Orienteering is the act of navigating through terrain, often using a map and compass. The sport of orienteering is a race against the clock to navigate through various locations, or control  points, from a starting location to finish.  Most orienteering requires the ability to read a topographical map, determine a route, establish the desired direction using either a compass, the sun, or a prominent geographical feature, and then travel the correct distance using average speed and time, or number of steps. Modern navigation relies on geo-positioning satellites, and GPS electronic devices.   Navigation without GPS or compass relies on the sun or stars. Precise navigation requires excellent geo-spacial reasoning, some mathematical calculations, and an ability to use the  proper tools.

In outdoor adventures and survival situations, navigation is a fundamental skill. The first two weeks of our outdoor skills curriculum will cover basic orienteering, emphasizing proper planning and observation as well as common sense. We will learn to read a topographical map, use a compass, and determine our current location from geographic landmarks. We will learn to plot a course and to follow that course. We will also discuss what to do if you get lost in the wilderness.  Finally, we will cover the use of GPS and modern navigation, but realize that this technology is limited by the availability of an electronic device,  satellite coverage, and battery life.  Throughout the curriculum, we will rely on orienteering with map and compass as well as GPS for navigation as we explore our surroundings and venture in to the wilderness.

Before using a map and compass, you must understand some basic principals of the earth’s magnetic field and its relation to True North. Here are two excellent videos to introduce the concept of Magnetic Declination and the development of the compass as a navigation tool.

Topographical Map’s and Declination

Introduction to the Compass

Here is a quick video on how to use a compass in conjunction with a topographical map to plot a course. If you haven’t adjusted your compass for declination, you would need to add or subtract your declination to find the precise bearing.

An alternative method to adjusting for declination is to orient the map “north” and find your direction of travel without worrying about the actual bearing. Because you align the map with the compass needle (magnetic north), you have taken declination out of the equation.

Here is a good overview of how to use a compass for navigation. Note that they recommend orienting the map to the compass arrow rather than compensating for declination.

Keeping declination in mind, here is a series of videos showing how to use an orienteering compass and a topographical map for navigation. Note that the compass he is using has a adjustment screw to compensate for declination. Without that screw, you would have to add or subtract your local declination. In Vermont, you would add 15º.