I once met a man who was lost in the hills and so, naturally, I offered to help him find his way. I asked him if he had a map and he hurriedly produced a brand new Ordinance Survey (OS)map from his rucksack. Pre-empting my question about why was he not studying it when I happened across him, he volunteered that he didn’t know how to read it!  It was quite easy to show him where he was and what he needed to do to get back to his car and I’m sure he lived to get lost another day!

But the moral of the tale is that it is no use having the kit if you don’t know how to use it!

So what is the solution? A short course on map reading and navigation in the hills will not break the bank – especially at Step-Outside.

In the meantime, if you don’t have a map, go into any creditable walking shop the staff will be happy to tell and show you the main differences between the different ‘scales’ of map – and they will find the right one for your area – I would strongly recommend the 1:25,000 scale called Explorer and get the one that covers where you live – even if you live in a city!

DSC_0011I say that because you can get some great practicing in simply by walking round the streets and fields in your local area. You do not always have to be out in the wilds to practice. See http://walkingcottagespembrokeshire.co.uk/can-you-practise-walking-skills-at-home-too-right-you-can/ and I’ll blog about urban practice another time.

DSC_0003-001But also ask to look at the Harvey maps – these are a different scale again and while they are not available for the whole country for the areas they do cover, they are very good because they use different colours and shadings to bring the map into a clearer 3D perspective – and they contain lots of interesting reading material on the reverse side.

As I said, learning to get the best from a map takes practice and the trick is to learn how to ‘unpack’ all of the information that it contains in an ordered way and only focus on a few bits at a time. The 1:25,000 scale Explorer series of maps are my favourite because they contain the most information and so this ‘unpacking’ thing is important. For example they show you where the field boundaries are and these can be great navigational clues for you as you walk along. I understand that for those who are not used to reading maps, the first impressions can be that the map has too much information and you might want to give up before you start. But trust me you will be glad of all that information one day and it really is easier to ‘unpack’ the map than you might think.

DSC_0018Learning to properly plan a walk is at least as important as learning to navigate your way around your route and again the map is your essential piece of kit: do not assume that there will be a well worn and signposted path all the way round! Once you can read the map with confidence then you can, effectively, ‘see’ the route you are planning in your mind’s eye.

The message is a simple one: get to know how to read a map, plan your routes properly and then navigate them safely. And the solution is also simple: have a look at the Step Outside website and the Skills Week package. That is where you can learn what you need to know about walking skills and at the same time you can have all sorts of other useful and enjoyable outdoors related experiences. We’re a great trio of friendly people and we love to help others gain what they need to get the most from the outdoors. have a look and give us a call.