Map and Compass Navigation

** These pages are intended as a quick reference, and not a comprehensive resource. **

A map is a two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional world you'll be travelling in.

All maps will have some basic features in common and map reading is all about learning to understand their particular "language."

You'll end up using a variety of maps to plan and run your trip but perhaps the most useful map is a topographic map. A topographic map uses markings such as contour lines to simulate the three-dimensional topography of the land on a two-dimensional map.

In Canada, we use the National Topographic System (NTS) which provides general-purpose topographic map coverage of Canada. These maps depict in detail ground relief (landforms and terrain), drainage (lakes and rivers), forest cover, administrative areas, populated areas, transportation routes and facilities (including roads and railways), and other man-made features.

In this section you will find some basic instructions for navigating with a map and compass.  While this is useful information, it is only secondary to the benefit of taking a course on Map and Compass Navigation. Talk to your Team Leader or to find out when the next course will be offered.

Happy Orienteering!


This material is taken from Chapter 6 - Wilderness Travel from The Backpackers Field Manual by Rick Curtis. For more details on this exciting book check out The Backpacker's Field Manual Page.

This material is provided by the author for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience. Princeton University and the author assume no liability for any individual's use of or reliance upon any material contained or referenced herein. When going into outdoors it is your responsibility to have the proper knowledge, experience, and equipment to travel safely. This material may not be reproduced in any form for commercial or Internet publication without express written permission of the author. Copyright 1999, all rights reserved, Random House Publishing & Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

All online information at the Outdoor Action Web Site is protected by copyright laws. You may set up links to material found at the Outdoor Action Web Site. Printed versions of the material may be distributed for nonprofit educational use as long as no fees are charged for the material, attributions are made to the author, and no content changes are made. Commercial use of this material either in electronic or printed form is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright 1995 - 2004, all rights reserved, Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University. Send your comments and suggestions on the OA Web Site to Outdoor Action.