Knowing how to navigate without your mobile phone should be a priority for all weekend explorers, regardless of the route! Andrew Dawson from Unleashed-Unlimited, who ran our Wilderness Navigation Escape outside of Melbourne, lets us in on how to navigate without your ‘dog and bone.’

Your mobile phone may be awesome if you want to avoid the current traffic, take the fastest route by car, or to check in with your mates at the local café. It can be near on useless, however, if you’re planning a route through remote wilderness over rugged terrain by foot.

For one thing, screen size can be really limiting when it comes to getting the bigger picture of an area. There’s also the likelihood of losing coms or satellite connection in the wilderness, the need for power resupply, and the fact that your average phone simply isn’t made to stand up to the harsh conditions that the wilderness can dish out.

The bottom line is: your phone can be useful, but a map and compass are much more reliable, and there’s no substitute for a few essential navigation skills.


Plan And Prepare

The first step for any successful wilderness expedition is preparation and planning. Get as much information from as many reliable sources as possible, and sift through that information using your knowledge and experience to plan the best route possible.

Contact your local National Parks office and make use of forums like We Are Explorers’ Facebook groups to ask fellow Explorers for advice.


Know How To Read A Map

Ever looked at all those squiggly lines on a map and wondered what on earth to make of it? Well, with practice you can actually use a topographical map and its contours to form an accurate 3D mental picture of the lay of the land.

With this, you can plan the best route, and you can tell if you’re staying on the right track. This is probably the most fundamental skill of wilderness navigation.


Know How To Use A Compass

That ancient little device that responds to the Earth’s magnetic fields is still one of the most useful tools in navigation today. Being able to use it means understanding how to take bearings on a map and to use these to find your direction on the ground.

Conversely, it means being able to take bearings on the ground and find your location on the map. To do all this you first need to know what all the arrows, lines and numbers on the compass mean, and how to manipulate its functions.


Know How To Use Your GPS

There’s often a false sense of security in carrying technology like a GPS. Just as with the map and compass, it’s not enough just to have it, you also need to know how to use it.

You need to be able to translate the information from the GPS into something meaningful, like where you are and where you are going, which means understanding things like position formats and map datum. And, although typically designed more for wilderness conditions than your average mobile phone, your GPS is still prone to problems of technological failure.


Keep Aware Of Your Surroundings

Just as you can’t expect to find your car in the car park if you didn’t pay attention when you parked it, you’ll never find your way in the wilderness if you don’t keep aware of what’s around you.

‘Situational awareness’ is the term often used in the military to describe this important skill. For navigation, it means keeping track of the terrain you’ve covered and comparing your surroundings with what you would expect from what you see on the map.


Have A Contingency Plan

Proper preparation means that you’ll have a plan in place for when things go wrong. Experienced wilderness travellers know how to use a range of techniques for getting to safety in an emergency or getting back on track when lost. One of these is always carrying a PLB/distress beacon. And if all else fails, you’ll want to have let people know your intentions so they know where to look for you if you don’t come back on time.



Want to join We Are Explorers on a different Wilderness Escape? Keep an eye on our Events page for details.

Feature photo thanks to @hittheroadjac_aus