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Navigation Essentials

Don't get overwhelmed - just remember - See, Describe, Remember

Know your map, and area before you go. Look at when the map was drawn and revised. Remember there is a lot of information on the map, that isn't a map!

Click on pictures

 to magnify


Look in detail at the landscape, near and far.

Look at the map. Remember things marked in black on an OS map might change very quickly compared to things marked in blue or brown.


If you've looked well at the landscape and map, it should be easier to describe how your journey will progress. i.e. over the bridge, second footpath on the left, up the hill, not as far as the lake.


Being outdoors is so much better if we don't keep our head in the map. Build confidence and remember your journey story. Check the map when things don't make sense, or you can't remember.

Moving outdoors


When we're moving we want to keep a good sense of where we are on the map. Direction and distance or time


We can make our life the easiest from Seeing linear features that help us to orient the map to the ground. These can be roads, tracks, streams,  field boundaries, but if we can see land forms like ridges and valleys, these are the most reliable. A compass helps with direction, but it's also easy to get sucked into looking at this, remember to continue seeing things along your journey, especially if visibility is limited.



Distance can be accurately measured with pacing. Knowing your distances in different 'gears'  can be useful in snow, heather, uphill or downhill. Consider knowing how many heel to toe paces it takes you to do 10m. And how many normal paces it takes you to do 100m. 

Time it's useful to be able to estimate how long certain legs of your journey might take you. This doesn't need to be spot on, but could be "I won't be at the fork in the path in 10 minutes, but if I haven't seen it in 20  minutes I've gone too far". Knowing timings for runners is typically more effective than pacing.


There are lots of ways to explain where you are.

This could be as descriptive as " I've walked for 30 minutes from the trig point towards the sunset".

We could make that more accurate with a distance and direction "I've travelled west for 2.1km"

Grid references from a map should always include two letters, followed by numbers. From the bottom left hand corner of the map we go along the corridor, then up the stairs. This reminds us we give the Eastings (numbers across the map) first, then the Northings (numbers up the map). We can quite accurately estimate a 6 figure grid reference.


Navigation is a 'perishable' skill. If you don't do it, it becomes fuzzy. The more you practice the quicker you can feel confident.

There are lots of ways to challenge your navigation as a game. Don't be worried about using technology as a back up when you're practicing. OS Locate and various digital mapping apps can give you confidence that your map reading and navigation skills are on point.

If you're stuck indoors and fancy some navigation puzzle, there are a number on our blog here -


There are different types and levels of navigation courses. Certified courses like National Navigation Award Scheme give a specific syllabus and assessment against criteria that are quite easy to match against your needs.

Navigation when not on foot needs a slightly different look at what we can realistically 'see' if moving a bit quicker. So if trail running, mountain biking or overland navigation is your thing, get in touch and we can chat about your needs. As a Yachtmaster (Ocean) Ash is also perfectly happy to talk about how to learn marine navigation and celestial navigation too.

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