When planning an adventure I usually set off from point A and finish at point B. This is the simplest and easiest to measure method of travelling. Often my adventures are in remote places, with little reliable mapping and sketchy internet coverage. Even so, I need to be able to reliably get to my final destination. Navigating isn’t a black art. It’s usually much simpler than people first think.
Here are the best methods to navigate on a human powered adventure.
Map and Compass
You can’t go wrong with a trusty map and compass. With a little practice, this method is one of the best to navigate, especially on remote adventures.
- “Trust your compass” is the advice I was given during my training in the military. The map and compass are reliable and once you are comfortable with the skills required to use them, it is one of the best ways to navigate.
- No batteries required. If you want to disconnect from technology, this is the best method to navigate.
- Relatively cheap. A decent compass will last a lifetime. I would always recommend a Silva Compass.
- Can be a difficult skill to master. Navigating using a compass requires practise and skill fade can set in if not used frequently.
- Easier to use when travelling on foot. Can be more difficult to use a map when cycling or using other transport, but not impossible.
- If travelling over large distances, carrying multiple maps can become a pain.
- Mapping in less developed countries can be pretty terrible. We are lucky in the UK that our mapping is at such a high standard. Once you head into Africa or other less developed countries, the mapping can become hard to follow is not often accurate.
If you have a smartphone, you have access to google maps. Through the magic of modern technology, you are able to turn your phone into a pretty powerful GPS. I have successfully used google maps this to navigate on adventures in Europe and Africa.
- Good for following roads. Even in less developed countries, the mapping can be better than actual paper maps.
- Fits in your pocket. Means no carrying off masses of paper maps.
- Will tell you where you are without using data. Location services work even when data is turned off.
- Tip – if you know where you are going in advance and the area is not too large, you can download the map area offline. This saves data costs whilst travelling. For instructions on how to do this, read here.
- Whenever you rely on a piece of technology, it can fail. It can be as simple as your battery running out or your phone could be damaged.
- You will find yourself checking your phone more frequently, which not a good thing. Adventures are a great way of disconnecting from technology.
- You will likely use more power from your phone which means that charging will become an issue. This can be avoided if you write down the directions you wish to follow into a route card. For an idea of what a route card should look like, check here or here is a simple route card I made on one of my adventures through Belgium.
Using your phone as a GPS (Global Positioning System) is one option. There are plenty of other handheld GPS’s that are available on the market. Some will give you simple features such as your position and heading. Other have full maps included.
- Can be used in conjunction with a map and compass. A GPS should not fully replace a map, especially in remote places. If you are cycling and using roads, you can take more risk and use GPS more.
- Easy to use and 99% accurate (usually).
- Similar to google maps, technology can fail.
- Can be expensive.
- A GPS will tell you where you are but can often struggle to tell you where to go. Blindly following a GPS can lead to disaster. If you are using a GPS, be aware of your surroundings and don’t follow it off the edge of a cliff.
Asking for directions
If you are heading out on an adventure with no strict time limit, why not leave the maps at home and trust signposts and locals for your directions advice.
- Will lead to more social interactions with locals.
- One of the simplest methods.
- Could lead to some advice to visit somewhere you didn’t consider.
- Cheapest and easiest method. Also the most fun
- Some locals will have only ever travelled to places by car. If you are walking or cycling, this could lead to poor advice and directions to busy roads.
- Can often be unreliable.
- Language barriers could become a problem in some countries
A combination of the above
There is no hard and fast rule for which method to use for navigation. You can use one, none or all of these. The journey can be enhanced by leaving technology behind and travelling by following the bearing of a compass or using the sun to travel. When I cycled along the coast of Northern Ireland, I rarely used any of the above methods, I just kept the sea in sight and to my right. Using rivers, oceans or other geographical features is a great way of navigating.