What Are Navigational Skills and Why Are They Important?

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Navigation is a niche of study wherein one controls and monitors vehicles, ships, or crafts movements from one place to another.  It can be categorized into 4 types, namely marine navigation, land navigation, aeronautical navigation, and space navigation.

Navigational skills are the techniques that determine the direction and position of a vehicle when navigating.

What Are Navigational Skills

What are basic navigational skills?

Navigation skills can range from simple to complex, and the person with a decent knowledge of navigation remains safe and enjoys it when navigating. Here we will see a few basic skills required for navigation.

1. Reading maps and scales

The map is a fundamental and essential navigation tool, and you should read it thoroughly. It is important to learn to read various essential features like valleys, ridges, rivers, and roads on the map before navigation.

Since maps come in all sizes and shapes, one should go for a good brand map like “Harvey” or “OS Leisure”. Both these brand maps are waterproof, light, and easy to understand.

There are two basic types of maps – maps of a scale of 1:25000 and 1:50000. 

The 1:50000 maps are less detailed but cover a larger area. The 1:25000 maps are more detailed and are ideal for navigation.

2. Understanding the dangers

Understanding dangers is necessary for safe navigation, and that’s why one should master the navigational skills to minimize the risk. Also, while navigating especially in the mountains, watch for weather conditions. Secondly, always follow and understand the danger signage used in a navigation area.

3. Reading compasses

A compass is an essential and primary navigation tool, and it is significant for your safety during navigation. It tells you your location at any given point of time and informs you about the cardinal points like east, west, north, and south.

Though GPS technology is now highly advanced, it only works when there are satellite signals. Hence becoming proficient with a compass assists you in your safety in adverse conditions.

4. Understanding how to break the route

The map gives you all the information you need, and you can identify the steepness and height of the land by contours lines on it. You can also use various websites to investigate the local area and understand the landforms.

With all the collected information, you can put it on a piece of paper and decide the route. Each section of the route should have detailed information, and you should also prepare a risk assessment sheet to ensure your safety. 

5. Estimate distances 

Pacing is a potent technique to estimate distances, especially if visibility is poor. To adopt pacing, you first need to calculate how many paces you need to cover a distance of 100 meters and then apply the same while navigating.

Do not count each step while pacing instead count every second step because it will make your calculation easier. 

6. Understanding contour lines

Contour lines represent the height and shape of the land on a map. If you know how to interpret them, you can get a 3-D representation of how the terrain looks. If you follow a particular contour line, it will tell you the exact altitude of that part of land above sea level.

Besides knowing the height of the land, one can use contour lines in determining slope steepness, slope type, high and low grounds, and so on. 

7. Reading key signs

Following signs or handrails during navigation is a good strategy for navigating quickly, accurately, and confidently. Handrails are various features shown on the map like shorelines, danger marks, fences, ditches, power lines, edges of fields, roads, overhead cables, etc.

Key signs are shown on maps if they have some significance, and if they don’t have any purpose, they will be left off. Also, every map series uses a different set of signs to portray the same thing. Thus, one should understand the signs or handrails thoroughly before starting navigation.

It requires less technicality to navigate using handrails, and it is more accurate than a compass.

8. Resectioning

“Resectioning” is a technique in which you can calculate your location if you know the area’s land features. This technique requires practice, and one should use a large scale map as it displays more area.

This technique can be applied if you can identify two or three land features on the map. After identifying the land features, you have to take a “bearing” and then plot this bearing on the map to calculate your exact position on the ground. 

9. Download a GPS navigation app

If you are not technically sound in reading maps and compasses, you probably need a GPS navigation app. However, this will only help you if your smartphone gets GPS signals continuously, and if it is always backed up with a charged battery.

GPS technology apps not only help you by showing your exact location, but it also helps you in telling about the sudden weather change or in medical emergencies. 

Types of navigation

Though there are different ways of navigating places, the most prominent types of navigation are:- 

Terrestrial navigation

It is a type of navigation mainly used by mariners with the help of various landmarks such as ship stability, reference points, ship speed, fuel consumption, tides, and currents. It is very different from celestial navigation wherein one navigates using celestial body location.

Forest Navigation 

Forest navigation can be scary, and there are high chances that a person may get lost in the woods. However, with good navigational skills and mental training, one may find a way into the forest.

Desert navigation

Desert navigation is quite tricky because in this terrain landmarks and sand dunes vanish quickly. However, by using the “detouring” navigation technique, one can easily navigate in the desert.

Navigation on water

Navigation on the water is the oldest type of method used for taking people and goods from one place to another place by boats and ships. Rivers, seas, and oceans are the central water bodies used in this type of navigation.

Mountain Terrain

Mountain terrain navigation is very tricky and dangerous as the weather in this landform changes very rapidly. However, with good navigational skills, you can easily navigate through it.

Navigation at night

Although daytime navigation should be your priority, sometimes you have to navigate during the night due to unforeseen circumstances. Navigating at night could be fun if you are equipped with a good head torch and compass.

Navigation during the day

Navigating during the day should be your priority as there is better visibility, and chances of getting stuck in extreme weather are minimal.

Why is learning navigational skills important?

Having good navigational skills is essential for surviving and finding your way in adverse outdoor conditions. However, highly efficient technological gadgets exist where there is no internet or the batteries run out of power. Navigational knowledge assists you in the following ways.

Finding the way

Finding your way in any terrain is the most critical aspect of learning navigational skills. Even necessary skills can prove to be a benefit on a walk. The more you practice your abilities, the better and quicker you will find your way.

Proper usage of a map and compass is the foremost requirement for finding your way during navigation. After you learn about these two necessary tools, you can move to more advanced techniques to help you in highly technical terrain.


Safety is a basic need for all living creatures; thus, it helps you identify escape routes if you have navigation knowledge. You can also quickly locate or avoid obstacles and dangers like mines, bogs, and crags if you know navigation.

To help choose the best route

With the help of the compass and map, you can easily find out the advantages and disadvantages of the various route options and select the best one. You can easily decide whether to take the direct or deviated route to visit a particular place.

Understanding the landscape

A person with excellent navigation skills has magnificent knowledge about the landscape. With superb map reading skills, a person stimulates his visual memory and visual processing skills, but he can easily make out the type of land, names or lakes, rivers, and towns, course of tracks and roads, etc.

Personal development

If you have navigational skills, it will likely help you in your personal development. People with exceptional navigation skills have better technical minds. It also makes you a more creative and adventurous person.

Reading maps, using a compass and other navigational tools helps you boost your visualization and imagination aspect of mind.

Final words

Here we have discussed necessary navigational skills and the importance of them. We have also tried to give you knowledge about various types of navigation. With these inputs, we are confident that you will get the basic idea of navigation and it will be conducive if you are planning to go hiking.