Author Topic: Practicalities of compass and map navigation  (Read 2586 times)

metanome

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Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« on: 12:35:37, 14/08/20 »
I'm off on a camping trip to the New Forest shortly and was planning to try map and compass reading for the first time in a relatively safe and non-remote location. But how does navigation work in practice if you're not in a remote location? By that I mean: say I've plotted a heading on a map, have oriented myself in the right direction using the compass, and have picked a landmark in the distance on the relevant heading, what if there are privately owned fields or other areas which I can't pass through? Or if I am forced to stick to roads of marked paths (which seems to defeat the point of navigating in the first place)?


Is the idea that I really should be heading to a moor or an expansive national park if I'm to practise map reading effectively? If so, can anyone make any recommendations for getting some good practice in while at the New Forest? I'm not very familiar with the geography of it all - are there plenty of areas suitable for sighting landmarks in the distance?
« Last Edit: 12:39:08, 14/08/20 by [email protected] »

Bigfoot_Mike

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #1 on: 12:58:54, 14/08/20 »
You have described the basics of walking in a straight line on a bearing. However, in the real world obstacles exist, in remote as well as non-remote locations. If the obstacle cannot be traversed in a straight line (e.g. by climbing over it), you will need to plot a track around it, so that you can end back on the same track once you are past the obstacle. For a field you may well be able to see the other side and it may just be a matter of walking around the field until you reach an identified point of the other side and then continuing on your bearing. If you cannot see through the obstacle, you will need to plot a course and then follow several bearings in order to regain your track. Many of the obstacles should be visible on your map before you set out, so you should be able to plot your course in advance. If you can keep track of where you are on the map as you walk, you should be able to plot a new bearing to your waypoint. The New Forest is a mixture of heathland and forest. In the forest it may be difficult to identify a point to aim for in the distance, so it may be best to start your learning in open areas.

metanome

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #2 on: 13:20:17, 14/08/20 »
I see - so part of the planning in advance might involve not navigating to the border of an impassable field to begin with? Though I'm guessing surprise obstacles pop up sometimes nevertheless. Thanks for the help!

Ridge

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #3 on: 13:56:24, 14/08/20 »
All good advice from Mike.
I don't know your experience so I may be teaching you to suck eggs but I would add that you should start by trying to follow clearly marked paths on the map. This is not always as easy as it sounds but, in easy to navigate areas, it gives you a chance to look at the map and compass without the outcome being too disastrous.

ninthace

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #4 on: 14:04:45, 14/08/20 »
All good advice from Mike.
I don't know your experience so I may be teaching you to suck eggs but I would add that you should start by trying to follow clearly marked paths on the map. This is not always as easy as it sounds but, in easy to navigate areas, it gives you a chance to look at the map and compass without the outcome being too disastrous.
Sound advice.  Can I throw in the use of a compass too.  In the old days, when I used to use a compass, I used it to check that the path I was on was heading in the right direction.  This is particularly useful in woodland or when faced with a choice of paths, especially when not all the paths on the ground are shown on the map, which is quite common in well walked areas.  A compass can also be useful when entering a field to work out where the exit is going to be.
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archaeoroutes

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #5 on: 18:41:20, 14/08/20 »
Basically, use the map. Perhaps set it using a compass, but fundamentally navigate using the map so you can note things to go along, pass, turn at, etc.
People often try to go to compass bearings, pacings etc too early, before they've got a deep feel for the map. It rarely ends well.

Dartmoor for me is one of the easiest places to navigate in the UK. You can go on a bearing and there are lots of nice contour features. Anywhere you have to deviate from a straight line adds difficulty.
Walking routes visiting ancient sites in Britain's uplands: http://www.archaeoroutes.co.uk

GoneWest

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #6 on: 19:40:11, 14/08/20 »
Lots of good advice in the previous posts and only three points I would add that apply particularly to navigating in woodland:

1) Check where you are as often as you can, using every means available. GPS can be problematic in woodland but is mostly OK, so don' t discount it.

2) The New Forest isn't exactly remote. Listening carefully can tell you roughly where the rails and roads are, as a check on your estimated position.

3) Even though it's difficult, among the trees, to keep to a given compass heading, the compass can be vitally useful in stopping you from walking in circles!

fernman

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #7 on: 21:36:31, 14/08/20 »
Can I throw in the use of a compass too.  In the old days, when I used to use a compass, I used it to check that the path I was on was heading in the right direction.  This is particularly useful in woodland or when faced with a choice of paths, especially when not all the paths on the ground are shown on the map, which is quite common in well walked areas.  A compass can also be useful when entering a field to work out where the exit is going to be.

Seconded most definitely  O0
I experience all of the above situations when walking in the Chilterns.

metanome

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #8 on: 08:09:18, 15/08/20 »
Thanks for all the varied perspectives, very useful. So in a wooded area with no view of distant landmarks, a compass can help keep a very general, heading and once through you need to re-establish your location and plot a new heading?

rural roamer

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #9 on: 08:37:01, 15/08/20 »

barewirewalker

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #10 on: 08:43:46, 15/08/20 »
Is the idea that I really should be heading to a moor or an expansive national park if I'm to practise map reading effectively? If so, can anyone make any recommendations for getting some good practice in while at the New Forest? I'm not very familiar with the geography of it all - are there plenty of areas suitable for sighting landmarks in the distance?
Sighting land marks at a distance makes setting your map easy. Often confusion of where actually are can be in quite close terrain and practice does go a long way towards perfection. I have had more difficulties in actual identifying where I am, in close farmland than on extensive moorland, but the familiarity of using map and compass comes by constant use in whatever terrain you choose to walk in.
On of the problems of reliance on GPS gadgets is a map contains far more information than most people realise, a bit like reading a book where the author has a hidden agenda, The map's hidden agenda is the original surveys were done nearly 200 years ago. Barren moorland has less detail  ;) or does it?

I remember setting out for a walk from a village where we had parked at the pub. By the time we got to the outskirts of the village, I was in complete confusion, we carried on thinking I would get some bearings, when I did I realised that there must have been 2 pubs in the village and the one nearest the pub logo was not the pub we had set out from. A quick check with the compass would have put me right, we altered the whole course of our walk and did a better route, than initially planned.
BWW
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Ridge

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #11 on: 08:44:51, 15/08/20 »
Most of the time when you are walking and map reading you are really just checking that you are where you think you are or working out where 4 paths meet on the map but 6 do on the ground which you should take.
The last time I actually properly walked on a bearing was 2 years ago and I can not remember the time before that. It is also 2 years ago, though a different walk, since I powered up my ancient GPS to give me an absolute location of where I was as I wasn't entirely sure. Both of these instances were in very poor viability.
That doesn't mean that I can always say exactly where I am but I will know roughly where I am, roughly where I'm heading and how to tell if I've got, or more importantly not got, there.


So I suppose you are right if 'reestablish your location' is checking where you are and 'plot a new heading' is work out where to go next.


The only way to get better at map reading is to do it and doing it with someone else, even if they know no more than you do, is much easier.


One final thing. One day you will be on a hill or in a wood, with the mist swirling round your knees, staring at the map and compass and nothing will line up. You with think to yourself 'this map is wrong and the compass is broken I'm going to press on anyway' at this point remember that strange bloke on the Walking Forum saying to you that the map and compass are NEVER, EVER* wrong. Now head back to the last place you knew where you were and sort yourself out.


*the number of times when this statement is not true is so close to zero as to be negligible.
« Last Edit: 11:05:51, 15/08/20 by Ridge »

GoneWest

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #12 on: 08:59:19, 15/08/20 »
For a basic guide you could have a look at this
https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/guides/beginners-guide-to-using-a-compass/


Or, at the other extreme, you could read this:

https://shavenraspberry.com/shop/navigation-aids/the-ultimate-navigation-manual/
It's not perfect: I spotted a couple of errors at a very detailed level in the Kindle edition. That said, it's by far the most comprehensive and useful guide to navigation on land that I have found.

Bigfoot_Mike

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #13 on: 13:31:32, 15/08/20 »

One final thing. One day you will be on a hill or in a wood, with the mist swirling round your knees, staring at the map and compass and nothing will line up. You with think to yourself 'this map is wrong and the compass is broken I'm going to press on anyway' at this point remember that strange bloke on the Walking Forum saying to you that the map and compass are NEVER, EVER* wrong. Now head back to the last place you knew where you were and sort yourself out.


*the number of times when this statement is not true is so close to zero as to be negligible.


This is very good advice. Several times in poor visibility I have been sure I knew my location (false summits can easily be misidentified in thick mist). Thereafter the ground did not agree with my map and compass, which I believed must have somehow gone wrong. Of course it was my assumptions about my location that were wrong. Everything made sense once I realised where I had gone wrong and believed the map and compass.

andybr

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Re: Practicalities of compass and map navigation
« Reply #14 on: 15:00:22, 15/08/20 »
Thanks for all the varied perspectives, very useful. So in a wooded area with no view of distant landmarks, a compass can help keep a very general, heading and once through you need to re-establish your location and plot a new heading?


Absolutely. One of the big problems when walking in a wood is that the paths tend to wind around a lot and it is very easy to convince yourself that you are on the right path even if you are not. If the map tells you to expect a left turn then it is likely that one will turn up and reassure you that you are on the right track. It is all too easy to convince yourself that any right turns are just kinks in the path since they do not show up on the map. A compass will help you to avoid literally walking in circles.