So with this week being National Map Reading Week (16-22 Oct 17) I thought I’d highlight the importance of such basic skills that seem to fading away with the rise of the machine (ok terminator references maybe a bit dramatic but you get my point). Being competent at navigation or map reading however you chose to describe it enables you to fully enjoy the world around you, escape the usual well signposted tourist paths and explore the mountains, woodland & moorland with confidence. Maps in their many different forms inspire adventure and give us all the information we need to plan and enjoy our journey. Used correctly we can enjoy childlike adventures and explore much more freely.
Why Use Maps in this day and age?
You don’t have to search hard online to find various reports on Mountain Rescue Teams (MRT) being called out to assist people off the hills due to geographical embarrassment after their mobile phones failed or died. The number of call outs of this nature is growing at an alarming rate and it’s not likely to slow down either; with our ever increasing reliance on technology and the decreasing age at which we start to become accustomed to it. Don’t get me wrong our wonderful little devices are amazing tools/aids to navigation and used correctly can get us out of some very sticky situations, but, and it’s a big but, they are far from infallible, even dedicated GPS devices fail at times.
Advantages of Map & Compass
The use of a Map and Compass has many advantages over smartphones and GPS devices:
· They don’t rely on a signal or satellites.
· They don’t have batteries that run out.
· More fun to use.
· Provides a greater sense of achievement (when you get it right).
· You can relate map to ground and identify/appreciate the land around you much more, this isn’t so easy to see on a small screen.
· Amazing sense of adventure for children (and grownups).
· If you know how to use them correctly you’re less likely to do the walk of shame whilst being escorted by a MRT.
Advantages of Electronic Devices
Smartphones, Handheld GPS, Wristwatch GPS and similar electronic devices all have their place in the navigation world. There is a reason they were invented after all and though I mention their infallibility above they do have some great advantages over the traditional map and compass:
· They come into their own in low visibility, though there are ways to navigate in fog and cloud etc. electronic devices can really help in these kinds of situations.
· Great for visualising the ground when loaded with 3D mapping.
· Brilliant for finding your grid reference (location for non-map folk) on those occasions when you need that little extra confidence.
You will notice I didn’t list any disadvantages for either of the above and there is a simple reason for that; the best practice is to use both, the advantages of one cancels out the disadvantages of the other and vice versa. For example, when you really can’t locate yourself on the map for whatever reason then break out your smartphone, find your grid reference relate that to the map and carry on with that and the compass. Not only will you save your phone battery for real emergencies should they arise (ones you won’t be embarrassed about when telling the grandkids) but you will also gain more confidence using the traditional methods and therefore enjoy it more along the way.
How can I learn?
There are a number of ways to learn map reading skills from teaching yourself with online learning to attending dedicated training and courses delivered by professionals. It really depends on how much and how you want to learn, but however you do it nothing beats physical practice, get out and enjoy it.
There are literally 100’s of sites with varying degrees of good material to learn from and a quick Google search will find plenty of them. But probably the most authorative and best in my opinion is the Ordnance Survey website which has loads of guides from beginner to advanced.
YouTube is another great source of learning material for navigation, again Ordnance Survey have a dedicated channel with videos presented by none other than the amazing TV Adventure Guru himself, Steve Backshall.
There are loads of navigation coaches around the UK, with a quick search I even found one here in the flatlands of Essex. I can’t recommend any though as I’ve never used them, but what I will advise is, where possible use the ones that are qualified Mountain Leaders; trust me they have been assessed and tested to a very high level of competency, and with good reason, people’s lives are in their hands. I’ve no doubt I’ll be delivering such courses myself in the not too distant future.
National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS)
Take a look at the NNAS Site and search for a course provider; they also assess the competency of instructors before allowing them to deliver any of the awards. Talking of which the awards run from the basic competency of Bronze Award to the Advanced skills of the Gold Award. You will be right in thinking you don’t need an ‘award’ or certificate to get out exploring with a map and compass but it’s certainly nice to receive one for doing something you enjoy, and what a boost for kids to get official recognition for having achieved something ‘old school’.
National Map Reading Week
The use of Map & Compass skills should be a competency for everyone wanting to get outside and explore, it is by far the safest and most reliable (and fun) method of navigation. As I said at the beginning this post has been inspired by the National Map Reading Week as promoted by Ordnance Survey.
‘National Map Reading Week aims to reinspire adventure, to teach children, teenagers and adults how to read maps and how they can get lost in the landscape, without ever actually getting lost! We want you to put down your smartphones, make map reading fun, to learn how to read contours, find grid references, use a compass, measure distance, break free, explore, have an adventure..’
Follow the link above to find lots of map reading resources for you and all the family and ideas about how you can get involved in #getoutside