Why GPS Users should also learn Map & Compass Skills


This piece will hopefully inspire everyone who uses a GPS to become a competent map and compass navigator. You will get so much more out of walking in the lowlands, hills and mountains. You’ll also be safer and more confident. 
With a map and compass to hand, reading the landscape, you will feel like a bird soaring across the countryside, relating all the features to one another. Using a GPS is, on the other hand, akin to walking in a tunnel.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 more very good reasons to learn how to use a map and compass:

1 – Whether you use mapping software on your phone or a dedicated GPS like a Garmin, they are electronic devices which can malfunction, break, get lost or run out of power.

2 – Every single mountain rescue organisation in the world recommends that GPS users take a map and compass with them and know how to use them.

3 – In some settings they won’t work. For example in a deep and narrow valley or in dense broadleaved woodland during heavy rain. In both cases they may struggle to connect with sufficient satellites to locate you correctly.

4 – If you have been using your phone to navigate, by mid afternoon it is likely your battery will be very low. Accidents tend to happen from 3pm onwards, so if you need your phone to contact the emergency services, you could be in trouble.

5 – People using GPS technology tend to be fixated on where the small pink arrow shows they are on the map. Even if you are using the excellent Ordnance Survey app or software you will have little or no awareness of what else the map on the screen is telling you.

6 – Why do you want to rely on following other people’s routes? Understand what a map is telling you and you can confidently make up your own routes. You can also confidently change the route out of curiosity or necessity

7 – The majority of routes uploaded to walking sites are created on computers, not on the ground. This sometimes leads people into very dangerous situations.

8- People who use maps and compasses spend a lot of time not looking at them. The reason for this is they know what is coming in terms of ups and downs, rivers, woods etc, even if from where they are standing these things cannot be seen. Good map readers can effectively predict the future.

9 – A map gives you a much broader view of the surrounding landscape than any GPS or phone screen can.

10 – If you understand the wealth of information on a map, you almost become part of the landscape, moving confidently through it. This is tremendously satisfying and ups the enjoyment of a walk to another level. In short it will set you free!

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t carry a GPS with you! GPSs are amazing technology. Their fundamental purpose is to tell you where you are, and they do that really well, in most settings. So I’d strongly recommend carrying one… but keep it in your pack and use it sparingly. But if you really want to explore the lowlands, hills and mountains, I’d recommend making a map and compass your primary means of navigation.