How To Navigate Using the Terrain

For any hiker, one of the most important things that he must know how to do is navigate using the terrain.  When learning to navigate using the terrain, many things must be kept in mind so that the hiker does not lose his way.

The following tips should help you learn to navigate using the terrain:

  1. First, you should make sure that you have a good map of the area - one which details topographic features.  You can't learn to navigate using the terrain if you don't know what the terrain is!  Also, a good, sturdy compass is a must.
  2. Identify any features near you on the map so that you can orient yourself to an approximate location.  Plot that point and your destination on the map.
  3. Begin navigating the terrain.
  4. Arrive at your destination!

Now, this may sound simple enough, but there are many tips that can make navigating using the terrain safer to every hiker.

To begin, make sure that as you are using the terrain to navigate, you are marking your progress on the map.  It does no good to have a map if you don't know approximately where you are at all times.  Second, when assessing the map at the beginning of your hike, take into account not only far-off landmarks but more subtle clues that may be closer to your person.  Learn to read the contour lines and other markings on your map.  Also, although it's not strictly necessary, many people suggest that when learning to navigate using the terrain, an individual should orient the map in the direction that his body is facing.  For instance, though most people hold the map pointing north at all times, when you begin to navigate using the terrain, it is easier to read the map if you align it so it's facing in the same direction you are (probably towards your expected destination).  If at any point you feel lost, stop, and begin again from the first step in navigating using the terrain.  Reassess your position and re-plot your course.

As always when hiking, whether you are using GPS or have learned to navigate using the terrain, if you find yourself lost, stop!  More people end up injured or lost for longer than necessary because they were not in an expected area when rescue workers began to search for them.  If you can't navigate using the terrain and you aren't able to find your location on the map, stop at the first place with decent shelter and wait.  Help will find you!


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