At a basic level, land navigation is simply utilizing a map (sometimes alongside a compass) to move from one location to another. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors should take the time to understand the basics of this skill because it is enjoyable, practical, and could save your life one day.
Not only is this skill a useful thing to have, but it is also a competitive sport. Usually referred to as orienteering, the sport takes place over a large area in which competitors compete to locate the flags, or "controls", in the quickest way possible.
As part of a class project, my team and I built our own orienteering course as a means to promote the sport and provide practices for future classes.
Step 1: The Map and Controls
The primary tool of the trade is the map. Technically, a map is a two dimensional interpretation of a three dimensional space. The map is an incredibly valuable tool because it shows where you are in relation to the world around you in great detail.
While a regular map displays basic land features and elevation changes, the orienteering map provides much more detail. What's more, the orienteering map provides location of the controls (pictured). Be sure to pay attention to the map legend to understand the meaning of colors, land features, and other symbols.
Basic Features of a Map:
- Directional Arrows/Compass - Shows direction for orientation.
- Scale- Used for measuring distance.
- Key/Legend- Used for distinguishing and identifying the main physical features.
For greater detail on orienteering maps, follow this link to the official US Orienteering website.
Step 2: The Compass and How to Use It
The compass is the second most important tool for navigation. By combining the map and the compass successfully, you will be able to navigate your surroundings. While the compass is a useful tool, remember that it is secondary to the map in its utility.
The main parts of the compass and their functions are pretty self explanatory (see image). To precisely read a compass in tandem with a map, follow this order of operations:
1. Imagine a line of travel between your position and the destination.
2. Place your compass on your map along this imagined line of travel.
3. Now, situate the magnetic needle on your compass in the same direction of the map's compass rose (red).
4. Rotate the bezel on your compass so that the magnetic needle and orienting arrow are on top of each other.
5. This should create the direction of travel if you follow the "Direction-of-Travel Arrow" (purple).
Step 3: Making Your Own Orienteering Course
Making your own orienteering course is a great way to get more people involved and put your land navigation skills to the test. Click here to find a topographical map of your area and begin scouting out locations to place your controls.
To make my orienteering course, we began by purchasing 5 ten-foot PVC pipes that were 3/4" in diameter. These would be cut in half and wrapped in red duct tape to create my control points. Next, we found a topographical map of my area, printed it off, and scouted it out. Carrying the poles, we set them along a route that we thought would be easy and enjoyable for beginners. We then drove the the poles into the ground, marked them with a number and a code. The purpose of the code was to make participants "prove" that they came across the controls.
Using photoshop, we created a map with the control points and "clues" to help beginners find our controls. As you can tell from the map, we made this course fairly easy but it would still take a hour or so to complete.