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Old School Navigation


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We've just moved house to about half way between the Gower and the Brecon Beacons. Walking was one of the reasons we chose the area, and whilst my wife is more sold on the coastal walks, I can't wait to get out in the Brecons.

I've got an old Garmin GPS which is OK, I don't get from it what I probably should but it does the job I need it to. That's all fine until the day I find my batteries have died or the unit has gone kaput. And so, like a true DOSBODDER I have gone down the old school navigation route as a backup. I've bought  a Silva Expedition 4 baseplate compass and a bunch of 1:25000 OS Explorer maps, laminated so they won't turn to mush and so I can write on them and then wipe them clean.

I have to say, I am absolutely loving the old school OS maps. The level of detail and the clarity of them is just superb, and given that the laminated ones are about £13 each, I think they are absolutely fantastic value for money. There's something about sitting and planning a route on an OS map that just gets my brain more engaged than using Garmin Basecamp or other software. That becomes quite apparent when we are out walking, because without fail it turns out that I have visualised the landscape much more accurately using the OS maps than the digital versions.

As someone who didn't listen to a single word at school, I've turned to Youtube to learn how to navigate, and now we're starting to put that into practice. Last weekend we downloaded the maps for a local permanent orienteering course and completed that. It all felt a bit simple to be honest - there really was no need for a compass and we probably could have done all the points in less than 10 minutes just by lining up the map against obvious landmarks and following the paths. Nonetheless we used the compass on all points anyway - worth doing because we made a couple of total rookie errors, which is fine in a local park, less so on a mountain somewhere.

So I am now looking for new challenges. For this weekend, I've picked out some local access land on the OS map, and then identified 10 points like footbridges, cairns, deltas in paths, streams etc, and the exercise will be to navigate from point to point. The reason for picking access land is that we don't have to stick to footpaths and can take more direct routes - I reckon this will be a good way to learn some (possibly painful) lessons about map detail and how to really understand the terrain and navigate it safely and efficiently. I can wel imagine me taking a "shortcut" only to find we are 3 feet deep in dense gorse - but that's kind of the point of the exercise.

Anyway, I'm only writing all this because I am bloody loving it, such a simple thing and something that's mostly done for us by GPS these days, but which is massively fulfilling when you do it the old way. And great to know that if I ever do find myself lost in the Brecons with no GPS, no phone and low level mist, I should be able to find my way home again Anyone else into this sort of thing?

And if so, anyone got any ideas for practical exercises I can use to improve my skills?

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Chewing Grass
2 minutes ago, Fully Detached said:

I've got an old Garmin GPS which is OK, I don't get from it what I probably should but it does the job I need it to. That's all fine until the day I find my batteries have died or the unit has gone kaput.

Fixed my Garmin Touring Plus by buying a replacement battery off ebay from a chap in Preston (probably Asian) for less than  a tenner with a set of wee tools and fixed it myself by watching a 3 minute video on youtube.

Hardest thing was putting the tiniest plug ever back in its socket without three hands and a magnifying glass.

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10 minutes ago, Chewing Grass said:

Hardest thing was putting the tiniest plug ever back in its socket without three hands and a magnifying glass.

Now you know how your burd feels :Old:

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Do it without a map.

Or, rather, challenge yourself to navigate the route without reference to the map, and with penalty points for every time you give in and reference it.

The point isn't to simply 'remember the route', but to 'visualise' what the route will look like at each crucial point at the planning stage, thereby working on your map-to-reality skills.

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8 minutes ago, dgul said:

Do it without a map.

Or, rather, challenge yourself to navigate the route without reference to the map, and with penalty points for every time you give in and reference it.

The point isn't to simply 'remember the route', but to 'visualise' what the route will look like at each crucial point at the planning stage, thereby working on your map-to-reality skills.

I think that's probably a little bit above my skill level for now - I could see myself doing that in the future at some point but I think I need to make the schoolboy errors with a bit of a safety net first.

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Snake Plissken

When walking and following a path, try and observe the land around you in terms of the map, so you get used to seeing where you are in regards to contours, hills etc. Then when you plot routes on a map in an area you don't know its easier to pick out good routes, like walk along a ridge.

Nowadays what I like to do is create routes on a paper map or on os map on the computer and create a gpx from that and follow that on my watch, as I like to either take in the surroundings or out running, and not have to worry about the navigation, but I really enjoy creating the route.

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Fully Detached
8 hours ago, Snake Plissken said:

When walking and following a path, try and observe the land around you in terms of the map, so you get used to seeing where you are in regards to contours, hills etc. Then when you plot routes on a map in an area you don't know its easier to pick out good routes, like walk along a ridge.

Nowadays what I like to do is create routes on a paper map or on os map on the computer and create a gpx from that and follow that on my watch, as I like to either take in the surroundings or out running, and not have to worry about the navigation, but I really enjoy creating the route.

GPS will always be my goto - I can imagine using a paper map and compass in a cold, wet and windy environment gets old fast. But I still want to be skilled enough with them that I can get myself out of trouble if all else fails, and as you say that means being able to pick a route rather than just a direction.

Yesterday I happened to drive past the access land that we will be walking at the weekend. I'd already taken note of the contours, but I was surprised by how steep a part of one side of the hill was in reality. Hopefully this and similar exercises will sharpen my abilities to get that right, as although I'd picked the right course, I hadn't appreciated how steep the drop was to one side :/

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34 minutes ago, Fully Detached said:

GPS will always be my goto - I can imagine using a paper map and compass in a cold, wet and windy environment gets old fast. But I still want to be skilled enough with them that I can get myself out of trouble if all else fails, and as you say that means being able to pick a route rather than just a direction.

Yesterday I happened to drive past the access land that we will be walking at the weekend. I'd already taken note of the contours, but I was surprised by how steep a part of one side of the hill was in reality. Hopefully this and similar exercises will sharpen my abilities to get that right, as although I'd picked the right course, I hadn't appreciated how steep the drop was to one side :/

It is suprising how many people ignore the contour lines on an os map.

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15 minutes ago, dgul said:

It is suprising how many people ignore the contour lines on an os map.

They probably only do that once, to be fair :P

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wherebee

Map out a course, preferably on a moorland or similar, and then wait for a misty/foggy day.

Half way along, stop using the map and compass.  Try to do it by instinct.

You'll be amazed at how far off course you go using your own 'sense'.  It's a really good lesson as to why and how people get lost.  And it will also underline the importance of a compass.

Not me, natch.  I once navigated a welsh mountainside in the dark with no compass with pinpoint accuracy.  Reckon I'm a goat.

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Fully Detached
1 hour ago, wherebee said:

Map out a course, preferably on a moorland or similar, and then wait for a misty/foggy day.

Half way along, stop using the map and compass.  Try to do it by instinct.

You'll be amazed at how far off course you go using your own 'sense'.  It's a really good lesson as to why and how people get lost.  And it will also underline the importance of a compass.

Not me, natch.  I once navigated a welsh mountainside in the dark with no compass with pinpoint accuracy.  Reckon I'm a goat.

I saw a youtube video from the US, where a woman left a woodland trail to answer the call of nature, didn't take any precautions to find her way back and ended up lost and dying two weeks later. She was writing a journal up to the point she died, and stated that she only left the path by a short distance, but just couldn't find her way back again.

She really should have been able to do better than that with a bit of basic common sense, but it struck home with me anyway. So today's lesson is: if you need a shit on a woodland path just drop your pants and go right there. Other people will soon give you all the privacy you need.

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Spiney Norman

I recently brought an OS map printed on to fabric.

https://www.splash-maps.com/shop/

Fucking brilliant!

It doesn't not matter if it gets wet, doesn't need to folded just stuff in your pocket, if it gets dirty chuck it in the washing machine.

Its pretty much indestructable.

Expensive though.

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Fully Detached

We did the little exercise that I'd planned yesterday - well worth it as I certainly learned a few things and had a few other theoretical bits of knowledge drummed in with real world experience.

Firstly, I checked the route again on the paper map before leaving the house. As per my previous post I seem to be able to get more from that than from the computer, even though the computer has the exact same OS map on it. And I realised that the point I'd intended to scale the hill was really going to be too steep, so chose a different point instead.

I also learned that the straight black lines denoting a wall or field boundary are bloody useful for figuring out where you are. I only realised this when I rested my map on a wall to look at it, realised it was the only one for miles around, and thus pinned my location perfectly. Idiot - I'll pay more attention to them in future

Lastly, I learned that it would be a good idea to check the wind forecast as well as the weather, because it was pretty blowy at the top. Not so much as to cause a problem, although I've just read of one woman who totally freaked out on Pen-Y-Fan yesterday because of the winds at the summit.

Lovely walk, navigation mostly bang on. Hard to capture the beauty of that landscape on a phone camera, but here's a couple of the views:

 

 

20220319_121408.jpg

20220319_123022.jpg

20220319_123823.jpg

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1 hour ago, ccc said:

Looks nice. Any training up there you saw ? Camo type bods. :ph34r:

Nope, we were a little way south of the Brecons there and I didn't notice any heavily armed bushes creeping about. Actually out on the hills we saw two other people in nearly 4 hours. It was bloody lovely :D

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On 20/03/2022 at 22:41, SomersetMatt said:

Used to navigate at sea with a sextant and a set of reduction tables… much easier nowadays. 

I remember my old man having all that gear and doing night school for months to get whatever it was he needed to be able to charter a little boat to take himself off in. I have serious respect for people who can navigate at sea - at least I generally have a bloody great big mountain or two to give me a rough idea where I am.

Why is is much easier these days, GPS etc? One of the things I never learned at school was declination, which is bloody annoying because when I was at school you actually needed to understand it in order to navigate accurately. Apparently now and for the next few years, the deviation is so small in the UK that it's not really worth bothering with.

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On 20/03/2022 at 22:41, SomersetMatt said:

Used to navigate at sea with a sextant and a set of reduction tables… much easier nowadays. 

Arr! SatNav.

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Caravan Monster

I find gps most helpful in built up areas and for finding addresses and am just about old enough to have had a delivery job in my youth in pre gps days that necessitated a sackful of street map books. Good fun navigating the wilds with an os and compass, although counting steps gets tedious fast in low visibility. I remember being sent out alone into a white out in the Cairngorms on a navigation exercise as a teenager, probably not the done thing these days xD @Fully Detached any chance of a photo of Cwm Lwch farm house / rescue hut if you're ever out that way? Had some fun trips out there many years ago, be nice to see it again.

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On 18/03/2022 at 08:45, dgul said:

It is suprising how many people ignore the contour lines on an os map.

I haven't done map reading in a long time, but I recall that was my default method of determining where I was and where I was going. The shape of the landscape is like the fingerprint of the area. Not helpful in flatlands, granted!

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Old school is great practice for when they shut the power off and we all go Mad Max. Important to know where all your food and weapons caches are! 

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14 minutes ago, LC1 said:

I haven't done map reading in a long time, but I recall that was my default method of determining where I was and where I was going. The shape of the landscape is like the fingerprint of the area. Not helpful in flatlands, granted!

You're unusual -- most people ignore them and navigate by 'features' instead (paths and watercourses, mostly -- ie, keep going until you get to the path on the left/bridge/etc).

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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, dgul said:

You're unusual -- most people ignore them and navigate by 'features' instead (paths and watercourses, mostly -- ie, keep going until you get to the path on the left/bridge/etc).

I wondered this. I have quite a good 3D mapping brain, so when we used to travel more, especially Euro city breaks, if it was a city we had been to before I usually never needed the map on the 2nd trip, as had already mapped it in my head and could remember how to get to places (unless venturing into previously unchartered territory, obviously). Like OS maps, it's the conversion from 2D figurative representation to 3D reality on the ground, and I always puzzled why other people (like my other half) seemed to struggle with it (though women generally at a genetic disadvantage here, I suspect).

Edited by LC1
typo
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