We’re all well aware that navigation isn’t one of our strong points. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple months studying maps and trails. I have sought out GPS waypoints and tracks from all corners of the internet to see where people before us have gone. However, I know from our experiences last year that looking at maps in the comfort of home isn’t always the same as knowing which way to turn or where we are when we’re actually out on the trail. Fortunately, our most serious misstep ended up having us about 2 miles down the horse trail at Bryce Canyon.
This year we’re planning to be a bit more adventurous. Some of the places we’re planning to go actually don’t even have trails! We agreed pretty early on that at least one of us should probably learn how to use a map and compass before embarking as a backup to the [amazon text=GPS unit&asin=B00AXUXRVG] that we’ll carry. I was happy to take on the responsibility and earlier this week attended REI’s Map and Navigation Basics class.
When I entered the classroom I was directed to a seat with the spread of maps and other handouts pictured above. We went around the room and introduced ourselves and why we were there. The most interesting fellow attendee was a woman a bit younger than me who was there because she was going hiking in Utah. Her mom had told her she had to take the class before she went, and mom even came along – I assume to make sure she actually showed up. The first hour of the class was on map reading. As a physics teacher I usually spend at least a bit of time talking to my students about equipotential lines so I already felt pretty comfortable with reading a topographical map. I was glad to find out that I’d been doing that correctly though.
The second hour is where things got interesting for me since the focus shifted to reading a compass and using a compass with a map for navigation. It turned out that the [amazon text=compass&asin=B000FEXZH6] we bought for last year was perfect for our needs. It also turned out that I really didn’t know anything at all about how to use it. We’d used it a bit last year to figure out which way North was. I’m glad to say though that now we should be able to do all sorts of crazy fun things: finding a bearing, following a bearing, orientating our maps, adjusting for declination, and much more. I’m still hopeful that our GPS will get us through most of what we’re planning, but it’s nice to know that we have a backup!