Finding Your Way in the Great Outdoors: A Guide to Navigation Gear

Finding Your Way in the Great Outdoors A Guide to Navigation Gear

Whether you are a seasoned adventurer or a beginner, navigating the great outdoors can be a daunting task. It’s easy to get lost or disoriented, especially in unfamiliar terrain. Fortunately, there are many navigation tools and devices available that can help you find your way. In this article, we will discuss some of the essential navigation gear you should consider taking with you on your next outdoor adventure.

1. Understanding Navigation Basics

Before we dive into specific navigation gear, it’s important to understand some basic navigation principles. Navigation is the process of determining your position and direction of travel. There are two main methods of navigation: dead reckoning and orienteering.

Dead reckoning is the process of estimating your position based on your last known location, distance travelled, and direction. This method requires some basic math skills and a few tools such as a compass and a watch.

Orienteering is the process of using a map and compass to navigate your way through unfamiliar terrain. This method requires a bit more skill and practice but is a more reliable way of determining your position and direction.

2. Maps and Compasses

Maps and compasses are essential tools for any outdoor adventurer. They provide a visual representation of the terrain and allow you to determine your position and direction of travel.

Types of Maps

There are many types of maps available, each designed for a specific purpose. Some common types of maps include:

  • Topographic maps: These maps show the terrain, including elevation and contour lines.
  • Road maps: These maps show roads, highways, and other transportation routes.
  • Nautical charts: These maps are used for navigation on water and show water depths, landmarks, and other important features.
  • Aeronautical charts: These maps are used for aviation and show airspace boundaries, communication frequencies, and other important information.

How to Read a Map

Reading a map can be intimidating at first, but with a bit of practice, it becomes second nature. Here are some basic steps to follow when reading a map:

  1. Orient the map: Align the map with the terrain by using a compass or by aligning features on the map with features in the terrain.
  2. Identify your location: Determine your location by using landmarks or other identifiable features.
  3. Determine your direction: Use a compass or map feature to determine your direction of travel.
  4. Plan your route: Choose a route that avoids obstacles and takes advantage of natural features such as ridges and valleys.

Types of Compasses

There are two main types of compasses: baseplate compasses and lensatic compasses. Baseplate compasses are more common and are easier to use for beginners. Lensatic compasses are more advanced and are typically used by military personnel.

3. GPS Devices

GPS devices are becoming increasingly popular among outdoor adventurers. They use satellite signals to determine your position and direction of travel.

Types of GPS Devices

There are two main types of GPS devices: handheld GPS units and GPS watches. Handheld GPS units are more versatile and offer more features, while GPS watches are more compact and offer basic information.

How to Use a GPS Device

Using a GPS device is relatively simple. Here are some basic steps to follow:

  1. Turn on the device and allow it to acquire a satellite signal.
  2. Enter your destination or choose a point of interest.
  3. Follow the on-screen directions to navigate to your destination.
  4. Monitor your progress to ensure you stay on track.

4. Personal Locator Beacons

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are emergency signalling devices that can be used to call for help in the event of an emergency. They use satellite signals to transmit your location to emergency services.

5. Signaling Devices

Signalling devices such as whistles, flares, and signal mirrors can be used to attract attention in the event of an emergency. These devices are essential for outdoor adventurers who may find themselves in remote areas without cell phone coverage.

6. Navigation Apps

Navigation apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps can be useful for navigating in urban areas but are not recommended for use in remote outdoor areas where cell phone coverage may be limited.

There are also many outdoor-specific navigation apps available, such as Gaia GPS and AllTrails. These apps provide detailed topographic maps and other useful features such as trail recommendations and weather forecasts.

7. Additional Navigation Gear

In addition to the essential navigation gear discussed above, several other tools can be useful for outdoor navigation.


Altimeters are devices that measure altitude. They can be used to determine your position and track your progress when hiking in mountainous terrain.


Pedometers are devices that count the number of steps you take. They can be useful for tracking your distance travelled and estimating your position.

Weather Instruments

Weather instruments such as barometers and thermometers can be useful for predicting weather patterns and planning your route accordingly.


Binoculars can be useful for scouting out the terrain ahead and spotting landmarks.

8. Navigation Tips and Best Practices

In addition to having the right gear, there are several tips and best practices that can help you navigate safely and efficiently in the great outdoors.

  • Always carry a map and compass as a backup to electronic devices.
  • Learn how to read a map and use a compass before heading out on a trip.
  • Plan your route and leave a detailed itinerary with someone you trust.
  • Stay on established trails and avoid shortcuts that may lead to hazardous terrain.
  • Keep track of your progress and constantly monitor your surroundings.
  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions and adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Know your limitations and don’t take unnecessary risks.

9. Conclusion

Navigating in the great outdoors can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By having the right navigation gear and following best practices, you can explore new terrain with confidence and stay safe in the process.

10. FAQs on Finding Your Way in the Great Outdoors

  1. Do I need to carry a map and compass if I have a GPS device?

Yes, it’s always a good idea to carry a backup in case your electronic devices fail.

  1. Can I use my smartphone as a GPS device?

Yes, there are many navigation apps available for smartphones, but they may not be reliable in remote areas without cell phone coverage.

  1. What should I do if I get lost?

Stay calm and assess your surroundings. Try to retrace your steps or use your navigation tools to determine your position. If you can’t find your way, stay put and wait for help.

  1. Can I use a PLB for non-emergency situations?

No, PLBs should only be used in emergencies. False alarms can result in unnecessary search and rescue operations.

  1. What is the difference between a topographic map and a regular map?

Topographic maps show the terrain features of an area, such as mountains, valleys, and bodies of water, while regular maps typically show only roads and major landmarks.

  1. Do I need to be an experienced hiker to use navigation gear?

No, navigation gear is useful for hikers of all skill levels. However, it’s important to have basic navigation skills and knowledge of the terrain you’ll be exploring.

  1. Can I use a navigation app instead of a GPS device?

Yes, navigation apps can be useful, but they may not be reliable in remote areas without cell phone coverage. It’s always a good idea to have a backup navigation method such as a map and compass.

  1. How often should I update my GPS device’s maps?

It’s recommended to update your maps at least once a year to ensure you have the most up-to-date information.

  1. Are there any legal requirements for using navigation gear?

Regulations vary depending on the location and activity. It’s important to research the specific requirements for the area and activity you’ll be engaging in.


Navigating the great outdoors can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, but it’s important to be prepared with the right gear and knowledge. From maps and compasses to GPS devices and signalling tools, there are many options available to help you navigate safely and efficiently. By following best practices and staying alert to your surroundings, you can explore new terrain with confidence and make the most of your outdoor adventures.

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