Navigation And Map Reading Tips

With all the latest GPS gadgets out there from touch screens to watches it’s important to retain traditional navigation skills. If your GPS batteries die out in the middle of a hike and the weather is closing in, you’ll be eternally grateful for the map and compass stashed in your pack ‘just in case’.


Whether you’re starting from the beginning or you’re an infrequent navigator these navigation and map reading tips from Silva will help you find your way next time you’re out on the trail.


Shop Maps & Compasses

Silva Navigation School

Silva 1-2-3 System

Place your compass on the map aligning the edge of the compass with the line of travel towards your destination.

Next, rotate the compass dial until N on the dial points North on your map, checking that the compass’ red/black North/South lines are parallel with the map’s meridians.

Holding the compass, turn your body until the red end of the compass needle points towards N (North) on the compass dial. The arrow at the front of the compass should now point towards your destination. Repeat this procedure until you reach your final destination.

Top Navigation Tips

Practise Before You Go

Use this guide in your local area and get to grips with the 1-2-3 system from Silva before you explore an unfamiliar area.

Where Do You Want To Go

Before heading out its essential to plan your route, checking that the terrain is suitable for you and your kit. If your route involves steep terrain you may want to consider walking poles for additional stability.

Magnetic Variation

When using a map and compass it’s important to know the local magnetic declination. This is the difference between the true North (where the meridians point) and the magnetic north (where the compass needle points).

Map Symbols

The different symbols on a map (for example; rights of way, rivers, lakes, hills, fields, paths, roads and power lines) should be shown in the key of the map, so that you can easily identify them.

Judging Distance & Time

a) Keep Track: You can understand how far along the route you’ve come by noting landmarks that you pass. Keep your map facing North and your thumb on your current position, then move your thumb when you reach your next way point.


b) Time: If you know your approximate speed you can calculate how long it should take to travel the distance. For example if your approximate speed is 4km/h it’ll take you 30 minutes to travel 2km.


c) Distance: Count each step with your right foot. If your approximate stride length is 0.8 metres, then it should take you 62 steps to travel 100 metres.

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