Navigation using the 5D`s

Navigation using the 5D`s

What is Navigation?

The process or activity of accurately ascertaining one's position and planning and following a route. 

Should we always be looking down at a map on a walk? Staring at a compass needle?  

Of course not, we should be looking up, taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying our surroundings. After all, that is what we go walking for. That is what  draws us to the great outdoors.

But what if we neglect to navigate safely, or we simply do not have the skills?

Statistically at least half of all mountain rescue call outs are due to a navigational error, or hill walkers not taking any navigational aids into the mountains with them.

This is a worrying statistic, and one that Mountain Rescue are keen to eliminate!

Navigating with a paper map and compass is not the dark art that people think it is. Once the necessary skills have been attained through self development or attending a training course, it really is a great tool to have at your disposal.

Once you have planned your walk and equipped yourself with map and compass, navigation can be broken down into 5 stages. Or the 5 D`s as they are affectionately known among navigators.

  1. Distance
  2. Direction
  3. Duration 
  4. Destination 
  5. Description/Dangers


How far is the full route? Also it is helpful to break it down in to smaller sections (legs). If your route is planned then you should have an idea of the distance you will travel. This is important to know, especially at times of the year when days are shorter and darkness falls quite quickly. Knowing different map scales is an important part of measuring distances on a map. 

Direction: It is very easy at the start of a walk to head in completely the wrong direction. I have done it myself (a long time ago)! The excitement of getting started and the views around can you be be a distraction. Take the time to set your map (orientate it) before leaving the car park, and keep it set each time you need to use it.Setting the map is simply relating it to your surroundings. This can be done visually, or in poor visibility by using the magnetic needle on your compass.

Duration: How long will each leg take you? Also it is useful to know the duration of the full walk so you can inform others of your intended return time. Knowing how fast you walk in different conditions and terrain is a useful skill that when combined with distance measuring is a really accurate time management tool. Knowing your duration will also set off the alarm bells if you are still walking 10 minutes after you expected to be at a path junction or approaching a valley!

Destination: Keep your navigation legs simple and have obvious features as destinations. For example head from the car park to the footbridge over the river. From the footbridge head to the path junction where it splits into three paths. Having obvious features as targets reduces the risk of missing your destination or mistaking it for something else. Techniques such as aiming off and catching features will aid you here.

Description: Finally the last piece of your navigational jigsaw is the description of the terrain you will be crossing. What (if any) obstacles/dangers will you encounter? Does your route include a steep ascent or a scree riddled descent? (trust me these are no fun!) Understanding map symbols and being able to interpret land features and contours will help greatly with this.

I have not touched on compass bearings on the above techniques because on a clear day using the above strategies you would be hard pushed to deploy your compass. That is not to say you do not need one of course. However, we do not head to the mountains to walk on compass bearings or count our paces across featureless terrain. Most stick to paths that are clearly marked on the map and following the techniques mentioned you will not go far wrong. 


At NavTrek we teach all of the above skills on our navigation courses, we also teach how to use your compass effectively with your map for when the mist rolls in and you cannot see the end of your nose. We are in the UK after all!

What is Navigation?

The process or activity of accurately ascertaining one's position and planning and following a route. 

The dictionary really undersells navigation! It is fun skill and can open up a whole new dimension to your walks. Can you really afford to leave home without it?


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