Top Winter Navigation Tips

Time spent planning a day out in the hills in winter is never wasted, and your ability to navigate accurately might be the difference between a great day out and a potentially dangerous one. Even if you have good summer navigation skills, harsh winter conditions can bring unforeseen complications and complexities that make navigation tricky. We asked our friends at Plas y Brenin, The National Mountain Sports Centre, for their top tips to help you develop your navigation skills so you can rely upon them in any conditions. 

Tip 1

Losing your map or compass could be a disaster so make sure they are tied to you in a way that will stop them from being blown away yet still allow you to use them without any hindrance. Also make sure you carry a spare map and compass just in case of loss or damage.

Tip 2

While you are out take time to think ahead as to what the conditions might be like higher up the mountain. Do you have enough time to make the summit? Will you have to navigate off in the dark or in a whiteout?

Tip 3

When planning a navigational leg on the hill pay particular attention to the terrain you are expecting to travel through. Think about hazards such as corniced edges or potential avalanche prone slopes. Drawing some arrows on your map prior to going out showing the prevailing weather conditions can help you determine where potentially avalanche prone slopes and cornices may occur.

Tip 4

If going out as part of a group make sure everyone is equipped with a map and compass and knows how to use it. Involve all members of the group in any planning or decision making this will mean everyone is aware of where they are on the hill and where they are going to. This way in the worst case scenario of people becoming separated they will have a better chance of looking after themselves and getting to safety.

Tip 5

Always carry goggles, 90% of the time they will live in your rucksack, but they are invaluable when trying to map read and navigate in high winds and snow. Try to purchase a pair that are anti fog and carry them in a rigid container to avoid scratching or breaking.

Tip 6

Carry a head torch as you may have to navigate off in the dark particularly given the nature of short days in winter. A torch with a good beam is especially important for winter.  LED torches are good for reading the map and conserving battery power however in dark cloudy snowy conditions they have a similar effect to driving in fog with your full beam on. A torch with a normal bulb or halogen has a more penetrating light in these conditions and will allow you to see further. A good compromise would be one of the current generation of head torches that has both options LED and traditional bulb eg: Petzl MYO or DUO range.  Make sure you carry spares, just in case.

Tip 7

Try to find shelter when you’re planning your next leg this will allow you to take a bit more time and care considering your strategy. Shelter behind a boulder or consider using a group shelter, this way everyone can be involved as well as providing a brief respite from the weather.  Think about conditions above you if you are

climbing or walking up lee slopes. You can anticipate that you might need to navigate and could therefore do all your planning and decision making in shelter rather than leaving it until you are fighting oncoming wind and snow (think ahead!).

Tip 8

Navigating in harsh winter conditions can be stressful. Good knowledge and practice of all navigation skills is very important. Make sure you are organised with your equipment also eat and drink plenty when you are out so as to help maintain your concentration levels.

If you’re considering venturing into the hills, we recommend not only studying the 8 tips below, but also a winter skills course run by the centre. Plas y Brenin offers an unrivalled location and the highest standards of instruction, equipment, and facilities.


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