Four Tips On Learning Navigational Skills

   02.12.18

Four Tips On Learning Navigational Skills

Are you interested in learning navigational skills, but unsure where to start? Maybe asking yourself if you should just use a smart phone and Google Earth? Should you buy a GPS? Where to find TOPO maps?

Maybe just print some TOPO maps off the internet? Then again, with smart phones who needs a map?

What kind of compass should you buy? Are liquid filled better than non-liquid filled?

It is easy to let technology do the work for you. After all, people will look for the easy way to do most things.  However, navigational skills should be taken seriously. Reading a TOPO map and using a compass do not require batteries, nor do they require cell phone service.

TOPO Map

TOPO maps are from the United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey. While small maps can be printed off the internet. I suggest buying a large map. For example, my TOPO maps measure 27 inches X 22 inches.

Call a local blueprint company and ask if they have USGS TOPO maps. Surveyors, pipeline companies, power companies all use USGS TOPO maps, and a lot of those places buy their maps from blueprint companies. The blueprint company will buy the maps on CD, then use their large printers to print the maps.

The map will have a quadrangle name. For example, one of my maps is called the Orangefield quadrangle. The map shows Bridge City and Orangefield, Texas. This map was bought around 1994, which was when my buddies and I were camping on bayou in the map.

The TOPO maps should by 1:24,000 scale.

There should be a legend on the map showing improved roads, unimproved roads, trails.

Maps will be marked with latitude, longitude, and Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system (UTM).

Compass

This is a simple map compass.  It does not have to be a top of the line $100+ compass.

Over the past 20+ years, my most expensive compass cost around $30.  For the past decade, my  compass cost around $20. The past few hiking trips was with a Wal-Mart special $10 compass.

When navigating you should take a rest break, get the map out, get your location, and see if you are still on course.  On a ten mile hiking trip, someone may check their location five, six, seven times. I check my location every hour, to hour and a half. If you get off course, adjust the compass.

We will get into setting and using the compass in another article.

Every liquid filled compass I have owned developed a bubble. Because of this, I stopped buying liquid filled compasses a decade ago.

GPS

Handheld global positioning device (GPS) as a navigational aid. Notice the keywords, “navigational aid.”

While hiking, I estimate my location with the TOPO map, then use the GPS to affirm my estimate.

What kind of GPS do I use? A very old Garmin Etrex that was given to me by a buddy around 2002 or 2003. It does not have a map feature. The only thing the GPS does is provide my location using UTM.  I do not even use it for bearing or heading, that is done by hand.

There is nothing wrong with using a GPS. However, there is something wrong with using a GPS as your only means of navigation.

Smart Phones

Smart phone technology and Google Earth has made the old style GPS units obsolete. However, a couple of years ago a buddy and I helped some hunters get a hog out of a river bottom. One of the guys was using his cell phone with Google Earth to find his way back to the boat.

There were several of us in a group. If one phone went dead there were others to use.

Without their phones, the guys in the group had no idea where they were at.

Final Thoughts

This is the first part of a series about navigation. We are going to start off with the very basics, then progress through learning now to navigate in a controlled setting, then finally apply the lessons to a hiking trip.

Hopefully this first article gave the reader an idea of where to find TOPO maps and what kind of compass to buy.

From here we will take it step-by-step and learn how to read the maps and use the compass.

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