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Basic Navigation tips - how to take a bearing

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

You know your way to your local shop, you've learnt the features en route and now its just second nature. Impressive. Take those buildings, roads and man-made features away (except for the shop), you could still get to the same point feeling the land under your feet, using a compass, reading the sun position and using map... in thick fog.

Illustration from 'Navigation in the Mountains' (c) MTUK/VG 2012

"It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river" - Jeffrey R. Anderson

Take a compass bearing - Steps to go from A (your position) to B (the shop)

1. From your known position on the map, draw a straight line between A to B (don't be afraid to use a marker pen!)

2. Line up the compass base plate long edge with this line

3. Turn your compass housing (the swiveling dial with 0, 90, 270, 360 or N, E, S, W, written on), until the vertical row of lines and thick arrow (inside the housing) are parallel to your map grid lines

4. Read down at the degrees or bearing (now marked with a white line)

5. Turn your body until the magnetic north lines up with the thick arrow - this is your direction of travel with your new're ready to go!

Hint: Use the image above!

"I wish the world was twice as big - and half of it was still unexplored" - David Attenborough

Now, read that landscape under your feet...

Your A to B is 'as the crow flies' and if you've a nice flattish route (wide apart contour lines), that's great, follow your direction of travel arrow (bearing) with the compass flat in your hand, keeping magnetic north on the thick arrow (grid north)...

A --------------------------------------------------> B Bird's Eye View

However, if your A to B direct route drawn on the maps takes you steep down the hill, to go steep back up again (close together contour lines), what a huge energy loss that'll be! Do you want that? Or do you want a flatter more pleasing walk? It might take a little longer but you'd have more energy for longer...

A ----- ¬ ------------------ ¬ ------> B Bird's Eye view

l l l l

l ------------ l l --------------------------------------l

So, on the map along your direction of travel, if you can find brownish contour lines which are much further apart, you are looking at a better route. Even better, if you can find footpaths/bridleways/shallower land which 'box' around the steep features.

Remember: Make new bearings (as steps 1 - 5) to reach your final destination, when you are positive of your relocated positions.

A____ _________B Cross section view (can you visualise the steepness!)

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