Navigation Basics


Navigation Basics

There are many situations in which knowing how to navigate is important. In any emergency, roads may be clogged, unsafe, or completely destroyed. In a wilderness setting, there won’t be any roads: just open country to traverse. And even in a grid-up situation, you may have need to travel cross-country to avoid detection.

Any way you look at it, navigation is a critical skill. In this blog, we’ll look at the basic elements of navigation and discuss some of the tools we can purchase – or improvise – to make navigation easier.

Know Your Land

The first and most important tenet of navigation is to know your land. Know the land around your home, your work, and any other locations you frequent. When you travel to a new area, take the time to learn the lay of the land.

This can be done in many ways, but what we’re talking about it basic orienteering. Where I live, there is a small valley leading south from my home. A click or two south, it joins a creek that sweeps west and then north to a large reservoir about 10 miles away. To the south and east, rolling hills jumble together in a confusing array — I don’t fancy trying to travel cross country through there. And to the north, over a few bands of hills, a broad valley stretches away for many kilometers.

I know this by studying maps, paying attention while flying on airplanes and enjoying the view from mountain peaks, and simply paying attention to the land as I go about my day.

Navigation Aids

The most important navigation aid is the land itself. Again; learn your land, and pay attention. If you live along the flanks of a big mountain range or valley, you should know the orientation of these land features. Landmarks like this are the easiest way to navigate.

The next most important navigation aid is the sun. It always rises in the east and sets in the west, but the exact position will vary throughout the course of the year. In the summer, the sun may appear directly overhead at noon, while in the winter, it will point south at it’s zenith.

After these basic aids, we can talk about man-made tools like compasses and GPS units. These technologies are worth buying and learning to use, but have flaws: magnetic anomalies and incorrect declination settings can make a compass useless, and GPS is just a paperweight if the batteries die or there is no reception.

We’ll discuss more about how to use a compass in a future article.

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