Map Reading and Navigation Skills for Outdoorsmen

Angelo Dellomo

Heading into the great outdoors? Don’t forget your map! Bring a compass and GPS, too, for good measure. It’s vitally important for those looking for a wilderness adventure to have a solid understanding of maps and navigation in order to stay on track, stay on time, and stay safe.

Angelo Dellomo explores below some essential map reading and navigation skills for outdoorsmen.

The Importance of Navigational Skills

Learning to read map and develop one’s navigation skills are vital to stay safe and on track while in the wilderness. Rather than heading out and winging it, it’s smart to review a map in advance and plan a route so that individuals will have a sense of how long they will be gone, what to expect on an encounter, and what someone may want to bring along. Note any landmarks or specific trails to watch out for while hiking – these will be an important guide to know when to make certain turns and even when to turn around and reverse course to head home.

Key Skills for Outdoorsmen

There are several key skills for outdoorsmen looking to plan a route or find their way when they’re already on the trail.

Reading Maps

Reading maps is essential. Get familiar with the different elements of a standard map, including scale, reference points (i.e. cardinal directions or otherwise), symbols (water, trees, trails, etc.), and the grid lines to determine latitude and longitude.

Angelo Dellomo

Understanding Topography

Topographic maps show both manmade features – like roads and buildings – as well as natural features such as mountains, streams, valleys, and vegetation. Outdoorsmen come to rely on topographic maps rather than standard maps since knowing elevation can be even more important that the name of the highway that runs beside it.

These maps contain contour lines to help visualize terrain. Be sure to familiarize oneself with the standard map elements as noted above, then apply this to the more complex topographic maps. Understanding the nature of the ground one is about to cover can mean the difference between life and death, so study up on the key that is provided on the map and make sure of the scale.

Using GPS Devices

Most of us know how to use a standard GPS map app on a phone or in the car. But a GPS can also be used in conjunction with a topographic map; when there is no specific address to input, you can still use the hard copy map’s grid lines to determine the latitude and longitude of your desired location, and then enter those coordinates into the GPS instead. Of course, certain locations can be so remote that a GPS signal will not work, it’s crucial to be able to read a map, and bring it along! A compass will work too, especially on a cloudy day when the sun cannot act as a directional guide.

In Conclusion

Outdoorsmen seeking their next adventure should be sure to familiarize themselves with a topographic map of the area before they depart, and pack that map along with a compass and a GPS for added safety.

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