Six Steps to Becoming a Better Navigator

By Mark Sembrat

Step 1 – Pay more attention to everyday navigation tasks.

  • What’s the feel of the route?
  • How long until your next action point?
  • What do you look for to know you’re en route?
  • What do you look for that alerts you to an upcoming action point?
  • Pay extra attention when going someplace new or when you make a navigation error.

Step 2 – Learn to read maps

  • Visualize topography using various types of maps.
  • Locate action points.
  • Get the “feel” of the route from the information on the map.
  • Use a map as you navigate.
  • Ask where am I, and what happens next?

Step 3 – Learn to make a navigation story

  • Combine a starting point, route feel, action-point predictors, and action points into the “story” you plan to follow.
  • When you are first learning this skill, it may be useful to write or sketch your story.

Step 4 – Learn to use your navigation story

  • Learn to follow your story as you travel along your route. (You may want to pull out your map and notes to refresh your memory of the story as you go along.)
  • Learn to recognize when your story goes bad …

Step 5 – Build a toolkit of navigation skills and techniques

Learn to …

  • Recognize terrain features on a topographic map
  • Orient your map using the terrain and your compass
  • Use your GPS and plot the resulting coordinates
  • Use your altimeter to determine your location
  • Use your compass to determine your location
  • Work with speed, distance, and time

Step 6 – Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Take both real and virtual hikes to improve your map skills.
  • Go to lots of new places, by road, by trail, and by cross country.
  • Return to Step 1, keep paying attention, keep learning.