Navigation, planning your adventure by Jack Hendry

Dartmoor Survival and Wilderness Skills Adventure

Navigation is a big subject to cover and  an area that often gets over looked or neglected . It is an essential skill to practice  and to  have a good foundation knowledge of especially if you have an interest in the outdoors whether it be wild camping , hiking hills  and  mountains , practicing bushcraft skills or even paddling  .  We are lucky to have a very well trained and efficient mountain rescue team here in the UK  which respond swiftly when unfortunate adventurers get lost or injured in remote areas.  However, it is important  that each person should be responsible for their own actions and have a reasonable amount of core skills which could prevent unfortunate circumstances arising. Being able to Navigate well will leave you feeling much more confident and prepared for your own adventures.

Over the forth coming  issues I will be writing several articles that will hopefully help improve your navigation skills and potentially help you prepare for any future adventures you may be planning, big or small. We will cover everything from preparing for your own adventure, to being able to use the natural world around us to find direction as there are many ways to help us navigate other than using a map and compass.

To begin with,  it would make sense to start with the planning process of any trip, whether it is a hike on your local common or Moorland  or an overnight trip into mountainous terrain . Some things that should always be thought about  before you set off are:


Some of this may seem a little over cautious but if you plan properly, however small your trip, it could prevent a serious incident from happening.  Looking at those points in closer detail, firstly,  personal fitness.  If you are new to hiking or have developed an urge to go on an adventure it can be easy to be over optimistic with your proposed route. It will certainly be more sensible to start with small trips and build up your fitness level, not only for the distance you plan to hike but for the weight you will need to be carrying. If you are not fit for the task then you could cause yourself personal injuries, blisters and back ache are often picked up whilst on walking trips and this can quickly take the enjoyment away from your journey. Building up a good fitness level prior to journeys will help prevent injury and make the whole experience more pleasurable .

Not planning a route is a recipe for disaster and even shorter trips should have an element of planning involved. I live on the outskirts of Dartmoor and often hear of people wandering out on the open moor ill equipped and becoming lost. The weather can turn fast in hills and mountains and should not be underestimated . It is good practice to complete a route card before setting off hiking. If you are not familiar with these, a route card is a document that you would fill out prior to a walk telling the person reading it full details about your proposed journey such as who’s with your group and their next of kin contacts, proposed journey time and anticipated return times. It should contain features of your journey grid references if possible and  escape routes. It is also a great way to help plan timings of a journey,  these legs should be broken down leaving the person reading a detailed description of where exactly you are or should be at a specific time. It is a good idea to make two copies – one for yourself to carry and one for somebody at home


Example provided by D Of E Award Scheme.

( This is an example of a typical route card, these are often used by Duke of Edinburgh participants )


Packing correctly for your trip is very important! If you over pack unnecessary equipment you can weigh yourself down and potentially cause yourself discomfort or injury. If you under pack and leave essential kit at home then this could worsen a situation if one arises.  There are a few essentials that I would always carry particularly in open moor land or mountainous terrain. What you pack really is down to where you are travelling and for how long you intend to be out but the following are  some of the essentials.


Photo by Jack Hendry

(This is some of the essential kit I carry for journeys big or small, a map and compass of the area, mobile phone, a whistle, group shelter, bivvy bag or similar , a 1 litre water bottle, small gas stove and gas bottle, metal mug, a head torch , torch and spare batteries, spare warm hat and gloves, waterproofs, first aid kit, water purification tablets and some food.)



Firstly suitable outdoor clothing for the task to hand, you think this would be a given but I have seen people walking up trails to  some serious peaks such as Snowden in shorts, flip flops and a cotton hoody. A tough rucksack to carry your kit and possibly a waterproof cover if doing overnight camps. This will help keep kit dry such as warm clothing for evenings  and a sleeping bag. Take a drink, personally I only carry 1 litre of water due to the weight but I always have means to replenish such as using purification  tablets or a water filter. Shelter of some description whether it is a tent, tarp, bivvy bag or group shelter for if the weather changes or you have to spend the night out unplanned. Carrying a form of shelter can be a life saver. Even on a day hike when you don’t intend to stay overnight,  putting a tarp or bivvy bag in the bottom of your bag will not break the scales and you will be thankful if you are caught by surprise and need to stay overnight . Carry some food for energy, you will be burning a lot of calories when hiking and they need to be replaced . A head torch and a back up hand torch, always carry some new spare batteries. A whistle is something that should be carried all the time in the outdoors it takes up no room and will be a great advantage  to yourself should you find yourself in an emergency situation. Pack a small first aid kit with some plasters and other medical essentials – blisters on feet can be a big problem for people hiking especially with new boots. I carry a small gas stove and canister which I can use with  a metal mug to boil water. A warm drink can be a great moral boost if the weather is poor and can really help perk up a struggling frame of mind . Try and pack some warm clothes especially on overnight trips, keep them in dry bags so at the end of the day if you have wet kit on  then you can change for the evening.  I always pack extra gloves and a woolly hat too as well as waterproofs.


This is not a complete kit list  and  packed items will vary to each unique trip and journey but this kit is some of the essentials that will certainly make your outdoor experience a more enjoyable one. There are other items such as knives, multi tools and a means to light fire that will also be of high importance


Photo by Jack Hendry

(Here is a bothy bag or group shelter in use, once you get inside it warms up quickly and provides protection from the elements)


Before setting out on your adventure it is advisable to check the weather in detail. When planning a multi day trip check local weather reports and try to get a basic understanding of Synoptic charts.  Being able to understand a synoptic chart will offer you more information than the general national forecast. Once you have understood the forthcoming weather you can pack for your trip accordingly and make any adjustments to clothing and kit.


Another important issue to consider whilst planning a journey is to consider the terrain you are likely to encounter. We are lucky to have exceptionally detailed maps of our country which gives us the luxury of having an accurate prediction of the obstacles that you could encounter en route. Whilst deciding on  a route, careful planning will need to take place to avoid areas that could be a danger to yourself such as cliff edges, steep terrain, bog, marsh and water features that may not be passable . All of these features will be clearly marked on a good map and can be avoided with careful planning. If you are unsure about a proposed route get some professional training, all the features marked on the map will be on the map key if you are struggling to make sense of them.  In the planning stage it will also be important to look at escape routes and possible procedures for emergencies should they arise. Ask yourself the question –  if something happened in the area you intend to travel, could you get out easily enough or could help find you? Your adventure is going to lead you through some unfamiliar terrain that you have not encountered before, such as boggy marshland. If there is no option to avoid it then I would recommend practicing smaller, similar routes prior so when you do encounter such obstacles you are more familiar with them and have some experience in negotiating them.


People enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways. You could be walking, cycling, canoeing or climbing. Your specific activity will suit a specific map.  Maps will come in different scales and sizes, for example, if you are hiking leisurely over outdoor terrain and want to locate things on the ground such as ruins, cairns or cists which are scattered over places like Dartmoor then a 1.25000 scale map would be recommended as there is an incredible amount of detail present.  However,  if you were cycling or running and covering lots more ground more quickly than you would be more suited to a larger scaled map like a 1.40000 or a 1,50,000 scale map. The larger scaled maps are less cluttered with the finer detail and will be more suited to faster paced activities where you cover more ground.


Photo by Jack Hendry

On the left is a 1.25000 scale os map and on the right a 1.40000 Harvey map


Be sure before you set off that your map and compass are compatible, your compass will have a roamer on it (measuring device for a specific scaled map) make sure you have a compass with the  ability to work with the map you intend to use or else you will have difficulty measuring distance.

Most people carry a mobile phone these days and it is always a good idea to make sure you have a fully charged phone packed in your kit. When I am leading groups in remote areas I personally carry my mobile phone and means to charge it.  I also carry an older mobile,  just a simple (non smart phone) which I keep charged and switched off just in case you need to make that emergency call. If you do need to make an emergency call you should dial 999 ask for the police and then Mountain Rescue. Keep your mobile phone dry, purchase a small dry bag for it just in case it does get wet. The last thing you want in an emergency situation is a broken mobile phone which can’t be used.


Spending time outdoors is really important and has many benefits to people. The  great outdoors should be enjoyed and explored but treat it with respect – a little bit of planning and knowledge really can make your own personal trip a more relaxed and enjoyable one.

If you are interested in learning more you could join us on our 3 day adventure on Dartmoor , this event has a large emphasis on navigation skills. Check the link below for full details


Dartmoor Survival and Wilderness Skills Adventure




Share This

Twitter Facebook Goolge+ LinkedIn