We have gone through all the basic knowledge and skills you need to get outside and give it a go, which is exactly what we are going to do. You can only learn so much from reading and watching so now is the time to get out and put that knowledge to the test and get used to using the map out on the ground.

We are going to start off very simple. One of the hardest things to learn when reading the map is visualising the map and translating what’s on the ground to what’s on the map. For some people it comes easily, for the rest of us we have to put a bit of work in to get comfortable and quick with it. We have learned just enough skills to get out there safely and practice this essential skill before adding other skills and trying to learn too much as once. Map visualisation is one of the most useful skills in navigation so lets get that dialled before we move on.

Your Challenge

Your challenge is to plan and complete a route of your choosing using just a map. The aim is not to create a really hard route but the exact opposite, we are looking to create a route with as easy navigation as we can so that we can take the time to get the most out of it.

You can do this challenge as many times as you want, either on the same route or different routes. Remember the aim is to become proficient in reading a map and visualising the area around you so if it is proving challenging then you may need to do it a few times to really get the grasp on the skill. Remember to ask any questions at the bottom if you are having any problems.

Step 1: Plan your route

So the first thing we need to do is to plan a route. As I mentioned above the route does not have to be very hard or indeed very long, nor does it even have to be on an official walking map, it could just be a local map of your town. As long as whatever you are using has the characteristics of a map as in it tries to represent the land around you on paper then you will still be able to get something out of going outside and practising. That being said, if you have a properly printed map like an Ordnance survey map then it will help you in the future as you start to use them.

Get out a map of the area you want to walk in and have a look around for a route you could take. You can choose what you want to do, it could be walking on the roads in town for a kilometre or two or you could go to the hills and follow a distinguished footpath for a day. Whatever you choose to remember your Emergency procedures and if you go anywhere remote then tell someone where you are going and/or take someone with you.

Ideally, you are looking for a route with lots of features on the map and ground, nice and close together so for this exercise a more built-up area could be better than featureless open moorland.


Step 2: Separate your route into legs

Now we have a route you now want to separate it into manageable legs. A leg of a route can be anything from 50 meters to a few kilometres but for this exercise we are going to try and keep them nice and short to make the most of our time practising. Separate the legs either by a turning you have to make or a large feature on the ground.

Step 3: Get out there and practice

So now we have a route planned and divided into legs we are going to get out there and practice our skills. We are going to do this by going through a series of techniques on each of our legs, it will probably take a while and be slow going which is why a short route is good.

So when you first set out and on each subsequent leg you should follow this procedure:

  1. Orientate your map
  2. Check your direction, which way you should be going
  3. Look for Collecting Features along the leg, try to find as many as you can on the map.
  4. Find a Couple of Catching Features to stop you from walking too far.
  5. Keep track of where you are by either thumbing or marking the map at each feature you see along the way. Use these features to keep on track so you don’t go off route, the closer the features are together then the less chance you have of going off track.
  6. At the end of the leg, confirm your location. This could be as simple as ‘I am next to the church at the end of my leg’ or it may be you have to look around for a couple of features around you to confirm where you are. Either way always double check your location before moving onto the next leg.

Repeat these steps for each leg on your route, try and get as much out of the map as you can, look for different types of features and generally mix it up as much as you can to get used to spotting different features and constantly confirming your location. Take your time, see if you can spot features that perhaps aren’t on your route just for some extra practice.

Remember the aim of the exercise is to get comfortable relating the map to the ground and vice versa. If you find yourself struggling then maybe you have picked a difficult area or just need some more practice, either way, if you have any questions then please ask below.

Got a Question?

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Use the comments section below to let us know what your thinking and we'll get back to you as soon as were back from the mountain!

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