Are you directionally challenged? Do you rely on Siri to show you the way? Thanks to technology, many of us couldn’t navigate our way out of a paper bag. Check out our seven bush navigation secrets and you won’t need to deploy your PLB five minutes into your hike…
Even National Parks, with their signs and arrows have made us complacent. But, miss a marker and you could soon find yourself knee deep in trouble (“Who put that swamp there?” “Damn, did we miss a marker?”)
That’s why Rich Hungerford, a former Australian SAS soldier and tactical survivalist, is on a mission – to make people more ‘situationally aware’ of their surroundings. The founder of Bush Lore Australia – a school that teaches survival, tracking and bushcraft skills – believes that navigation is a skill even day hikers should conquer.
Feeling a little lost? Can’t make it to one of Bush Lore’s courses? We quizzed Rich for a crash course in wild navigation. Just follow his lead…
# 1 Sign Off!
Idiots interfere with signs and relying on official markers restricts you to particular routes. Any decent navigator needs to learn to intuitively monitor their general direction, even if you’re hiking in a National Park with signage. To practice becoming ‘situationally aware’ look behind you regularly, monitor your progress on the trail constantly and acknowledge the map in your hand. Then you’re never in doubt.
# 2 Go Old-Tech
I always carry paper maps and a quality compass and manually navigate. Yes, I carry a GPS as well but I only turn that on to confirm my location and then turn it back off again. There are a bunch of cool Apps you can use, but keep in mind that any gadget reliant on a battery pack and an electronic circuit is prone to failure. When that happens in a remote area you are L.O.S.T! Only using GPS as a ‘checker’ also saves battery live.
# 3 Snap the Map
If I’m visiting a signposted walk, I take a photograph of the map at the start of the trail so I can refer to it rather than relying on memory. However even on shorter hikes I still carry all my navigation gear and always ensure that someone at home knows my route plan and I have an emergency communication plan in place. Never, ever think that you are so cool that you can’t have a bad day, get lost, get injured or get bitten by a snake.
# 4 Monitor Your Distance
Track the time for each leg of your route. How fast do usually cover a kilometre? But, also be aware of how your pace is being influenced by the slope of the terrain, the thickness of the vegetation and any obstacles you encounter. Should you be stepping into a creek bed about now? Does it match your planning and calculations? If it doesn’t, then that should be your red flag moment. Take a few breaths to stay calm, sit down and then refer back to your map.
# 5 Practise Your 3D Vision
You should be able to look down at a map and picture in your mind what the typography of the ridgeline you are standing on should look like. Then look up and around you – does the terrain match your mental image? I teach this technique to the Australian Defence Force. For soldiers it’s a no brainer; if you’re on patrol and something goes bang, you need to already be aware of the terrain around you, intimately.
# 6 Look to the Stars
As part of Bush Lore survival courses, I teach ‘Celestial Navigation’ techniques – the use of the stars, planets and the moon, as well as solar navigation. Develop a sound working knowledge of ‘celestial references’ in the hemisphere; note the direction of north, south, east or west based on the position of constellations, sun rise and sun set. The compass is king in close or confused terrain, but the heavens guide us best in wide open spaces.
# 7 Don’t Leave Breadcrumbs!
If you can navigate properly you don’t need to mark the trail behind you ‘just in case’ you need to double back. It’s also poor LNT practice to alter the path in any way, including leaving cairns or markers. In some cases, it is appropriate to block offshoots of a track that have developed due to a high volume of people going the wrong way and created a padded path. Apart from that though, don’t alter the path at all! If you find yourself needing to leave ‘breadcrumbs’, that’s a sign you lack capability, you’re out of your depth and you shouldn’t be there!
Header photo by Jonathan Tan from @thetantrap
Keen to come along to our 3 night Wilderness Navigation Weekend?