Written by 2:15 pm Wilderness Navigation Masters

21) How to hike using a compass – Outdoor Navigation

(Last Updated On: June 28, 2021)

[/su_note]Hello and welcome to this lesson of the online course Wilderness Navigation Masters, where you will learn how to navigate using a compass.

This is another exciting lesson, where we will apply all that we’ve learned in this module, especially the bearing technics, to navigate with the help of a compass.

I’m not sure if you know that it’s difficult for us humans to walk in a straight line without tools, but it’s the case. When we walk, we tend to deviate a little bit unintentionally.

Before I show you how to navigate using a compass, let me show you first these three differents scenarios to explain to you how we navigate in the wilderness.

CASE #1: ENOUGH DISTINGUISHABLE LANDMARKS

The first thing we should do to hike from point A to this little mountain top is to know the bearing from the map.

Most of the time, when we start walking, we will face obstacles like trees, lakes, mountains, etc that will force us to deviate from our intended route.

The second thing we have to make sure of after we deviate from our walking line is to get back to it because if we don’t, we will be walking parallel to our intended route and we will miss our arrival point and get lost.

CASE #2: NO LANDMARKS

The second scenario is when we don’t have any landmark to use like in a desert or by night, and we are just following a straight bearing line.

Following a bearing:

Pros:

  • Useful when we don’t have any distinguishable landmarks to use.

Cons:

  • Not that accurate.
  • You are forced to have a big-enough, easy-to-see arrival point, like a mountain, etc … and the more you walk, the more this inaccuracy gets bigger.

For that, I’ve recommended you in one of the previous lessons to search for linear landmarks intersections when you plan for your trip.

Because, if you tend to deviate to your right when you are walking when you use an intersection, you correct this inaccuracy.

The more you do these intersection corrections, this “following a bearing” inaccuracy gets little and little.

 

CASE #3: TOO MANY SIMILAR LANDMARKS

If you are in a dense forest, a problem that you will have is walking by trees, and if you do it every time only by one side, by the right side, for example, you will deviate too much from your intended route.

So, what you should do is to walk by the right one time then you do the opposite, which is walk the next tree by the left side.

RECAP

That’s all the three different scenarios I’ve wanted to explain to you, and if we recap.

  • You’ve learned that we tend to deviate when we try to walk in a straight line, even we don’t want to.
  • You’ve learned that when you get around obstacles by the side, you have to get back to your intended route or you will not arrive at your destination.
  • The third thing you did learn, is when you are following a bearing, you have to use linear landmarks intersections to correct your walking inaccuracy.
  • The last thing you did learn till now, is that, when you have too many similar landmarks like trees in your way, you have to walk by the opposite side each time in order to stay at your route.

MAJOR TWO OBSTACLES:

Like you see, the two obstacles that you will face consistently when you try to navigate using a compass is:

  • How to not deviate from your route when you follow a bearing?
  • And how to get back to your intended route, when you get around an obstacle by the side.

Now, let me dive deeper into the different techniques that will help you with these two obstacles.

 

SIDE STEPS COUNTING TECHNIQUE

The first technique that I want you to master is the side steps counting technique.

Like we’ve seen before when you get around an obstacle by the left or by the right, you have to get back to your intended route, in order to arrive at your destination.

But, how to do that when you are alone and you have a mountain as an obstacle?

This is when this technique becomes useful.

This technique consists of stoping before you arrive at your mountain, for example, you take left or right turn, and you start walking and counting your steps, till you don’t still have the obstacle in the parallel line to your intended route, and you follow it.

If you counted 70 steps to your right, when you walk following this parallel line to your intended route and you don’t still have the mountain to your left, you take a left turn and start counting again 70 steps to get back to your intended route.

To clarify more what I’ve just said, I have this illustration for you.

As you see, if you are walking following a bearing of 50°, when you want to turn to your left, you have to add 90° to your foreward bearing value (If this sum is greater than 360 degrees, subtract 360 degrees from this sum).

Then you walk following your initial foreward bearing, to walk parallel to your intended bearing.

When you want to turn to your right to go back to your intended route, you don’t subtract, you add (because a bearing is always going clockwise) 270° to your direct bearing value. Again, if this sum is greater than 360 degrees, subtract 360 degrees from this sum.

If you counted 70 steps when you take the right turn, and you counted again 70 when you did take the left turn, you are now supposed to be on your intended route. All you have to do is to orient yourself again with the first bearing, which is 50° in this case.

That’s all for the side steps counting technique. But before I move to the next technique, I still have two clarifications that I want you to know about.

In the wilderness, sometimes, the topography may be limiting you to take a left of a right turn and start counting your steps till you don’t still have the obstacle in the parallel line of your intended route.

  • Clarification #1

All you have to do is to count your steps each time you walk perpendicular to your intended route, and when you start walking in the opposite direction, you count till you have a difference of 0 steps.

I think you get my idea.

  • Clarification #2

The second thing I want to clarify is to not forget that walking uphill is making your steps a little bit shorter than if you walk on flat terrain, so take that into consideration when you try to get back to your intended route.

 

BACK BEARING TECHNIQUE

  • Landmark before the obstacle:

For the same obstacle, which is getting back to your intended route when you get around an obstacle by the side, I have another solution for you.

This solution consists of using the back-bearing technique.

When you want to get around an obstacle like a lake and you have a landmark on your intended route before the obstacle.

All you have to do to get back to your intended route after you get around your obstacle is to shoot a back bearing at this landmark and correct your position.

After you do that, you can continue walking to your destination following your foreward bearing.

If you don’t have a landmark before the obstacle that you can use, and you have another person with you, you can ask him to be this landmark before the obstacle, and you do the job of getting around the obstacle by the side, then correct your position by shooting a back-bearing at this person.

Or, YOU stay as a landmark before the obstacle, and you ask the other person to get around the obstacle by the side, then you correct his position using your hands or by voice commands, with the help of the foreward bearing.

As you see, this back-bearing technique is very useful when you can see behind the obstacle.

  • Following a bearing:

You can use it also when you try to walk in a straight line and you want to verify that you are still at it.

All you have to do is to turn your back and shoot a back bearing at the landmark that you started at, and verify your position, if you found that you are not in line with your intended route, you move right or left till you get back at it.

 

  • Landmark behind the obstacle:

If you spot a landmark behind your obstacle that is at the same time on your intended route, all you have to do is to make sure that you will still distinguish it when you try to arrive at it.

RECAP

Till now you must be able to know how to get around an obstacle by the side, in different cases :

  • When you have a distinguished landmark that you can use before the obstacle, you get to the other side, then you fix your position with a back bearing.
  • When you have an obstacle without any distinguished landmark before of after it, but you have a companion, you ask him to create a before obstacle landmark for you and you get around the obstacle and fix your inaccuracy with a back bearing at him, or you ask him to get around the obstacle and you fix his position with a foreward bearing. But you must be able to guarantee that both of you stay visible to each other.
  • When you have a landmark on the other side of the obstacle, and on your intended route at the same time. You get around the obstacle and arrive at it before you continue walking following your forward bearing.

That’s all for how to get around an obstacle and get back to your intended route using a compass.

Now, let’s see how to overcome the second obstacle of walking in a straight line when you are following a bearing.

 

TEAMWORK WALK TECHNIQUE:

One of the reasons I recommend you to hike with a companion is to be able to walk in a straight line with the help of this person.

This may be not clear for you, you may not understand what I did just say. For that, let me introduce you to the teamwork walk technique.

  • Two-person situation:

Imagine yourself in a desert, with another person, and you know that walking following a bearing is not accurate enough in your situation.

All you have to do is to ask the other person to stay in place, you walk following a direct bearing as much as you can, till the limit of staying visible to the other person, then you stop.

To correct your deviation from your intended route, if the other person has a compass and knows how to use it, he shoots also the same bearing you did follow walking, then he can correct your position by hand movements or voice commands.

If he doesn’t know how to use a compass or he doesn’t have one, you can correct your position by shooting a back bearing at him.

The downside of this technique is that you will lose time because each time one of you will be waiting for the other to arrive.

  • Three-person technique:

But if you have a third person, you can gain a little bit of time if two of you walks away following a bearing, when they reach the visibility limit to the first person, one of them stop to fix his deviation and the other one continue walking till he reaches also the visibility limit, not the first person but to the one, he walked with.

At this time, the first one who stopped walking will be corrected his deviation and are caught by the hiker who was waiting, and you repeat that.

The downside of this technique is that you have to be a group of three-person minimum. But using it, you may earn a little bit of time compared to the first version.

EXERCISES

Now let me give you some exercises, that you have to practice outside, to make sure that you will remember what you’ve just learned in this lesson.

Exercise #1
  1. Go outside and search for open space. Mark your starting point with something like a backpack or anything else to have a starting landmark.
  2. Walk away following a bearing, and count your steps, let’s say you did 70 steps.
  3. Turn your back and verify that you are still on your intended route by shooting a back bearing.
  4. Walk back to your starting point by following a back bearing and try to stick your eyes to your feet and your compass to not cheat unintentionally.

The closer you are to your starting landmark, the more accurate your wilderness navigation skills.

SHOW ANSWER

 

Exercise #2

The second exercise is, in the same open space:

  1. Imagine an obstacle, like a swamp.
  2. Mark your starting position with the help of a backpack for example.
  3. Take a left turn to get around the obstacle, as we’ve seen before.
  4. Walk for 100 steps, then follow the parallel line to your intended route
  5. Turn to the right, and walk for another 100 steps to get back to your intended route and stop.
  6. Turn to your backpack, and shoot a back bearing, to see how much your counting is accurate.
SHOW ANSWER

 

Exercise #3
  1. In the same open space area, I want you to mark your starting position on the ground using a coin, stick, etc.
  2. Set your compass at 180°, and walk following this bearing for 70 steps, then stop.
  3. Set your compass again at 270°, and walk another 50 steps and stop.
  4. Now, set your compass at 45°, and walk for 50 steps and stop. At this stage, you should complete this triangle and return to your starting point. The more accurate your navigation skills are, the closer you should be to your starting point.
  • Optional: If you want to raise the challenge, try to complete the same triangle again in less time.
SHOW ANSWER

 

 

That’s all for this lesson as you see, it’s dense in information lesson. So, I advise you to watch it more than one time before you try to practice it.

Like I say always if you have a question, do not hesitate to leave it in the comments section below, you may have an answer from me or the other students.

Thank you and see you in the next lesson.

Last modified: June 28, 2021

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