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Some of my Personal Thoughts on Long Distance Walking

Map and Compass

If you don't know where you're going, you can't get lost

This bit is about navigation, and of course I don't really mean what I say in my quote above. On the Wild Yorkshire Way you'll need a map and compass and you'll need to know how to use them. Your map can either be a paper one, an image on your phone or tablet, or in your sat nav, it's your choice. Your compass can be a real one, or a gadget built into your phone or watch. Maps are expensive, and heavy to carry if you need lots of them on a long walk, but you can join OS Maps for about £20 per year, which allows you to print A3 copies of maps down to 1:25000 scale. You can either print onto paper, or create PDF versions for viewing on your phone or tablet while you are walking.


A really useful navigation aid, especially in hilly terrain, is an altimeter, available in some watches or as an app for your phone. A map is a 2 dimensional view of a 3 dimensional world, or is it? The contours on your map add the 3rd dimension, and your altimeter brings them to life in the real world. In mist, your height above sea level can help you confirm where you are.

Watch out for battery life if you're using an electronic gadget to store your maps - on day 3 on the Wild Yorkshire Way there's about 40 miles of walking over 3 days to come, with no chance of finding a mains plug without substantial detours. I used to take a solar charger, but unless you go trekking in the Sahara you'll find that a charger that can keep up with your phone will be too heavy. I now use a phone that has a removable battery, and I take a spare charger and batteries, which I top up at the same time as I top up with beer. You'll notice that I've included links to both 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps on the Route section of this site, but the technically astute among you will of course realise this only works when you've got an internet connection, which will be patchy at best on the Wild Yorkshire Way. My solution is to spend many happy hours at home doing screen shots!

In decent visibility, you can navigate with a map without a compass, but in mist and fog you will need to use both. Using a compass, it's vital to know EXACTLY where you are before you move, otherwise you will just drift further and further away from your correct route. Find a landmark on your map, such as a river, fence, wall, farm, cairn, trig point, wood or lake, and then find the same landmark on the ground. Features which have length, such as walls and fences, are best, since you can just walk in a general direction towards them and eventually you will hit your target. Remember the technique of "aiming off" when searching for a fixed point on a landmark. For example, if you have to find a footbridge across a river in dense fog, don't aim directly for it. If you do, you'll probably arrive at the river with the footbridge out of sight, as you cannot be 100% accurate. Instead, aim to one side of the bridge. For example, aim to arrive at the river to the left of the bridge, then when you hit the river you know you need to follow it to the right. Got it?

If you use a sat nav, I'm afraid you're on your own as I've never used one for walking, but friends recommend the SatMap range of equipment, mainly because of their long battery life. They're not cheap though - a unit with full 1:25000 UK mapping will set you back close to £600. If you use a sat nav, remember battery life and have a back up plan if your unit fails.

If you need to learn navigation skills, try this useful guide Ordnance Survey Map Reading Leaflet. One day you'll be glad you did.