Wild Family Fun

Tales of living, working and enjoying life in the outdoors

December 05, 2013

Maps, compasses and micro navigation

So, this is going to be a slightly different post. I hope it doesn’t get too technical, but I would love to share an aspect of my job that I love learning about.

My job involves a great deal of continual learning and development in all aspects of outdoor pursuits.  Throughout the past 18 months, I have found myself steering towards improving my map working skills.

This is quite a refined work-role, and I have learned that if a female in this field is able to acquire more diverse skills, then she becomes a much more sought-after team member. This, in turn, opens more doors to more work and, hence, more experiences.

Having completed my Basic Expedition Leader course, I now find myself  working as a sessional Duke of Edinburgh Award leader. In this role, investing time on improving map skills and orienteering knowledge is a continuous process.

So here comes the techie bit…

One of my favourite activities is micro-navigation. This is the interpretation, recognition and location of small details on a map. These are found using map and compass techniques such as pacing, timing, contour interpretation and feature interpretation.

Quite simply put, the skill of navigation is knowing where you are, knowing where you’d like to go and knowing how to get there. Using micro-navigation is intended to help you to stay on the right track to your destination. Most people will feel confident in walking on a sunny and clear day, but having the ability to micro-navigate will help to guide a person when visibility is poor, tracks and paths disappear or you have to change your route.

Micro-navigation improves a persons compass work. Working on, and taking, compass bearings is an important skill, as it enables a person to stay on course even if the features are not visible.  It teaches a person to use their pacing steps to measure distance which, in turn, can help when trying to determine how far you have traveled.

It really is an important tool to have a well grounded, confident approach to map work. The more knowledge you can acquire helps to overcome that slight feeling of panic that can creep in when you’re out in the wilds, and that little voice of doubt starts telling you that you ARE actually a bit unsure…….????

The following pictures show a fantastic area for micro-navigation – Penderyn Moor in Brecon.

Not too far from the road, but far enough away so that, after only half an hours’ walk, you get the feeling of…….. freedom !!


When I’m out learning about map work, I do smile to myself, as it makes me remember the one of the most romantic presents my husband ever gave me.

My Silva Militare compass.

I know, it’s a bit strange, (certainly different to flowers or jewellry), but he got it for me before a three-day assessment in the windy wilds of the Gower. I passed, and I’d like to believe that my new compass helped in some way.

The Silva compass is really the daddy of all compasses and, for me, the great thing about it is the magnifying glass. It means that I can tell the difference between what could be a blue water feature on the map, or a dot made by a blue pen. This is the difference between getting wet, or planning a needless traverse taking you miles out of your way, avoiding an obstacle that isn’t really there.

 It’s practical in every respect, because it’s robust, compact and yet easy to read and operate with cold fingers !! This little gadget helped me to calculate distance very easily with a simple glance, and it really gave me a lot of confidence just by having it by my side.

 I’m lucky in my career to have the chance to learn new skills and even luckier that my school is often the most stunning outdoor areas to be found in Wales and England.

Leonardo da Vinci is attributed to have once said “Learning never exhausts the mind”. With a classroom and playground like this, learning can also be fun !!



The opinions expressed herein are unbiased and based upon my own personal experiences  

8 thoughts on “Maps, compasses and micro navigation

  1. Ann Davies says:

    Excellent!! Keep it up Kim, love reading these blogs.


    Sent from my iPhone


    1. wildwear says:

      thanks ann, really enjoy sharing my experiences. thank you for reading!

  2. davidprosser says:

    A lovely post and the techie-speak is enough to make me feel I’d like you at my side if I ever decide to get lost in the wilds. I’m sure you’ll be teaching plenty of young people the skills that may save a life one day.Great stuff.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    1. wildwear says:

      Evening, after a bit of a rubbish day your comment has completely cheered me up. Your replies are so lovely and sincere and its great to get such positive feedback. Thank you and i now have a great big smile on my face.

  3. This sounds like so much fun – especially when you have those views at the “office!” I’ve taken a basic compass course and it was fascinating. I bet it’s really rewarding/reassuring to have that skill set and to have that sort of versatility in experiences/learning in your work. Thanks for sharing – I thought this was a really interesting post!

    1. wildwear says:

      Thank you, was a bit nervous about posting this, with so much info but i really love learning about this subject. Well done on completing a compass course. It really is an enjoyable skill to develop. Thanks again for great feedback, always nice to hear.

  4. TheBoyandMe says:

    The Boy is just getting to grips with the idea of a compass but we still don’t really have any idea of how to use one! Luckily we keep A with us at all times.

    1. wildwear says:

      Ha, got some good learning sheets at home will have to dig some out and share. Bet The Boy be fab at it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *