Navigation tools for walkers

Navigation tools for walkers

Since signposts have never become popular in the mountains, good navigation is crucial if you want to move from A to B. This article helps you through the world of maps, compasses and other navigation gadgets.

Maps


Luckily for us in the UK, we have some of the world's most accurate maps

The first thing you need to find your way around is a good quality map. Luckily for us in the UK, we have some of the world's most accurate maps, with Ordnance Survey producing both 1/2500 and 1/5000 scale walking maps, while Harvey Maps produce a clear and popular series for walkers, although this does not have complete nationwide coverage.

Once you have become familiar with the layout of the map, including a sound understanding of contours, heights and features, you could, in perfect a perfect world, operate in the hills with nothing but a map. Unfortunately due to weather, darkness and the problem of the humble human brain to keep track of your location, it's best to use the map in conjuction with a compass.

Compasses

Compasses have been around for thousands of years. They're pretty simple devices, doing nothing more than point to the magnetic north. Compasses for backpacking are lightweight and portable. They are designed to be used with your map, and allowing you to find or maintain your location by taking a bearing on the landscape or from the map itself.

Garmin GPS device
Garmin GPSGPS

A Global Positioning System (GPS) is an electronic device that picks up the signals from several satellites orbiting the earth to locate position on the planet's surface within a few metres. It's been used on aircraft and on ships for years, but now the units are similar in size to a mobile phone and light enough to be be carried by any backpacker.

Altimeters

Another popular navigation tool is the altimeter, most commonly found in the form of a wristwatch. This measures differences in barometric pressure, to provide a reasonably accurate guide to altitude. This information can be compared to heights given on the map (and provide warning of a change of pressure, which may signify a change in the weather).

Odds and ends

The map measurer and pedometer, two other slightly less high tech devices, are also very useful. No prizes for guessing what a map measurer does - it has a small wheel which can be trundled across your map and a scale readout to show how far you've gone or have to go. A pedometer measures your steps, giving you an indication of your pace, speed and distance travelled, all crucial information for micro- or difficult navigation. 

You will need a good quality map case to stop your map turning to papier maché!

On top of this, you will need a good quality map case to stop your map turning to papier maché! Although many walkers swear by a transparent freezer bag, modern clear plastic map cases are far superior. Map cases are available in a dizzying array of styles, sizes and designs. A good model should keep your map totally dry in all conditions plus allow you to use it at the same time!

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