5 Backpacking – Map Reading and Navigation – Basics!!

How foolish would it be if you stepped out into the unknown, for the best backpacking trip ever…and got lost! What’s more…how are you going to pick a route itself if you don’t know the basics of reading maps at all…what a shame it would be to let a good backpacking trip go waste…all because you are not equipped with the right map and navigation know-how!

Here’s rectifying just that!!

But first, for some…

 General info on navigation with map and compass:

You will need a map for navigation purposes, and a topographical map will prove best suited for the purpose.

“Topographic maps from Green Trails and Custom Correct Maps are best suited for hikers since they’re updated with current trail information. USGS topo maps have more detail, but aren’t updated as frequently. You can also print out maps from a variety of software programs, even on waterproof paper.”

Now then, let’s move on to the more important lessons…

Pointers to note when you navigate your backpacking trip:

1. How to use a compass?

It is essential that you learn to use the compass, not just for hiking but in general as well. Using a compass is an art, and you need to learn how to use the compass with the map.

The compass is a very important tool for navigating in the backcountry. It allows you to determine direction, take bearings, and chart your route of travel on a map. It also makes sure you can look out for landmarks, and to detour back in the right direction when going around obstacles.

However, using the compass effectively means that you have to verify some of the misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, a compass doesn’t point towards the North Pole, remember your geography lessons…it points towards the magnetic North!

2. How to read topographic maps?

A topographic map tells you where places/things are and how to get to them. Reading a map correctly helps not only in hiking, but also biking, hunting, fishing, or just taking a general interest in the topography around.

Topographical maps describe the shape of the land, define and locate natural and manmade landscapes and features like woods, waterways, important buildings/ bridges etc. They also show the distance between any two points/places on the Earth’s surface. They also show the direction from one place to another.

You need to learn how to use maps by reading the index contours and the symbols used to depict various forms of landmasses, water bodies etc. There are designated and internationally recognized symbols for each…learn them up!

3. Compass and magnetic declination?

“The earth’s magnetic field varies depending on the location as well as changing over time. In the United States the variation between true north and magnetic north can be more than 20 degrees. This difference between the two norths is called declination. The only place where magnetic north is the same as true north is along the agonic line. Declination is 0 degrees alongside the agonic line. Other lines called isogonic lines denote the value of the variations of declination east or west of the agonic line.”

It is imperative you learn how to adjust your readings according to the declination.

4. Measuring distance with paces?

You need to know how to pace distances. Pacing distances is mandatory since you need to travel a specific distance in order to reach your destination.

Measuring paces helps you measure distances so as to know your current location, where you have been, and how much farther you need to travel to reach your target. This is especially true when you hike trails that are less known, or not very populated.

5. How to navigate without a compass?

When you can’t avail of your compass for some reason, you can still navigate your way…just follow the stars. Stars are a great help to navigate in the dark….Amateur hikers also take help from the celestial bodies…

Now that you have the basics of map and compass navigation under your belt, your confidence in hiking is in for a boost!! Happy hiking!  🙂