BSA Fieldbook Logo

Chapter 12 - Navigation

“No, I can’t say as I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”

—Daniel Boone (1734–1820), frontiersman


Nature has provided many of its creatures with keen senses of direction. Species of birds migrate thousands of miles between warm southern climes and northern breeding grounds. Some butterflies also are migratory, and animals as diverse as honeybees, bats, whales, and reindeer seem to move with great certainty about where they are and where they wish to go.

Humans do not have the gift of strong directional instinct. What we do possess, however, is the ability to think clearly. By supplementing our reasoning with a few navigational instruments, we can make our way through even the most complicated wilderness terrain.

Navigation is problem solving of the highest order. It demands that you pay attention to details and make sense out of many bits of information. As with most outdoor skills, navigational competence can be developed only with practice. Increase your awareness of topography by observing your surroundings on outdoor trips and noting the lay of the land. Imagine the most likely locations for trails, campsites, portages, and summit routes, and then see if your guesses are right. Hone your ability to use maps and compasses by referring to them from the time you leave the trailhead. Before long you will seldom find yourself confused.