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Recent Land Navigation Class Review


Angle of Repose:
So I started a Group called the Prepper Skills Group, and this past weekend in Portland, Maine (USA), I hosted a 2 hour intro class on the basics of Natural/Land Navigation Skills utilizing many of the techniques listed in the Ultimate Navigation Manual.

A writer from the blog attended and did a write up on the event. Thought you guys might find it interesting.
Source: [/b]]

Land Navigation meetup!

Stuart Thomas at Prepared Associates also coordinates a Prepper Skills Group at This is essentially an organized effort to get people of the prepping mindset together to learn a skillset or to network. Last week, on April 12, he hosted a Land Navigation meetup, for all to attend. It costs just a dollar, and it was pretty cool, I’m not gonna lie. My son Andy and I grabbed stuff to take notes and our compasses, and headed out to a park (that is actually a capped-over landfill…much nicer than it sounds!) to meet Stuart and the others who joined up.


We showed up a few minutes early to sit and chit-chat with Stuart, who is just a great guy, very approachable and intelligent to talk to.  Two other couples showed up, making it six people for Stuart to herd around and teach. Once we got settled, Stuart introduced himself, and then had us go around and introduce ourselves and explain any land navigation skills we may have. It ranged all over, from a fella who was in the armed forces and lived with a compass in hand everyday back then, to my son, who had little experience other than what I’d shown him or he’d learned from hunter’s safety courses. It was a great mix, and everyone was helpful and friendly.

First, Stuart had us spread out so we wouldn’t bang into each other. He then had us look around the area for about 30 seconds or so, then told us to close our eyes so we couldn’t see each other, then asked us to point in the general direction we thought North was in. All of us got reasonably close, but he helped us narrow it down with some specific tactics. These ranged from methods that were pretty specific and accurate (using the sun and its position in the sky, or shadows from a stick in the ground) to pretty vague methods that would work only if you knew the general area (smell of a bean factory and you knew the prevailing winds, for example). But they were all taught to us so we could use a variety of methods, from specific to vague, all in concert to help us really pinpoint where you are in an area. I was surprised how accurate some of these methods were, to tell you the truth. This is why you shell out the bucks (or buck, in this case) for training from people who know what they are doing: you learn lots of cool stuff that actually works – and it’s almost all stuff you probably never thought of. (Who knew jet contrails in the Northeast  could be used to find north?!?)


Learning our pace count Learning our pace count

We then collected ourselves, and headed down the trail from the parking lot, to a spot where Stuart had marked a line in the ground, and planted a stick as a starting point marker. Here he explained the basics of a pace count, and how to use it. He showed us how to use “Ranger Beads”, a method used to measure distance based on pace count, and told us to get out there and figure out our pace in a variety of terrain (up hill, down hill, in fog, sand, snow, etc.)…and recommended that once we know these bits of information on our pace counts over a given terrain and distance, to write them down and place the information in our packs for quick reference. He also mentioned that when we’re figuring out these numbers, try it over a given distance several times and take an average, then he showed us why.

He had us start at his pre-planted stick marker, then showed us a path to travel down the trail to another marker that he’d set out, for a 50-meter distance. Stuart then had us check our pace count down to the marker, then come back while counting. I had 47 paces out, 48 returning. My son had 45, then 44. It’s not an exact science, but the more you do it, then more exact your pace numbers will be. And the longer the distance you test them over, the more accurate it will be. Stuart then gave us a few suggestions on how to measure out known distances, and we discussed using meters vs. yards/feet. (by the way, Stuart, at 6’5″ tall, said his pace count was “retarded”.)


We then walked up the landfill hill to find a wonderful open spot where we could see several natural and man-made landmarks, such as a quarry, church steeple, cellphone towers. We then dug out our compasses, and we were educated on baseplate vs. lensatic compasses (luckily a group member brought his military lensatic compass to show us all how they worked.) Stuart showed us how to use landmarks on a given heading to keep yourself moving in a straight line over a distance, and then had us pick a bearing and head out on that bearing, using our pace count. We were then instructed to use the reciprocal bearing (180 degrees off our initial bearing) and then return, using that same pace count, to see how close we came to our starting point. It was pretty cool to see how accurate the two in combination could be. Then we were told to go to a bearing of 120, walk out 30 paces, turn to a bearing of 240, walk 30 paces, then walk 30 paces using a bearing of 0 degrees. Essentially, we made a big equilateral triangle, and he showed us that it should have brought us back to our starting point (I was about 10 feet off). It was a great exercise, and I plan to try it out in the woods to get more experience with it.


We finished up with a discourse on true North versus magnetic North, and an explanation of declination. He explained that as of 2014, where we were in Maine had a declination of 15 degrees 38 minutes West, but if you go to Washington state, it’s about 15 degrees East. Or maybe you live in Mississippi, where angle of declination is about 0 degrees. He demonstrated that all topo maps were based on true North, and showed us how to mark our compasses to use them more easily for use with topographical maps. I actually went out and bought a Suunto M3 compass just like he had, because it has a dial where you can automatically adjust for declination. Pretty cool stuff.

An interesting side note, the topo I used to teach the class showed a declination of 14 degrees west (printed this year from while the NOAA site was giving me 15 degrees 38 minutes West for my location. I went with NOAA.

Looks like a good day out :)

Angle of Repose:
It was a nice day. Probably the first really nice day since September '13! It has been a long hard winter up in the NE.  :P

Pete McK:
A nice report Angle of Repose.

Something you might like to consider: adding is a technique we use to get the kids to orient the map.

We randomly place a dozen traffic cones - not sure what the Americanism is for these, but they are portable, conical, orange bollards usually placed around a traffic accident to advise other motorists - in a large open and level field. We then get the kids to draw a map with the cones located on it, this in itself is a very interesting exercise for them, and they then have to mark a route on their map which takes in all the cones. Then they swap their maps with each other and are shown how tom orient the map to their environment and asked to follow the route using this method.

It usually takes a while for the group to pick up this technique and when the do it makes transferring to a printed map so much easier, 

Good report. It's always worth getting out with someone experienced who can talk you through things.


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