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Map and Compass

Carry a map of the area in which you are walking - either 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 in scale and a good compass. Most important, know how to use the map and compass and have a clear idea of the general trend lines of the mountain ranges and valleys.

The map. Smaller scale maps than those recommended have insufficient details to be suitable for mountain walking. Check the date on which the map was published.

The compass. The most practical compass for mountain navigation is the 'Silva' type for this combines a compass needle, protractor and a ruler, all essential for accurate map and compass work.

Map reading. Before venturing into the mountains it is essential that you should:

  • Know the meaning of all conventional signs, symbols and letters found on the map.
  • Know the meaning and local names for such topographical features as 'spur', 'ridge', 'col', 'crags' etc.
  • Understand how the relief of the country is shown on your map so that you can tell the shape and steepness of any peak or feature. Contour lines are the most valuable and accurate way of showing this. Practice reading these in detail as much as possible and check the difference in height between the contour lines on your map.
  • Learn how to measure distances on the map and estimate the time any route will take. A rough guide to this is the following formula: Distance 04 Km per hour ( or 01 Km in 15 minutes). Plus height 100 meters in 10 minutes ( or loaded parties/ with children: 100 meters in 15 minutes).

Compass navigation. You should know:

  • How to set your map so that it corresponds with the natural features around you.
  • How to obtain a bearing from the map, change it to a magnetic bearing and then walk on it, but allowing for the lie of the land.
  • How to take a magnetic bearing in the hills and how to identify a feature on the map from such a bearing.
  • How to pinpoint your own position by taking cross-bearings.


  • It is better to rely on the compass than your own sense of direction.
  • Metal objects and photographic exposure meters close to the compass will affect the magnetic needle.
  • Check you compass periodically for accuracy.


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Published on: 2005-05-10 (1840 reads)

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