 4 miles (20,000 feet) away, those fingers cover a span of 2,000 horizontally or vertically on that ridge.

It also works with multiple 3-finger spans, or fractions thereof - a single finger is 2 degrees or a 1:30 ratio of height:distance.

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
compass on 02/07/2013 13:23:33 MST Print View

There are some exceedingly lightweight compasses. Not having one is really a bad decision even if you're an ultralight nazi like me.

Mine was like 10-15g ... it also has a thermometer.

It really came in handy in Yellowstone this year as the trail started to fade and we had to orient about 5 miles without a trail until we found it again on the base of a mountain.

Thank FSM for my compass!

Stu Pendious
(Beeen) - MLife

Locale: California
REI compass/orienting class on 02/07/2013 17:52:00 MST Print View

Anybody take the REI 'Map and Compass Navigation Basics' class, was it worth it?

My girlfriend and I want to take some kind of class together, just something to get out of the house. That could be a good one, as I'm sure I have some holes in my skills and she is pretty new to backpacking. I just don't want to waste money on a class where you learn things that you would of picked up from reading an instruction pamphlet.

Scott Smith
(mrmuddy) - MLife

Locale: No Cal
REI Compass Class on 02/07/2013 18:01:07 MST Print View

My wife and I both enjoyed it..

Some good excersises to "practice "..

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: REI compass/orienting class on 02/07/2013 18:04:30 MST Print View

The REI class seems rather expensive for what you get.

My suggestion would be to take a class from your local outdoor group whether that is the Sierra Club, the Mountaineers, or whatever.

If you get desperate, there is the U.S. Army and its Infantry training. For that matter, the Field Manual is online. It wouldn't hurt to browse through the manual before you take the real class.