Our ranger Joe tells some interesting facts on navigation on his guided wildlife tours running in the Cairngorms National Park. Here are his observations on how to stay safe in the hills.
For thousands of years mankind has navigated using the sun and the stars. In the past few hundred years however we have advance from this now primitive technique and become more accurate using maps and newer still satellites paired to GPS devises that fit quite happily in your pocket, amazing.
With such strives in technology it’s a wonder anyone ever gets lost! But like all technology it has its faults. Being reliant on battery powered equipment alone is not the way to go for navigating in the great outdoors. One of the common problems with electronically aided navigation is the fact that batteries don’t do well in the cold. This can be a huge problem when outdoors in the winter, a phone or GPS that was on full charge can quickly go flat with little or no use when in sub zero temperatures. A means to combat this would be to keep you device on in inside pocket close to you body heat and keep its usage short when exposed to the elements. Keeping spare batteries in the same pocket is also a good idea, some smart phones do have removable batteries so can be well worth getting a spare.
Another pitfall of technology, in particular smart phones, is the fact they need constantly updating. Some applications will not let you view maps and location without the most current update. It can be a pain to find this out on the hill. Always checking for any updates the night before you head out and ensure you have the relevant maps available when offline is a wise move.
A less thought of problem with smart phone and GPS’s are their usability in bright light, especially on snowy days. Screens can be impossible to read in direct sunlight and attempting to read them inside a jacket can be troublesome. In general electronics don’t mix well with the outdoors; cold, rain, sunlight and sand all hamper their ability to assist you when in pinch.
While the modern tools we have available definitely have their merits and are fantastic tools in successfully navigating, they buy no means should be the only weapon in our navigation arsenal. It is essential to be familiar and well versed with more traditional methods. Also it feels a little bit like cheating!
The essential skills to know include: map reading, using a compass and measuring distances; along with a good level of knowledge of how long it will take to travel distances over a variety of terrain. As with any practical skill, practise makes perfect. Practising navigation can be fun and rewarding, but it is important to practise skills on terrain suited to your ability. It would be dangerous and even life threatening for a novice to hike up onto the Cairngorm plateau in winter or poor weather conditions. Navigation courses are a great place to start and build on any pervious knowledge and really gain confidence.