Land Navigation For Hikers

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
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Planning Your First Overnight Backpacking Trip

Finding Your Perfect Boot & Secondary Shoe

The North Face Vectiv Exploris Mid boots are comfortable to hike in, however, they have a very narrow toe. Keep in mind that feet swell during long hikes! Although they look very stylish, they did not work for me on the trail. I ended up with a pair of Merrill Moabs.

Whatever you do, don’t do what I did and select your first pair of boots because they “fit perfectly” in the store. It’s an easy mistake to make as a rookie, but trust me when I say you’re going to want boots that feel a little bit wide around the toe area, and not too snug anywhere else.

This is because after multiple miles hiked your feet will swell and, when they do, you’re going to be happy you have a little extra room to avoid friction burns and blisters.

There are plenty of boot options to go with. From ultralight-weight ones that don’t offer much toe protection, to ones that have reinforced siding to decrease the chances of a foot injury while you’re out on the trails, to water hikers. If you can swing it, I’d get at least two of the three listed. In my personal pack I carry my Teva (sandal style) water hikers so I don’t need to worry about soaking my daily hike boots when it comes time to cross a river or creek. When you’re just starting out, I recommend starting with a versatile boot. Find a pair that fits well, offers stability for your ankles, and has a little extra protection with mesh-venting the sides.

Teva’s feel great while walking and even better when dipping your feet in a fresh stream! These water-hikers are perfect for times when you don’t want to risk getting your primary boots soaked, but need to cross a waterway.

It’s important to keep in mind the traction of the soles as well. If you’re planning to hike off of the beaten path or do any wilderness thru-hiking, you’re going to be traversing a lot of different types of terrain. A good amount of “grip” on the earth will keep your ankles from rolling easily, and avoiding injuries on the trail is typically my biggest concern. I’ve acquired a weaker ankle from a previous injury so mid-level support is important to me. You’ll want to find your weak spots as a backpacker and then seek out the gear that supports you the best. There will never come a time that one particular brand always outweighs another, but, I do prefer quality, so I highly suggest a good brand when selecting your boots. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with soles trying to tear away, or holes in the scuff areas.

Finding Your Perfect Pack

While I was at Nymph Lake and Emerald Lake in the Rocky Mountains, The Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 50s are great packs that really came in handy for my wife and I. They have a rain cover already built into the bottom compartment of the pack which made it much easier to protect our gear. Thunderstorms brew quickly in the mountains so anything that offers a faster gear swap out is a big deal!

Now that you’ve found the right boots, you’ll want to spend time fitting your pack.

To properly select the pack I recommend remembering to take these few things into consideration:

How much water will the bladder section hold?
Personally, I prefer the Osprey mouthpiece for my kits.

As you already know, water is extremely important when the body is expending energy, and hiking works a lot of different muscle groups, which can quickly lead to dehydration if not properly prepared for. It is estimated that for every 2 hours of hiking a person will need to drink 1.5 liters of water, even more so in higher heat temperatures. I carry a 3L bladder in my pack and I’ve made it 7.5 hours up mountainous terrain while rationing that 3.5L. However, keep in mind there are additional sources of water when you’re out on the trails so that you don’t have to ration like I do. You can bring emergency equipment such as a life straw or water treatment tablets. These will allow you to drink from natural sources of water without carrying additional weight like you would with a secondary hydration pack or hip bag. Make sure when you’re shopping for your water bladder that it will fit in the bladder section of your bag without a problem. Most hydration bladders fit the majority of bag spaces, so you shouldn’t run into too many problems when purchasing this essential gear accessory.

How much storage capacity is required for the time I spend backpacking? 
I prefer a 50L bag when taking multi-day trips, but for a single day/6 mile or less hike, I use a Cotopaxi 24L Luzon.

The carrying capacity of your pack can come in many different shapes and sizes but here is a short breakdown to help you plan.

0-10 liters – A few carry items, snacks, emergency kit.

Osprey Small Day Cinch

10-20 liters – Great for a quick and light hike.

Osprey Daylite

20-30 liters – For full day hikes, this would be a proper size. It allows you to carry light rain gear, snacks, a decent-sized bladder, water hikers and an extra set of warm/cold weather gear dependent on your destination.

Cotopaxi 24 Luzon

30-50 liters or more – These are best for overnight and multi-day trips. The extra space does add weight to your pack, but it allows you to pack all of the gear you’ll need to embrace the elements. Don’t forget to throw in a bear canister if you’re trekking bear country.

Gregory 50
How do I size my pack?
Technology Side-note: Osprey have started using their new anti-gravity technology and it really has been a game changer in load bearing.

Contrary to popular belief, packs aren’t just measured by your height. This means taller people don’t have to have a taller pack, and it also means shorter people don’t need a smaller pack. To properly measure your pack you will need a measuring tape and measure form the C7 (cervical section, where the bone sticks out from the back of your neck) to the iliac crest (top of your hips). Most packs are adjustable to a certain extent when it comes to length, but width around hips is usually within a few inches for snug-fitting. Be sure to try your pack on for comfort before taking it out on a trip. Many retailers will not replace used gear unless it’s a warrantied manufacturing defect.

Example measurements, but make sure you try your bag on when it arrives or while you’re in the store. Sizing varies individually.

Train, Before You Go

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the adventure part of backpacking and forget to do the training first. Just know that some trails are marked intermediate and difficult for good reason. Most hikers plan for 5-6 miles a day when starting out, but some experienced thru-hiker may go 16 miles a day or even more!

Intermediate and difficult rated trails are usually rated by technicality of terrain, the strenuous level, and dividing the vertical distance by the horizontal distance.

Sometimes you just need a breather in a meadow.

But, what does all of that really mean? It means if you’re not careful you can find yourself in a very bad situation very fast. Mother Nature has a strange sense of humor sometimes and many times it’s at the hikers expense. But if you properly train before taking on these endeavors, you’ll find a great sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed the trail.

I recommend starting at a local trail, and tracking your time, distance and usage of water during the hike. AllTrails Pro is an app that will track your route, even if you take a detour from a main trail. Trust me, it’s saved me before in a situation where I found myself lost in the wilderness. Check out the blog post for mapping your trail if you’d like to know more.

Fun fact: When my best friend (my wife) and I completed the first difficult-rated trail system it felt like we’d hit a huge milestone. It was life-changing and brewed up the idea of an innovation and technical gearing company, now known as HykLyt. Thanks to this milestone in our journey, we get to help others live theirs!

Pick Your Trail, Gear Out Essentials, And Go!

Now you have your boots, your pack, and you’ve trained. To really get out there, the only thing left is listing your essential gear, and then making sure you have any permits (wilderness/backcountry permits) required to enter the areas you plan to hike. There’s a bit of information to list out for both of those subjects so I’m going to break those down into separate articles for those who are interested. You can find the links at the bottom of this page.

Click here to see list of essential gear.

Click here to learn how to navigate national park permits, timed-entry to wilderness areas, and gain travel tips when visiting parks systems.

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