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Knowing where you are on the map and where to go next are absolutely key to being safe in the hills. Building navigation skills is something that takes a lifetime, but there are a few simple map and compass techniques that form the basis for all good navigation and are easily learned.

GPS devices are a useful addition to traditional map and compass navigation but they are not a replacement for it. A GPS - so long as it is working - will tell you where you are to within a few metres, but it won't tell you what to expect as you walk along. That information can only come from the map. The map will show you that there are rocky crags on your right and a gentle slope on your left, bounded by a wall or fence. The mental picture you can build up from the map is invaluable in making sure you set off in the right direction and keep on your chosen track.

The compass, likewise, is a tried and tested navigation tool. A good outdoors compass, such as those made by Silva, are simple but very clever devices. As well as indicating which way is north, they enable you to measure bearings from the map to follow on the ground (a bearing being the angle measured from north, between 0 and 360 degrees). You can also use it to work out where you are by taking bearings from features you can see and transfering them to the map.

Having understood these basic map and compass techniques it is simply a matter of putting them into practice, again and again. To get started, however, you may find it worthwhile to learn the essential skills and techniques with an expert. If so check out the courses we run in the hills around Kirkby Stephen.

Learning to use a GPS is an additional skill, best learnt after gaining a good grounding in map and compass work. To find out more about the different kinds of GPS and how to build up your skills read our GPS page

Useful publications

Navigation for Walkers: The Definitive Guide to Map Reading
 is a very readable and clear introduction to all the important techniques for navigation in the outdoors. It focusses primarily on map reading and the use of the compass, although the 2nd edition now has sections on digital mapping and GPS.

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