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Martin Clark
(Marty_Mcfly) - F

Locale: Southeast US
Navigation on 03/09/2013 09:53:37 MST Print View

Anyone have any useful and practical suggestions for how to acquire backcountry navigation skills?

my current methods are:

- books
- youtube videos

other considerations are:

- taking a class,
- finding someone who lives near me from BPL to assist me with acquiring such skills in exchange for money or free lunch/dinner

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
can learn on own but practice on 03/09/2013 10:01:21 MST Print View

Have a look at
There are likely other good resources out there.

I think the biggest issue is to get a lot of practice. Print out free topo maps of whatever areas you hike in using one of the approaches here:

Get a compass and review materials from book(s) and/or web or whatever and even on trails you know, "track" where you are as you go along. Pay attention to landforms, try to stay oriented.

I think that it's worth mentioning too that we're not all the same in terms of assimilating spatial data. My wife seems to build a virtual 3-D topo map in her head as she goes along. I need to diligently use the map and any other tools available (compass, gps, signs on the trail) to figure things out. So you might or might not be sort of natively "good" at this stuff, but with practice/learning I think that any of us can become good (just not always using the same approach).

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: can learn on own but practice on 03/09/2013 10:40:03 MST Print View

+1 to what Brian said. Practice is the easiest way. Keep an eye on the topo as you're moving on familiar trails so you can picture what the topo is showing you. Things are much more difficult when surrounded by woods (or in a cloud/fog/blizzard) and you can't see any landmarks. When you do have views on familiar trails practice "triangulating" your position - you don't need 3 landmarks, even 1 will work if you're certain you're on a known marked trail.

Also don't forget the topo can't show you everything so you may come upon an impassible 30' cliff that you'll have to go around. That shouldn't be an issue unless you're going off-trail though.

There are several BPL members in the southeast, too, if you can arrange a trip.

If you want a fun challenge, go geocaching with just map and compass!

Edited by topshot on 03/09/2013 10:42:03 MST.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 03/09/2013 10:58:29 MST Print View


Edited by on 06/12/2013 22:31:30 MDT.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 03/09/2013 11:02:56 MST Print View


Edited by on 06/12/2013 22:43:57 MDT.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 03/09/2013 11:15:35 MST Print View


Edited by on 06/12/2013 22:45:50 MDT.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Good resource: Freedom of the Hills on 03/09/2013 11:16:54 MST Print View

It makes a lot more sense if you use the title of the book, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: can learn on own but practice on 03/09/2013 11:18:37 MST Print View

I like learning such things from a book. REI does some classes and you can probably find some outdoor organization that have classes too.

One way to practice is to get out in a park and run triangular courses and see if you can end up in the same spot. Try it with a hood blocking your view so you can only see the compass and a little ground in front of you. You will be counting steps to estimate distance as well as mthe compass direction. A soccer field makes a good practice area. Most books will have some suggestions for practice.

You can test your triangulation skills in town using tall buildings, broadcast antennas and water towers. You can use a smart phone or GPS to confirm your results.

It's really a process of understanding the angles and adjusting for declination. In the field, taking regular bearings and following your progress on a map will avoid needing to do things like triangulating on peaks. If you do need to go there, following your progress will let you know which peaks you are looking at--- something you need to know to get your location. In other words, don't wait until you are lost to get out your map and compass!

I enjoy the process and having a map in hand lets you know what features are in your view. I've been working on getting to know all my local peaks I've lived among them for a lifetime and its fun to be able to name them as well as have a feeling for the trails, lakes and rivers around them.

This is the sort of thing you have to put up with in Seattle. I know a few of the major peaks:
Partial view of Cascade range from Seattle

Jeff McWilliams
(jjmcwill) - M

Locale: Midwest
Orienteering on 03/09/2013 18:48:08 MST Print View

Speaking of orienteering, have you looked for orienteering clubs in your area?

There are clubs devoted to orienteering that often hold regular meets. They are a great way to practice your map & compass.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
printing free topo maps on 03/10/2013 12:38:23 MDT Print View

Daniel described a process using this site:

The problem for me with this and similar sites is that you get a pdf file that's native size is much bigger than most printers will handle --- so you either reduce image size to too-low or you print on multiple pages. Or do a more complicated process like it sounds like Daniel is using to piece together what you want and then drive to a local kinkos or the like to actually print it.

That's way too much effort for me. For the local outdoor group that I volunteer with, a few of us analyzed this process and the result was the link I shared before,

The first option we listed there gives an approache that allows you to print out desired topo map chunks at decent resolution from your own printer, and without using any additional tools or a very complicated process. I.e., non-geeks can manage it just fine. I suggest that folks try this as at least their first option before deciding that they might want something more complicated.

Certainly a knowledge of more tools and choices gives you more options to control exactly what you get for the, I suspect, < 10% out there that really want that. Maybe well under 10% as I'm a somewhat geeky guy and the simple approach does me just fine in almost all cases.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: printing free topo maps on 03/10/2013 13:33:01 MDT Print View

Brian, I'm not sure what you are using for a computer system.

With most systems, it is not the printer that is the limitation. Generally the computer operating system has a print spooler, and when you click Print in the application program, the print file is prepared and then "spooled" out to the printer a little at a time. If the print spooler of the OS can't handle it, then that is not the printer's problem.

I routinely open huge PDF files either within the PDF software or else within Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop may need to rasterize the file before it goes ahead. That takes a while, but it works. I print maps out on Super A3 paper.


Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: printing free topo maps on 03/10/2013 14:56:04 MDT Print View


I just re-checked and they've added a feature to create PDFs. When you choose that option you can select both paper size and map scale, and get a nice overlay to show exactly what area of the map will be included.

A quick test print at 1:24000 scale is a perfect match to the corresponding scale on my plotter. Be sure when you print the PDF to disable any "ignore scaling/shrink to fit" options.

Marty Cochran
(mcochran77) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Re: printing free topo maps on 03/10/2013 19:17:44 MDT Print View

Thanks Jeremy,
I just checked out CalTopo.
It has the most intuitive print to pdf interface I have seen on a free mapping tool,
especially when printing multiple pages.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
REI has nav courses on 03/11/2013 10:46:30 MDT Print View

If you have an REI nearby, sign up for their mailing list. Our local REI offers free and low-fee courses every week. Orienteering with map and compass, and using a GPS are both courses that are offered every single month.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Wow! Caltopo is tops on 03/11/2013 11:13:50 MDT Print View

Thanks so much, Jeremy --- is clearly the best way to do this! I'm definitely going to pass this on to lots of folks in my local organization.

We push everyone to bring a map on every trip they go on, but IMO we (and likely most similar non-profits) do a poor job of making it as easy as possible for them to do so.
This option ratchets down the difficulty factor another notch while adding features (I particularly like ability to easily print a UTM grid overlay).

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 03/12/2013 01:18:47 MDT Print View


Edited by on 06/23/2013 12:14:35 MDT.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 03/12/2013 01:37:47 MDT Print View


Edited by on 06/23/2013 09:13:43 MDT.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 03/12/2013 11:08:50 MDT Print View


Edited by on 06/23/2013 12:11:35 MDT.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Orienteering clubs on 03/13/2013 10:37:07 MDT Print View

"Speaking of orienteering, have you looked for orienteering clubs in your area?

There are clubs devoted to orienteering that often hold regular meets. They are a great way to practice your map & compass."

+1. I took the family to a meet run by the local club last year and it was really fun. Here's a list of clubs by state:

Kevin Sullivan
(bustedchucks) - F
really helpful read on 03/17/2013 10:01:00 MDT Print View

Also I read the navigation/compass chapters of lots of books and the one that made it click for me what the chapter in Freedom of the Hills.

Edited by bustedchucks on 03/17/2013 10:03:09 MDT.