Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Using a Compass for Map Reading and Navigation

Using a Compass for Map Reading and Navigation

She's got it! Using a compass
1st Steps to Map Reading & Navigation Course
It’s a commonly held misconception that a compass is only useful for navigating across open moorland, mountain terrain or in the mist.  Additionally many people carry a compass but do not know how to use it!

We have been living and working in the Peak District for many years teaching Map Reading and Navigation. Frequently we watch people park up un the village green opposite our house get togged up for a walk and set off, only to see them coming back 5 or 10 minutes later as they had initially set off in the wrong direction. This is especially true of young people on their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions.

Using a compass to “orientate” your map before setting off helps you to then recognise where features are on the ground (preferably using a 1:25k scale map) and therefore which way to leave the car park or village. With a quick measurement using the scale ruler on your compass, you can gauge how far the footpath is from where you are and you can even take a bearing (if necessary) to show you the direction to walk from where you are to the start of your path.

Set the compass to north and use it to "orientate" the map so it is facing north.
You can now take a look around and find features on the ground.

“Following footpaths is easy, you don’t need a compass.”   Wrong!
Sometimes the path disappears, or is covered in snow or perhaps the farmer has ploughed the field or planted crops and obscured the path. If you are attempting to walk a path or right of way but can’t see the line of the path on the ground, by taking a bearing along the line of the path on the map will give you the direction to walk.

Using a compass to take a bearing down the line of the path that you intend to follow.

In a similar way, if you are attempting to follow a line of a path as shown on the map, but a second path appears, which one do you follow? Once again, by taking a bearing along the line of the path as shown on the map will give you the direction of which path to follow.

These are basic skills often not demonstrated on navigation courses.  
At Peak Navigation Courses we pride ourselves on being “navigation nerds” able to demonstrate the many uses of a compass.  If you would like to learn to navigate including how to use a compass, join our 1st Steps to Map Reading and Navigation Course, a one day course in The Peak District National Park.  Better still, if you have a whole weekend available, then join us for the SilverNational Navigation Award. 

The Silva Type 4 / 54 Expedition Compass, a good basic all round compass.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Choosing a compass to get the best out of your Peak Navigation Course

At Peak Navigation Courses, we pride ourselves in our compass navigation, getting a real thrill out of sharing map and compass navigation techniques with others

Whether you are a complete beginner or joining one of our advanced navigation courses where we use the compass to cross Kinder Scout, choosing the best compass for you can be a real minefield. Go to one of the outdoor or online shops and you will find a sometimes bewildering array of different compasses, so which is best, and how do you choose?

If you are a new hill walker, or never used a compass before, a cheaper model is often appealing.  You can pick a compass up from an online shop for a couple of pounds, but is it worth it?

Highlander Summit

As a starter compass, this may seem appealing, it is light, easy to carry and will point north. However the plastic base is very short, and lacks an arrow to show which direction you should walk - not one we would recommend.
Vango DLX0
The Vango DLX is a reasonable quality compass, with a good sized plastic base, scale for measuring distances and lines on the base to help set the compass on the map.  However again there is no arrow to show which direction you are planning to walk, reading a bearing on this compass is difficult, making planning a route much harder and there are few lines in the middle of the dial. It would not be high on our list.

Karrimor Q6L

We have had a few clients arrive at courses with the Karrimor Q6L, and I have been quite impressed. It has a good long plastic base, clear measuring scale, lots of lines to line up the grid, clear arrow to show direction, and a luminous dial for night time navigation. My only real criticism is the 1:63360 measure - designed for 1 inch to the mile maps, which have not been available in the UK for many years.

Gelert COM001
 We recently invested the princely sum of £2.99 in one of these Gelert compasses. We can't vouch for its robustness (the quality isn't that great), but for an easy to use compass, it seems pretty good for the price; a reasonable size base, clear dial, clear & luminous direction of travel arrow, 1:25000 and 1:50000 measuring scales.

We would be quite happy to recommend either this Gelert, Karrimor or a similar model produced by Trekmates, as starter compasses.

Silva has always been our compass of choice, but there are other quality compasses on the market, in particular those from Recta and Sunto.

Recta TD200

My first compass was a Recta, and we still have it to lend clients on our courses. They are really well made devices and the appeal of this one is the ease of holding the rounded end and clear luminous dial. However it has no magnifyer, vital to see features if your eyesight is not so good.

Sunto A-30

Sunto, better known for its watches, produce some high quality technical compasses and have now taken on the Recta range. The A-30 is a mid range device, which has lots of features. My real criticism is that the base is slightly shorter than we would like, and lacks extra parallel lines.

Silva Expedition 4
 The Silva Expedition 4 is the compass we use, and the one we recommend to our Peak Navigation Courses participants. It has a long baseplate, with romer scales to measure distance on both Ordnance Survey and BMC/Harveys maps, easy to use dial, with clear orienting lines, good magnification and lots of lines both on the baseplate and the compass housing to line up grid lines. At around £30 the Expedition 4 is a bit more expensive, but we still think a worthwhile investment if you are serious about your map and compass navigation.

If you have got to the end of this post, you should by now have a good idea of what you need to look for in a compass for navigating in the moors and mountains?
  • A long base will help you line the compass up between 2 points - the longer it is, the easier this will be.
  • Having lots of lines in the middle of the dial, which houses the compass needle (known as orienting lines), will mean you have more chance of finding a grid line with which to line the compass up with north on the map.
  • We use the measuring scale a lot and having this for the 1:25000 map is vital, but alternatives for other scale maps is also really useful.
  • If your eyesight is less than the best, a magnifyer is also really useful to see those more detailed features on the 1:25000 map.
All the features listed above can be found on cheaper models, but these do lack the precision and durability of more expensive makes. So if you are unsure how you will get on using a compass either wait until you have been on one of our courses (we have a range of models you can try) or buy either the Trekmates or Gelert. If you are serious about walking in the moors and mountains, then choose a more expensive make which will become a trusted friend!

Knowing how to use a map and compass for navigation can give you the 'keys to the kingdom'
Join one of our Map and Compass navigation courses, and you too can gain the 'keys to the kingdom'!

You can buy any of the compasses listed above from Amazon.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Using a GPS for Navigation

Using a GPS for Navigation

I consider myself to be a skilled navigator, a bit of a nerd when it comes to map reading and using a compass along with all of the skills and techniques that make up navigation. At Peak Navigation Courses we are teaching map reading and navigation most weekends throughout the year. On almost every course I am asked, ‘do you use a GPS?’  Well the answer is, “yes sometimes.”  (This blog is part 1 of 2. In the 2nd blog we willwrite about which GPS to choose).

A range of GPS devices: Garmin Eurex 10, Garmin Oregon 650, Garmin 64s and Satmap Active 10.

Walk Highlands GPS Planner on my lap top
I liken it to having a.b.s. or powered steering in my car. I wouldn’t drive a car without if I had the choice. For me, owning and being able to use a GPS device is another tool in my toolbox of navigation techniques. If I am working in remote places, big mountains or going out in poor conditions them I’ll put my GPS in the top of my rucksack.  It goes further than that though.  I like to plan all of my walks in advance using a map.  Often I’ll use online versions of Ordnance Survey mapping to plan my route. That way I can see the detail of the map clearly (the computer screen is well lit) and I can use a mapping programme that measures the distance of my route, tells me how much ascent there is and just how long it might take me to walk the route! Once out on the walk I’ll be using my map and compass.

View Ranger with mapping of Gran Canaria on my iPad
Last year I visited Gran Canaria with a view to developing a new walking holiday there. Having downloaded the details of some walks from the local walking guru “Rambling Roger” I was able to install his routes onto the mapping I had on my ipad and use the ipad as my map!

The other nice thing about using a GPS is that you can make a track of where you have been. This means that once you have finished your route you can see how far you have walked and where you have been on the computer screen.

There have been some memorable moments where I have resorted to using a GPS from my map.

Leaving the Refugio Poqueira, no need for a GPS!
I remember as part of a two day trip up to a mountain hut in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, we had left the hut on day 2 and ascended to a ridge that we could use to snowshoe along back to the valley. We left the hut at 2500m in beautiful sunshine and spent an hour ascending gently to the ridge at 2700m. However as we reached the ridge, the mist was swirling in from the far side, and it wasn’t long before the visibility was down to around 20m. Knowing exactly where I was it would have been possible to use a compass bearing and a combination of pacing and timing to keep track of our location along the ridge. But as we were guiding two people it was much easier to get the GPS to do the work for us and so we could snowshoe where the snow was best rather than go in a straight line following a compass. With the GPS doing the work we had a great day playing in the snow!

An hour later, time for the GPS!
Having and using a GPS doesn’t detract from being able to navigate.  Going walking in the hills and mountains using a GPS still requires you to have good map reading and navigation skills. The GPS might tell you the direction but it will not tell you that you are about to walk over a cliff.  A map will describe the terrain and your knowledge and experience will enable you to plan a route safely and how long it will take you. In October 2015, the British military were training in the North West Highlands of Scotland and were using devices to block the satellite signals rendering GPS navigation devices useless. Recently a friend of mine was on Ben Nevis, it was so cold that the batteries of his GPS froze and wouldn’t work. It would be dangerous to have a total reliance on a gadget!

Another question I am frequently asked is what type of GPS should I get? Well that’s the content of another blog. However I’ve been using a GPS for over 10 years. In those days they didn’t come with mapping. Even when they did and although we have several with mapping I hung onto my basic old Garmin Etrex as all I wanted from it was a grid reference of where I was. It’s only been in the last 12 months that I have gradually changed my opinion. Most devices now have the ability to install mapping onto them and they have generally got a lot easier to use. I no longer want to spend 5 minutes typing a grid reference into my old ETrex as I now have the choice of touching the place on the map (with a touch screen device) that I want to go to then pressing a button to navigate. 2 presses of a finger taking only 2 or 3 seconds! It’s a similar process with the new button press devices, move the cursor using the joystick to where you want to go to then 2 presses of the button and you are navigating. Slick.

Electronic devices may let you down, so keep up to speed with using a Map & Compass

Garmin 64s a good device
Of course it is essential that you have your device set up correctly and know how to use it. We meet lots of people who are not using their device correctly and to be honest using a GPS not set correctly can be hard work an inaccurate.

If you are thinking of getting a GPS but are unsure which is the right one for you, you can book a session with us and we’ll show you how they work and let you try them out. These popular 1:1 half day sessions cost only £60.  They are also suitable for getting started if you have just acquired one but are uncertain about using it.

The course is called: Making the most of your GPS.

Garmin Oregon 650 a good device
•    What is GPS and how does it work

•    What the buttons do and the menus are for…..

•    Finding out where I am and relating it to the map.

•    Creating waypoints and making a route.

•    Making a track of where I am walking.

•    Getting information about where I have walked and plotting it on your P.C.

•    Using online programmes to plan a route and transfer it to your     GPS.

•    Downloading routes from the internet onto you GPS and following them.

•    What is geocaching and how do I do it?

Mike and Jane who run Peak Navigation Courses are both International Mountain Leaders who in addition to running navigation courses lead walking holidays in various mountainous regions around the world.

Which GPS for Hill Walking?

Choosing a GPS (for Hill Walking)

At Peak Navigation Courses we run sessions to help people get to grips with their GPS most weeks. We are often asked which GPS device is the best or which GPS should I buy? Sometimes we are challenged by people arguing that their smart phone is as good or better than a dedicated GPS device. We always try to give an unbiased view, and in this blog we shall attempt just that, however, our experience is limited to Garmin, SatMap and ViewRanger.

The Smart Phone / View Ranger.
I’ve had View Ranger on my Phone and smart phone for 8 years and though I find its functions as good (and possibly even better) as any dedicated GPS device, I’d never rely on it when the chips are down. Most mobile phones have poor battery life and don’t run View Ranger for more than 8 hours. Phone’s are not usually shock proof, dust proof or water resistant. Great in good conditions. If you do decide to go for this option, invest in a good quality case and extra battery pack, so you have the resources to summon help if you need to.

GPS Devices.
You need to make a choice: firstly do you want one that has OS mapping installed or one with out? Secondly if you have chosen to opt for one with OS mapping, do you want one that is touch screen or one that you work by pressing buttons?

If you are a competent navigator perhaps you only need a device in your rucksack for emergencies. If this is the case and you only want a grid reference to confirm where you are and the ability to do a “take me to” function then you only need to go for a bottom of the range model.  For this choice I’d go for the new Garmin eTrex10. A fantastic device at entry level, and so much better than the EtrexH that it replaced. I used to fall into this category and carried a basic eTrex for years only occasionally using it. However the more I’ve used GPS over the years, the more I appreciate being shown where I am and being able to mark a spot on the map (on the screen) and the device pointing the way in seconds. Things have really moved on in recent years and the entry level eTrex with monochrome screen is so dowdy and slow to punch grid references into whilst out in the field.

If you want a device with OS mapping, you now need to decide whether you want a touch screen model or one that requires you to press buttons to make it work. I can definitely use the whole Garmin range using winter gloves though it takes a bit of getting used to so don’t be put off using a touch screen for this reason.

You can attend one of our half dayGPS training sessions and try out a range of devices, touch screen or buttons, big and small (and some in between).

Here are some facts about sizes and battery life:

Of the models listed above, only the eTrex 10 does not have the capacity to use additional mapping.

A lot of retailers will sell GPS devices as a “bundle” with a mapping chip.

At the time of writing GO Outdoors have an offer on most of their GPS devices e.g.:
Montana 600 (becoming obsolete) with full 1:50 U.K. mapping £299
Oregon 650 with full 1:50 U.K. mapping £369
Etrex 25 (touch) from £199 with full 1:50 U.K. mapping
Etrex 20, £145 with full 1:50 U.K. mapping


Touch Screens:
I personally believe that the Montana is too big and heavy and the Dakota is too old a model with not enough memory. 

So given a choice between the Oregon 650’s and the eTrex Touches I would go for the slightly bigger screen of the 650’s, and if you can afford it go for the 650t a great device. 

If you do decide on an eTex Touch, the 35 is the better model having the ability to transfer data wirelessly and with a barometric altimeter.

Button Devices:

If all you want from your device is a grid reference to confirm you position then obviously the Etrex 10 is the way to go.

If you are wanting a device with mapping, I personally believe that the screen on the eTrex is too small.  That said I do need reading glasses and prefer large print!

This leaves us with a hard decision between the Garmin 64’s and the SatMap Active 12. Both of these devices have passionate devotees! I can see strengths and weakness’ in both. 

I love the way the SatMap has a red circle around your position on the Map but it’s direction pointer when navigating is all over the place. 

Conversely I love the navigation compass page on the Garmins but hate the triangle that obscures your position on the map!  One thing I would say is that they are very different devices and some people find the “logic” of the SatMap less intuitive making it more difficult to use.

In terms of robustness, there is no doubt that the Garmins are sturdier than the SatMap which requires an additional cover (purchase) to bring it up to the same standard of water resistance of the Garmins.
In the end it’s a matter of personal choice.  Any of these models will do the job. Read the manufacturers specifications, which are available online. Once you have decided whether you want mapping or not, either come on one of our courses to try them out or go to a reputable retailer and try them out.  Don’t be swayed by pushy sales staff expressing an opinion, go for the one that you find easy or straightforward to use.

If after reading this you still have questions about which device, feel free to email us at Peak Navigation Courses.

Jane and Mike have been running Peak Navigation Courses since 2004. They are both qualified International Mountain Leaders regularly leading walking holidays both in the U.K. and overseas.


Saturday, 31 October 2015

AZ Adventures 1:25000 scale maps for walkers

Only a few minutes before the start of our last First Steps to Map Reading course, Mike walked into the training room with a small package. "You might like this" he said, passing it over to me. On opening I discovered 2 AZ Adventures booklets of 1:25000 Peak District mapping, together with case and lanyard.

Thanks to the wonders of social media, I had been offered these to review.  During this particular course, I talk about the various mapping options available to walkers, and had often mentioned the AZ maps, but never actually bought one.  I included them in the list that morning, and the group of relatively experienced walkers were quite impressed, and I have to say so were we.

1:25000 Ordnance Survey mapping for walkersSo what makes AZ Adventures different?  The most obvious is that in keeping with AZ a pedigree, these are uniquely in a book or atlas format, which means no wrangling with large cumbersome maps, a wonderful bonus when it is blowing a gale out in the hill. This does mean you have to flick over the pages occasionally, but there is a reasonable overlap and the pages to look for are well marked.  There is also a detailed key, again much easier to use than on a big map, which I have to confess I have not looked at in detail for quite a while.  The area covered by each of the booklets is similar to the Ordnance Survey Explorer White and Dark Peak maps, but with a generous 5km overlap, which means that although our village is still only on the White Peak map, Eyam moor, where we visit regularly is on both.

The second unique feature for me is the presence of an index - if you know where you want to go this is a really useful feature - so the somewhat obscure hamlet of Bretton, with just 4 houses, a pub is included, as is the youth hostel and Abney Low, a small hill nearby.  The index includes not only page details, but also a grid reference, just to confirm you have it right; all really useful and easy to use.  Also at the back of the atlas are a couple of pages of safety advice for walkers and off road cyclists.

AZ Adventures Atlas Peak DistrictThe paper and print quality in our copies was really good, making the mapping easier to read than our standard OS Explorer maps.  The booklet fitted really well into the purpose designed map case (perhaps just a little too well, as we struggled to get it out!). The case would I am sure keep the map dry in most conditions, our only quibble really being that when using it with a compass, it wasn't quite 'sticky' enough for the compass not to slide around.

This leads to our only real criticism of the AZ product; the print didn't quite line up between pages, so if you are using a compass to get a bearing or measuring distance on the map, you would find using the the atlas format more difficult and certainly less precise. This is particularly the case if the two points are on different pages, when in certain cases taking a bearing would be impossible.

So in conclusion; we really like the AZ Adventure atlases, and would definitely use them out on the hill, but not in situations where we planned to do some complicated navigation - for that sadly the big cumbersome map sheets, folded precisely to where we want to go, will have to prevail.

Thanks again to AZ for sending us the maps. We were given copies of the Peak District White and Dark Peak atlas, but the comprehensive series covers most of the popular walking areas of the UK and some long distance trails. They can be bought at most outdoor retailers or from AZ themselves price £7.95

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Learning Map Reading and Navigation

Map Reading and Navigation Courses

Being able to navigate accurately through the countryside, moorland and mountains is an essential skill that all walkers should have if they want to stay safe.

Navigation Training on Eyam Moor

Looking at the different maps for walkers
Having the ability to look at a map and plan a route, knowing what the map is telling you about the terrain and having a good idea of how long it will take to walk the route are good map reading skills.  Navigating efficiently around the planned route takes the skills on a stage further.

All of these skills can be self taught through books, videos and practice. However learning from experts can give you added knowledge and the benefit of years of experience and topical advice (i.e. which way to get out of the car park or what to do when the map shows one path but on the ground there are two).

Successfully Using a Compass to Navigate
At Peak NavigationCourses we have a range of courses to help people improve their skills whether starting from scratch (our 1st Steps Course) to those who are already an expert navigator (Navigation Masterclass). With several courses in between.

Our one day “1stSteps to Map Reading and Navigation Course” starts by assuming you know little or nothing!  Through the course of the day we give you an understanding of maps and which maps are most appropriate for walkers.  We show you how to plan a route, knowing how far it is and how long it will take to walk. We teach you how to use a compass and by the end of the day we leave you with the ability to cross open moorland.

After the course, we send you some practice routes so that you can go and practice the skills learnt on the day with an offer from us that should you have forgotten any of the techniques you can come back and spend some revision time with us.

Jane and Mike havebeen running Peak Navigation Courses since 2004. They are both qualified International Mountain Leaders regularly leading walking holidays both in the U.K. and overseas.

1st Steps to Map Reading and Navigation;
Navigation for Mature Walkers;
Moving onto Moorland;
Night (and Poor Visibility) Navigation;
Advanced Moorland Navigation; 
Navigation Masterclass;    and
National Navigation Awards.

Peak Navigation Courses also provide GPS Navigation Training on a 1:1 basis.

Night Navigation Courses

Night Navigation Courses

Being caught out whilst walking either in the dark or in the mist can be a frightening experience unless you have learnt the skills and strategies to cope with such eventualities.

The Joys of Night Navigation Practice

Trig Points make a good map table
Of course being able to map read and navigate using a map and compass are essential skills for safe walking the hills and mountains. It is only a short step from being a competent daytime navigator to being able to cope with navigating in poor visibility.  Also, like with any skill set, it is a good idea to get out and practice occasionally to ensure that you still have the confidence to navigate in the dark or the mist.

Anyway, Night Navigation is fun and certainly a good alternative to staying in and watching t.v.!!

Challenging Moorland on "Big Moor"
With the nights drawing in, Peak Navigation Courses have a programme of short evening courses aimed at teaching the skills to navigate in poor visibility and to give you the confidence to safely navigate at night.  These short courses, 6.30pm till 10pm cover a range of strategies for navigating in poor visibility including various uses of a compass, timing, pacing, various ways of following a bearing, aiming off, etc.

To make the most of this course, it is best if you already have some experience of how to use a compass.

The Night (and PoorVisibility) Course is only one of a set of courses developed by Peak Navigation Courses.  Other courses include:

Peak Navigation Courses also provide GPS Navigation Training on a 1:1 basis.
Practice in the dark will give you confidence when the mist comes down!

Jane and Mike have been running Peak Navigation Courses since 2004. They are both qualified International Mountain Leaders regularly leading walking holidays both in the U.K. and overseas.