The skills of navigation involve knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. Various tools help this process. A map, compass, and watch are basic; an altimeter and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver are useful extras. However, no tool substitutes for map-reading skills.
Most experienced hunters and trampers always know roughly where they are through observation and familiarity with an area. When they venture into backcountry areas they require special skills and knowledge.
Ridges, rivers, lakes, peaks and valleys are features which make it easier to travel in the outdoors. Other indicators such as the sun, wind direction, cloud movement, and the time of day, can also help you to navigate.
- MSC Bushcraft Manual
Below is an instructional video from SILVA UK demonstrating how to use a popular standard compass.
See your topo map for the correct declination for your region.
Direction finding using the sun
If the sun is even vaguely visible, you can use it to find your direction. The key point is that the sun is in the north at noon.
Point the 12 on an analogue watch towards the sun. In summer, take an hour off for daylight saving. If you don't have an analogue watch, you can visualise where the hour hand would point.
Estimate the halfway point between the 12 and the hour hand. This is true north.
Estimate the direction you want from this point
- MSC Bushcraft Manual
Most people are skilled at navigating on roads but find navigating in the outdoors more difficult. Planning, observation, and the skilled use of a map and compass are usually essential.
Laminate your map or keep it dry by carrying it in a clear plastic bag. You can read it through the bag if you fold it to show the required section. Keep your map handy so you can refer to it frequently, particularly when moving through unfamiliar or untracked areas.
Maps are used for many different purposes, so they differ in size, scale, and the type of information shown. Some show only specific features such as roads and towns; others, for example, topographical maps, provide more detailed information.
Use a pencil to write on a map or plot a bearing on it. On laminated maps, you need a pen that will write on the lamination.