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Land Navigation

Let us talk Navigation


This is a subject not only do I love, but one that I had to master at a young age because of my job.


As an Infantryman in the US Army, we had to master this skill. So much that we did it all the time. And as an NCO, I was required to know it all.


Back then the GPS was a new thing. So I just missed out on it. So, we learned the old school way to Land Navigation


There are a few things to learn when using a Map and Compass.


That is, how to use a Map and Compass.


Old Boy Scout Expression.


“If you don’t want to get lost. Always stay found.”


That saying you must always know where you are on the map. and the area you are working in.


First the Compass. 


The Compass isn’t that difficult to understand and learn. You can learn from just about any compass. But I suggest you get one that tells more than the azimuth. You need direction, you need degrees of direction.


Once you can look at a compass, and understand the direction you are pointing it at. Then you will start to understand how it works. It can tell you many things. The direction you are aiming it. The direction from where you came from. I choose my compass with a few extras. I want a glow in the dark bezel. I want to be able to read it clearly. I want it to have a mirror. A magnifying glass, and a protector, for several size maps. I also want a compass that you can close up. This will help to protect it from being bumped around.


There are several make and brands of compasses. Take your time and find the best one you can afford. You will be happy in the long run.


The better the quality, the better it will work at all altitudes, and terrains. I’ve seen models develop bubbles in them. Don’t use one with such an illness.


I attach a distance bead counter to mine. This is a piece of paracord, with beads on it. Four at the top, to pull down when you’ve reached a kilometer in your pace count. Your pace count is broken up into 100 meter increments. This is measured out by every time your right foot makes a step covering a 100 meters. For example, Mine is 61 right foot steps. Now remember, to start stepping with your left foot. That’s your military left.


Once you’ve hit your pace count that places you at 100 meters, then you pull down one of the 9 beads on the bottom. Once you’ve pulled them all down, the last 100 meters you pull down a 1000 meter bead.  You get it? If you don’t master your pace count over different terrains. Flat, up and down hills, and around obstacles. Then you will be off in your count, and your distance travelled. And if you are out in the dark or in difficult terrain, than you could under or over pace yourself. And not arrive at the correct position.


So, you have somethings to learn about using that compass. Don’t worry. Everyone does. It’s part of learning, and mastering this tool. Once you have confidence in it. You’ll always be right. Although, I’ve seen guys make mistakes. It happens. But those are usually because they are tired, stressed, and hungry.


Next it the topographic map. This is a map with many features on it. From roads, to contour lines, man-made objects, like buildings, rivers etc.. It also have something when use to unlock information. The Key. Usually on many maps this is found on the map sheet at the bottom, the side or on the back. There will be loads of information that you need to learn and understand.


The Map will have a title. Here in Switzerland it’s front of the map. Most other countries it’s on the top of the map sheet. If it’s a military map it may begin with a code. Like AB or EN. These are where the map horizonal and vertical lines fall on the international grid. Some will use a nearby city, as you find on CH Maps. No country does it the same. Some actually leave it all out. For security reasons.


Then there’s the grid plot information.

Here in Switzerland, it’s very different than the military maps I used in the US. But here it’s pretty simple. You’ll find all of this in the Key, or the legend. As it’s referred to here.


Also in the Key you will find information about objects found on the map sheet.


I usually teach the 7 main terrain features first.


These are.










Then the secondary, which for me are just as important.


Contour lines






Altitude of hill tops

Names of towns and cities


There is also information about the measurement of the map. This will look like 1:10,000 scale. Or 1:25,000.

The larger the second number the small the size of the map. Try to use nothing larger than a 1:25,000 scale topo map.


One of the most important items you can find on the amp sheet. Is the Declination. This is the difference between the Grid North and the Magnetic North. Depending on where you are on the Earth, this will change. What this is saying is that the North your compass is showing you, isn’t necessarily the North the map is giving you. When I was living in Washington State. The difference was 21º This meant that when I wanted to travel on the map at 100º I had to add 21º on my compass to arrive at the correct spot. That meant I had to shot my azimuth at 121º. Now it’s important that you get this correct. Because you could end up very far off from the spot you want to arrive at if you don’t do this. We used this to remember how to do it. Map = Major, and Grid = General. SO when we got a gird point from out map to travel to (Coordinates) We had to add the declination. Or, the major went up to the General. When we shot an azimuth and had to plot it on the map, we subtracted the declination. The information went from General to Major, or Grid to Map. Don’t be too confused. We were at times. But this little rule helped us to remember.


In the map are grid lines, these are lines that run vertical and horizonal. Up and down, and left and right.


These lines form grid squares. And inside of each gird square is another grid square, and another grid square. But you can see them on the map. But with the help of a protractor you will. This grid squares help you to plot a position. In the Army we lived off of the 10 digit grid square. This meant we had the Map Sheet name (AA or BF) for example, then we have the two number from the horizonal and vertical lines and the squares that ment. Then within the grid square using a protractor we were able to measure and obtain the next grid squares numbers.

Here’s an example of how that might look.

AB95831677 or it would be found by the


AB (Page name)

95 horizonal line

16 Vertical line

83 Horizonal line with in the grid square

77 Vertical line with in the grid square


With this information we could find the location or where we wanted to go, or where we were on the map sheet.


I know this isn’t easy. But it takes time and training. We had to learn it in a day, then master it every day afterwards.


Of course her in Switzerland it’s a little different.


You don’t need the map sheet name. The information is already found in the Horizonal and vertical line.


Horizonal line will look like this.








So, from the left or right hand side of the map you will find the line marked 179. On the top or bottom you will find the vertical line marked 587. This to numbers will present you with the Grid Square. Then using  a protractor, you can split up the grid square into its 6 digit numbers. Giving you a total of 12 digit grid squares.

Could look like this:

179356 587950


Actually, I have found this to be much easier. But it’s a longer grid square to write, or to be transmitted.


So, there you go. I suggest you take a beginner course. And once you’ve mastered that, then take an advanced course.


You will go from sitting in a classroom environment to walking around in the woods at night. Walking from point to point.  


I’ve taught young boys and girls to do this. So it should be easy for you.


If you are interested in learning. Please contact me through the web site. I would be more than happy to talk with you and see what you want to do.  


Just title it “Land Nav”.

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