Skilling Up: Navigation (an introduction)

It’s all backwards to me

Howtown, 1997. Orienteering. The feeling of blind panic as you stand there in the rain struggling to find your location on the map you’ve just been taught how to read. All the while you’re wondering where the rest of your team have gone as they confidently stride towards the next checkpoint. This was me, aged 11.

Formal navigation techniques have always been something I’ve struggled with. I understand the principles and how the tools work but putting the whole thing together has always been a challenge, and something that I have had to work on every time I’ve been out in the wild and woolies. There’s the temptation to let the person I’m walking with do all the hard work; but what happens when you’re on your own, or looking for a bloody orange orienteering punch on Hallin Fell? You get lost.

I’ve decided that it is finally time to work on my skills, with a bit of structure and discipline and a little help from a few well-respected sources. This series of posts will take you through my attempts to become skilled in the use of map, compass and in understanding the world around me.

How am I planning on acquiring these skills?
I’ve recently got hold of two books that aim to teach two quite different approaches to land navigation; the Ultimate Navigation Manual by Lyle Brotherton and The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. The former features a back to basics approach to navigation, aiming to equip you with “All the techniques you need to become an expert navigator” through a series of practical exercises using simple tools and easy-to-understand techniques of interpreting the landscape you’re in. In The Natural Navigator Tristan Gooley “blends natural science, myth, folklore and the history of travel to introduce you to the rare and ancient art of finding your way using nature’s own sign-posts”.

The Method

My plan is to first become familiar and confident in map and compass navigation by studying the practical lessons from Lyle’s book in the field. Only then will I bolster that knowledge with methods for interpreting the natural world learned from Tristan’s book whilst also using a number of field guides to help me learn how to identify trees, plants, birds, animals and insects.

Like with any process my experiences may change the way I learn as my knowledge and skills develop but I’m hoping to regularly report on my progress as I try and build my confidence when asking myself the question, “Where am I?”



  1. backpackingkids · September 26, 2012

    Good luck! I will be following your progress. I am navigationally-challenged too. In fact, friends have sarcastically suggested trail names for me such as Garmin and Dora (Dora the Explorer always has a map). It seems like this is something that either comes rather naturally to a person or is very difficult.

    • rcbprk · September 26, 2012

      Thanks for your support. I’ve avoided any dodgy trail names thus far, but knowing my current level of skill its only a matter of time!

  2. Pingback: 10 for ’13: My goals for the next year « bearpacking

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