Navigation and the leader

Bushwalking and ski-touring leaders must have a good knowledge of map reading and display a high standard of navigation. Good navigation requires observation, concentration and common sense, combined with practice and experience. Navigation is more than just finding your way - it involves awareness of the terrain, estimating how fast you are going, recognising features as you meet them, and being aware of where you are on the map at all times.

It is not always necessary for the leader to undertake all navigation tasks personally. By delegating the task of navigation to other members in the group, the leader has the freedom to move within the group and tend to other requirements. This, of course, doesn't mean putting away the map and compass; in fact quite the opposite. It means being able to delegate the front position but still maintain a sufficiently watchful eye on map and compass to ensure that the navigational requirements of the party are met.

To become proficient in navigation, practice in the field is essential, along with familiarity with all of the following:

  • the types of maps available and who produces them
  • the various scales and their use
  • signs and abbreviations generally used on maps
  • methods of showing height or altitude (e.g. contours and their interpretation)
  • the relationship between grid north, true north and magnetic north
  • setting or orienting a map
    • from visible features
    • by compass
  • the six figure grid reference system
  • the use of a baseplate-style compass to follow a bearing in good and poor visibility
  • plotting a compass course from the ground and from the map
  • methods of obtaining resections or back bearings with the baseplate compass
  • navigation across country with a map, but no compass
  • natural direction finding (e.g. use of sun, moon or stars)
  • preparation and use of route-plan cards
  • methods of teaching simple map and compass work to beginners.

In summary, you as leader need to be able to quickly build up a mental picture of the shape of the country from the map. You must appreciate the interacting effects of vegetation cover, weather conditions, travel speeds, party fitness and other problems of travel on foot and ski.