Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Casual navigation based on landmarks

The vast majority of navigation is not done with bearings and compass sighting, most is done through casual
navigation using only the features on the map and relating them to the features in front of your eyes. This is exactly what you do every time that you use a city map, a map in a park or even a mall map! Most of the time you are just looking around you and figuring out where you are and where you are going. The exact same technique applies to navigating terrain. The only difference is that the features you are looking for are less obvious than road signs.

Thumbing along

Thumbing along means that you should always know specifically were you are on the map and follow along physically on the map as you move. You should move your thumb along the map on your line of travel as you move along the route.

The benefit of thumbing along is that it forces you to pay attention to where you are on the map and what is coming up around you. The closer attention you pay to your map the easier your navigation will be.

Every time that you put your map down it takes time to find your location. Keeping your thumb on your location will lessen that effort.

Turn by turn

If you are thumbing along, turn by turn tracking will happen inherently.  Know what turns are coming before you get to them. Arriving at the turn should simply be a verification of what you already knew was coming.

Where turn by turn navigation gets more difficult is when trails or roads have changed and the map isn't accurate. In these cases you should stop at the first indication of a problem and verify that you are where you think you are.  For example, a new road has appeared in front of you that wasn't on the map. Is it a new road or are you not actually where you thought you were.

Rising or falling

As you are moving along your route you should be tracking whether you are rising or falling and how steep the terrain is. Does this align with the contours that you are seeing on the map. Contour lines are not absolutely accurate but they are a good indication of the shape of the terrain. If you have been climbing a hill for 10 minutes and you were expecting to be on a flat...there might be a problem with your position.

Strong features

Watch the terrain for features that are strong indicators of position. Some good examples include:
  • Stream/river crossings
  • Bodies of water
  • Rock outcrops
  • Unique tree formations
  • Fence lines
  • Power lines
  • Hills/mountains

Long distances

If you are covering long distances with "easy" navigation it is obviously not practical to thumb along the whole time. Plan your route and plan for features that you can use as checkpoints along the way to confirm you are on the right route. The longer you go without verifying your position the more likely it is that you will be making a large mistake. Every racer has experienced running past an important landmark and having to backtrack. That will happen but can be minimized through proper planning of catching features along your way.

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