Navigation Tools

compass rose

Depending on where you’re going, navigation tools can be as simple as a compass and map or as complex as a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) locator. The tools below can help you stay on track for a long hike, or get you to your desired camp site. Another part of navigating through new areas is to read guides and published information. Get to know what the major terrain features are where you can find shelters, re-supply points, and, clean water. With no street signs, landmarks and roadways, the wilderness can be an easy place to get lost. Use these navigation tools to help you stay on-track…and safe!


The simplest navigation tool is the compass. A good analogue compass does not require batteries and has enough accuracy to read in at least 10-degree increments. When choosing a compass, consider its size and use. A lensatic compass has a view finder and small magnifier to read exact bearings. Most of them also have a ruler on the side to allow for map measurements. This type of compass is a good navigation tool for orienteering and hiking to and from precise locations. Digital compasses and smaller compasses are very useful when you want to know general directions and stay on a known trail or path. Some of these digital compasses are extremely accurate now and can be worn like a wristwatch, which is also very convenient (direction can be more important than time of day on a long hike ;-).

GPS Units

The GPS units are a great navigation tool for any outdoorsman. I use a Garmin Rhino unit which also has an FRS / GRS radio with it. When you radio someone with a similar GPS unit, your location information shows up on their map…very cool feature! If you haven’t tried using GPS units in the last 5 years, they’ve come a long way! The location information is so accurate with GPS units that they’re using them for treasure hunts and other games. I’ve used it to find exact tree locations in the woods and to find where I’ve parked. They are a tremendous navigation tool. The downside: GPS units take batteries and for long hikes, the weight of batteries is a factor. For small hikes and outdoor outings…they’re worth their weight!


When it comes to an irreplaceable navigation tool, nothing tops a good map. A good map of the area can give you invaluable information. Terrain features, trail direction, proximity to towns and cities, are all valuable pieces of information when you’re heading out into the wilderness. Some guide books combine maps and information on the area and can be a great field reference. Below are some maps of popular trails and areas. If you don’t see one for the area you’re interested in, you can search for other through Amazon.

Books / Guides

Like maps, guide books are great navigation tools as they share the experience of others for the area in which you’re about to embark. Hearing someone else’s experiences, lessons-learned, where they saw a bear, where they found water can be comforting information for your trip and help you better plan. If you’re thinking of hiking the Appalachian Trail, the book “Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson is a hilarious account of the author’s Appalachian adventure…I would definitely read it for entertainment reasons alone. Below is an assortment of guide books for various trails, areas, and states. You can find many others on Amazon. Happy Hiking!

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