5 Simple Navigation Skills Everyone Should Have

A man's hand holds a compass in front of trees and mountains displaying simple navigation skills

Navigation skills are critical for anyone to have. Whether hiking or biking along trails, boating on the water or touring a new city, it is crucial to have simple navigation skills to get you where you need to go. These skills can also help you reorient yourself when you get lost. 

Navigation is the ability to understand where you are and how you will get somewhere else by following a route. Some people naturally have a perfect sense of direction and find navigating places easier than others. No matter your current skills, there are ways to practice and improve your basic navigation skills. Here are five simple navigation skills everyone should have. 

1. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Paying attention to your surroundings is perhaps the most important of all simple navigation skills. It’s essential to take note of what direction you are heading, what your surroundings look like, and any notable landmarks along the way. 

Even if someone else in your group is navigating, it is still crucial that you pay attention in case of an emergency or if the person navigating gets turned around. 

If hiking along trails, you could pay attention by noting any significant forks in the path, recognizable trees or rocks, or signage along the route. If you are on the water, you might pay attention to landmarks along the shoreline in the distance, like recognizable buildings, mountains, or lights. 

2. Learn How to Read a Map

One of the simple navigation skills everyone should have is map reading. At the most basic level, learn which parts of the map go north, south, east, and west, and learn how to find where you are on a map at any given time. You should also understand the map’s features, such as scale, distance, roads, land elevation, and water depth. 

Knowing how to orient your map is the easiest way to read it. Once you have found where you are on the map, whether on your phone or a paper map, you can physically turn or move the map so that it is facing the same direction. If you use a map on your phone, remember to bring portable power devices to keep your phone charged.

The more you practice using maps, the easier it will become to read them. You can practice using maps in areas where you are familiar first. Then, you can build up your skills to rely on maps in unfamiliar places. 

3. Use a Compass

You should also learn how to use a compass. It’s one of the simple navigation skills everyone should have. This can also help you to identify the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) on a map and how to orient your map.

If you know what direction you are heading and what direction you came from, it will be easier to get where you want to go. Using a map and compass is key to orienting yourself.

The biggest key to using a compass is holding it flat in front of you. Having it in front of you can tell you where you are currently moving. You can also keep the compass in front of you and turn your body until you are facing the direction you want to go. 

4. Plan Your Route in Advance

There’s nothing wrong with planning your route. In fact, it’s a very simple navigation skill everyone should practice. Before you head out exploring, look at a map and plan the course you want to take. Become familiar with landmarks, important directions, or turns that you need to take on your path.

Planning these details before you hike or trek can help you become familiar with your surroundings. It will also alert you, so you know what to look for along your journey. 

5. Look for Landmarks and Time Checks

There are many different ways to use landmarks and time checks while navigating. When you pass major landmarks, remember what time you pass them. If you have an emergency or happen to lose your way, this will help you know how far away you are and how long it will take to get back to where you were. 

You should also take note of time checks for pacing. When you plan your route, you should know how long it will take you to get to your final destination and what time you should pass critical landmarks on your journey. This is a simple navigation skill that will help you on any journey.

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