Navigation Equipment

Navigation equipment to pack for on track day walks

Navigation is the process of planning and following a particular route. This requires matching a physical location onto a map and vice-versa.

In an urban context, navigation relies heavily on GPS units (now ubiquitous in mobile devices), however, in the bush if the device fails or runs out of battery, there must be a backup.

Therefore, using multiple of navigational aids (including paper maps and compass) is advisable, particularly when entering remote areas.

Navigational aids include:

Track notes How to use bushwalking track notes

Track notes generally provide information on walk length and approximate time for completion and give an indication of the difficulty. Most notes include some kind of map, but the quality varies (e.g. the map may schematic, rather than topologically accurate). Some track notes include specific navigation information (e.g. turn left at the intersection) and information on facilities (e.g. parking, toilets, lookouts).

Before the walk, print out and read track notes. Re-read notes on the morning of the walk. Store notes in a waterproof case that is easily accessible (e.g. zip-lock bag or map case). Refer to notes and map regularly throughout the walk. Every couple of hundred meters cross check the map with the physical surrounds. If the surrounds don’t match, stop, assess, and retrace steps if necessary.

Carry multiple sets of tracks notes in the group in case one set gets lost.

Download track notes for bushwalking in NSW from Wildwalks.

Map & compass Topographic maps & compass used for bushwalking

Topographic maps graphically represent topological (mountains, valleys, slopes), hydrographic (creeks, rivers) and other natural or urban features. Features are drawn to scale on a coordinate grid so users can determine their relative and absolute positions. Using a map and compass, bushwalkers can plan and navigate a walking route.

Map reading is a skill that takes time to master but opens up off-track walking options. Bushwalkers can determine the most efficient way to navigate down a ridge, cross a river, and even avoid scrub just by using a map and compass.

For on-track walking, bushwalkers rarely use a compass to identify where they are on a track, but rather rely on other map features (e.g. hilltop, creek junction). However, a compass can be useful if someone needs to step off the track to go to the toilet.

Mapcase Why carry a mapcase?

A map case protects maps and track notes from damage and weather, and can be worn around the neck for easy reading. Even a small amount of rain can make notes illegible, and maps can be easily lost when scrambling along a bushwalking track.

A few more tips:

  • Use a water-tight map case that is big enough to see a good amount of the track.
  • Keep the map on one side of the case and the track notes on the other side; flip between sides to view notes and map without having to open up the case (keeps maps and notes protected from water and damage).
  • Carry multiple sets of tracks notes in the group in case one set gets lost.

GPS/smartphone Electronic navigation equipment

GPS units and smartphones can be helpful at pinpointing where the group is on the track but for off-track walking, additional map reading skills are needed to identify and navigate a course through the bush.

Avoid relying heavily on electronic GPS units in case of failure. Carry spare batteries and suitable protection for the unit and batteries from rain/heat/cold (e.g. zip-lock plastic bag stored at the bottom of back).

Respect others on the bushwalk: a common reason that people go bushwalking is to escape the overload of modern technology. If using the phone as a GPS device, turn it to silent and only make phone calls in an emergency.

Download our Day Walk Gear Checklist.

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