Terrain Association Via Topographic Map
Terrain association is a comparison of what you can see in real life and matching that with your map. The best terrain association develops when you’re able to locate specific ridges and mountain tops on your map thanks to what are called topographic maps .
With a topographic map you’ll be able to triangulate your location rather easily; simply by finding the largest landmarks around you. A tall rock formation, a tree line, or a riverbed can help you determine which way you need to go.
Topographic maps add contour lines where a regular atlas does not. You’re able to quickly find hotspot locations thanks to how much easier it is to follow the pathing when curvature and depth have been added to a map, unlike the paper maps you’ll come across at every travel center.
There will be multiple colors for different contour lines. These colors will represent a different level of “steepness” and when you have more than one contour line following the same path you can expect a very steep ridge.
Check the map legend for elevation measurements on contour lines.
After having a topographic map, you’ll see that your compass apps are a bit lackluster in comparison. There are apps such as AllTrails Pro that have some topographic features built into it, but those cost a subscription to continue to utilize.
So, How Do You Perform Land Navigation?
In its truest form, land navigation is done with a protractor tool, a 1:25,000 full color topographic map, and a compass that doesn’t stick.
The protractor would be used to encapsulate a radius and that radius would be laid out multiple times, plotting the landmarks along the way, until you reach your destination.
However, for the hiker’s land nav, all you need to do is practice your pace, and familiarize yourself with the direction you’re wanting to travel.
Practicing Your Pace
You’ll want to have a full understanding of how far your pace gets you while hiking. For many, 100 steps is equal to one Klik, or kilometer. A kilometer is also equal to a little over half a mile (0.62 mile/3280 feet).
How do you tell when you’re planning a klik off of eyesight alone?
When you are in the wilderness, a klik is usually going to be what you can clearly see along your horizon. Not the furthest back on the horizon, but the closest horizon object you can make out without any problem. On a clear day, with nothing blocking your view, a person can clearly see roughly 3 miles. So, if you are on flat ground and can see all the way to the curvature of your horizon line, then divide that out by six and there’s your klik!
Remember that terrain will affect your pace. It takes, on average, 100 steps to reach a kilometer on flat land, but if you’re heading uphill you can count on 120 steps, and if you’re heading downhill, you can reduce it to 90 steps.
Plotting Your Kliks
After you have a good understanding of what your pace looks like you can use the legend on your map to estimate how far your destination is, and how many kliks you will be trekking. The map-key should have a mile or half mile stretch measured on the legend of the map.
Use those half mile stretches to get a base understanding of which landmarks you should be able to see at each klik plot point. Then plot the point at these landmarks.
If you travel your first kilometer and reach your landmark, then check the horizon for your next landmark, rinse and repeat, then you’ve now learned how to Land Nav!
The Best Land Nav Checkpoints
You’re going to do a lot better with your land navigation skills if you learn to seek out the best plot points on your map.
The best land nav checkpoints are going to be rivers & streams, ridges, valleys, roads, trail crossings and railroads.
The second best land nav checkpoints will be elevation changes such as hills, cliffs, and spurs.
Now That You Are Ready To Practice Your Land Nav Skills
Keep in mind that you should have tie-offs in your pack. For survival purposes, if you are using land nav to get to safety, or find a source of water, use tie-offs on tree branches every few hundred feet to help guide your way back, if needed.
If you’re just out exploring and going for a trek, remember that the best thing for the great outdoors, is to leave no trace!
This post was written by Evan