How to Navigate the Backcountry

Triangulation/Resection Illustration

The second method is called triangulation, also known as resection. You'll need a pencil or pen to perform this technique, and it does take a couple of minutes, but it is more accurate than terrain association. Get your map and compass oriented. Look around you and locate a prominent terrain feature, then locate that feature on your map. Next you need to shoot a bearing at it. Do this by holding the compass level at waist height and lining up the compass's sighting line with the feature. Now turn your bezel ring until the needle is aligned with the alignment arrow. Read the bearing to that feature where the bezel ring's degree marking is located below the luminous index line. That's the bearing to that feature.

Lay your compass's straight edge down on the map (which is still oriented) and draw a line from the feature back toward you. Now locate another prominent feature and repeat the process so that the two bearing lines intersect. Repeat this process a third time, using a third feature. The lines you have drawn back toward you will intersect forming a tiny enclosure (or if you are very accurate they will intersect perfectly). You are within that enclosure. You have found yourself! Well, on the map at least.

Up to this point you have oriented your map and compass and fixed your position on the map. Now you must plot a route from your position (at the gates of Hell, beside the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, etc.) to a position you would prefer to be, such as a bar, the Blue Quill Angler fly fishing shop in Evergreen, Colorado, a Bahamas resort, L.L. Bean's main store, or what have you. Study your map to determine where it is you want to go: a road, structure of some kind, trail, river, etc. Chances are that the easiest or safest route (in other words the best route) will not be along a direct line between you and the place you want to be, so you must refer to your map to determine the best route. To navigate along this route, you can either contour (referencing the lay of the land with the features on the map to guide you on your way) or plot (draw on the map) connecting legs (bearings).

Contouring is easy if you are adept at recognizing both prominent and subtle terrain features, but it takes an eye for detail and practice, i.e., I'll follow this creek down to this pond, skirt around the pond to this draw at the south end, go down the draw to this old logging trail, and follow the logging trail out to this road. Plotting legs takes just simple map and compass skills.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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