In a world where every smartphone manufactured in more than the past decade has built-in GPS capabilities, basic wilderness land navigation is a skill that most people don’t think too much about. There are apps for every popular mobile device platform that will allow you to enter a set of coordinates and get step-by-step directions on how to get from here to there.
But GPS satellites do go offline, and require extensive ground support to stay accurate. And—most importantly—smartphones, GPS receivers, and other electronic devices require regular recharging. What would happen if you lost access to technology that would guide you out of the middle of nowhere and back to safety? Would you be able to use a compass and a map to orient yourself, find your location, and then move from one point to another with consistent accuracy?
Even low-tech basic land navigation requires tools, but only three of them—a basic orienteering compass, a topographic map (preferably laminated or sealed in plastic), and a pencil or dry erase marker.
Orient your map by laying it on as level a surface as you can find. Look for the North Declination line, which is usually going to be located near the map’s legend. Once you’ve found that, place your compass on the map with the edge of the compass aligned with the magnetic north line on the map. Then, keeping the compass and the map oriented together, turn the whole map until the compass arrow is pointing north. The map will now be facing in the correct direction.
To locate your position on the map, orient the map and look for a terrain feature (a hill, etc.) to your left. Locate the same feature on the map, and with the edge of the compass aligned through its center, draw a line between the feature and your direction from it. Repeat the process using a terrain feature off to your right. The point at which the two lines cross is your location.
Next, find your first grid coordinate on the right side of the map, even with the square containing your location. Then find the second coordinate along the bottom of the map in the same way. That will give you the four-digit grid coordinate. This will allow you to chart paths from grid point to grid point on the map, toward your destination and around any obstacles. Reorienting yourself, if necessary, is as simple as orienting the map and then proceeding along the indicated line of travel.
To your survival,