Using a map and compass. My preference.

May 9, 2018

With the rapid growth and use of technology I can’t help but worry about the use of traditional map and compass. There is little doubt that more people are exploring our higher lands armed only with a handheld Gps or a mapping software on their phone.

Wild Boar Fell

Viewranger seems the most popular at the present time.

The route you wish to take can be easily downloaded on to the device (phone or gps). It is then followed slavishly for the day. Finding your way around any big city using a Sat Nav is very similar. Maybe it is true you are unlikely to get lost. Having a mapping app is better than nothing. However when the cloud descends and you lose the path it is very easy to lose confidence and panic.

8 Reasons why I use paper maps and a compass

  1.  Satellites fail, batteries run out, phones get wet and at times technology fails. It is a fact that many people become lost on the mountain because their technology has let them down. They simply do not know how to navigate without it.
  2. The screen is too small. Even the largest phone can only represent a very small part of the landscape. To gain any idea of scale and perspective you need something bigger. I am not suggesting everyone comes out armed with an ipad – no point in looking ridiculous.
  3. Using technology requires a route to be pre-set as it is impossible to look at the overall outdoors area on such a small screen. Personally I often decide that I want to extend or shorten the walk, include the next mountain because I am feeling fit or I just fancy a change of route. It is easy to see the alternatives on a paper map. It is impossible whilst squinting at a phone or other gps device.
  4. Maps offer something to look at whilst on a stop. Whether picnics, viewing or simply waiting for others looking at a map offers something entertaining to do.
  5. Maps will make you look around and appreciate the scenery more. It will make you more observant and integrated in to the walk. Following a prescribed route somehow divorces you from it.
  6. Planning the walk. There is nothing like spreading a map out the day before a walk and looking for the best walks. Just use the map to imagine the landscape, it takes practice but is immensely satisfying.
  7. Just being able to follow a bearing on a compass will nearly always get you out of trouble.
  8. The Mountain Rescue teams recommend you always take a map and compass. They also say you must be able to use them!
Enjoying views over Derwentwater
Enjoying views over Derwentwater

Problems of using a map and compass

  • Maps are unwieldy, hard to fold in the wind and get wet. Yes the Ordnance Survey do have waterproof maps but it is a little like taking out a brick
  • Maps have too much detail and can be difficult to read. This is particularly true when age brings a deterioration in the eyes. .
  • You have to learn to read a map and use a compass. There is no point in having them unless one can use them. One of the Mountain Rescue lads I know becomes utterly frustrated by lost walkers proudly announcing they are carrying a map but have no idea how to use it.
  • They are old fashioned and in this age of technology many cannot see beyond technology.

Each of these reasons have a certain validity (some more than others) but there are things you can do to alleviate them.

Learn a Skill weekend
Learn a Skill weekend

1. Take a Navigational Course:

Many people avoid the mountains because they cannot read a map and use a compass (as a result they graduate to mapping and GPS technology solutions). They feel (correctly if they are on longer and remote walks) that they should not be walking our mountainous areas without the ability to use a map and recover if they become lost.

My suggestion is that they should practice close to home: buy a map of their home territory and go outside and use it! A bit of practice will overcome the fear of the unknown and many people will be competent and comfortable with maps from then

Alternatively book a Navigation Course. I have been holding 1 day Beginner and Intermediate Courses in the Dales for many years. My philosophy has always been to give people the confidence t go further than they have been in the past.

Harvey Maps
Harvey Maps

2. Start using Harvey maps:

Harvey maps are excellent: they are designed for walkers.

  • They only include key navigational features: contours, paths, boundaries
  • There is a mix of 1.25k and 1.40k maps. The 1.40k in particular are useful for those irritated by O/S maps that do not cover the areas they want, Harvey maps are produced to include the most popular walking areas.
  • They use waterproof as standard but slim, robust and lightweight.

Try them. I still teach on O/S 1.25k Explorer maps which I think are excellent and a great way to learn. However I must admit to using Harvey maps whilst out on my own.

I love the fells, why shouldn’t everybody?

Enjoy your walking


Navigation Day near Settle
Navigation Day near Settle

Enjoy your walking


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