If you love hiking, then chances are you also like heading off into the back country, away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life.  To do that successfully, at some point you will need to use some sort of navigational aid.  It could be a map, a compass, a GPS unit or a combination of all three.  So how can you make sure you navigate your way successfully using these tools?

Getting lost is one of the worst things that can happen to an outdoor enthusiast.  One minute you’re enjoying yourself hiking, hunting, orienteering, climbing or camping, and before you know it, you have no idea where you are.  That’s why it’s so important to learn how to navigate successfully.  And although a GPS unit can be good, the best way to navigate without having to rely on satellite reception or power is using a compass. Learning to navigate successfully can save your life, especially if you like to hike and climb in some of the more remote areas.

One on the most important things about navigation using a compass is that it’s not something you should only start to do once you realize you’re lost.  In fact, you should constantly be referring back to your compass to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.  If you do that, your chances of not getting lost in the first place are considerably higher.

It’s also a good idea to learn how to navigate successfully using a compass long before you head off into the back country.  It’s a bit too late to start trying to figure out what to do once you’re already lost.  There are plenty of classes and clubs where you can learn how to use a compass properly, so take the time to learn the basics.  Any good navigation class will also teach you how to read maps properly, and how to use them together with a compass properly so that you don’t get lost.

There are a few other basics to remember when navigating using a compass.  Firstly, trust your compass.  Forget your instincts – if they were that good, you wouldn’t have gotten lost in the first place.  Secondly, orient your map to the landscape.  This means that you should find north using your compass, and then turn the map so that north on the map points in the same direction.  This really helps make it easy for you to identify features on the map in the landscape around you.

Finally, make sure you understand about declination.  This is definitely something you will probably only learn about in a navigation class!  Basically, it’s the difference between true north and magnetic north.  It can make a huge difference when you’re navigating using a compass, so find out about it and make sure you understand how to apply it in various situations.  Most GPS systems allow for declination, but again, don’t rely on your GPS to find your way.  You must be able to navigate for yourself.

Traveling in the back country, soaking up the isolation of nature, can be a truly wonderful experience.  It can also be a nightmare if you’re not prepared, and don’t know how to navigate with a compass.  Spend some time learning the basic skills of navigation, and your next back country experience will be the exciting adventure you’re hoping for.