Gather Information

Gather Information

Having recognised that you don't quite know where you are, you need to gather information

Gather Information

Before burying your head in the map, you need to gather information from your surroundings.

Which Direction

Take a quick bearing (land to map) against the general direction in which you are travelling now. Aside from confirming your direction at the time of stopping, if it’s decided that you are on the right route, you can use the compass bearing to re-confirm the direction once you start walking again, which would prevent you setting off in the wrong direction!

Visible Land Features

The number of land features visible to you will of course depend on the general visibility in the area, but identifying what you can see is the next task. If you have a pad & pencil, make a note of them. Here are a few ideas to look for:

  • Streams/burns – how big are they?

  • Stream/burn junctions – junctions or distinctive bends are great as you can inevitably find these on the map

  • Any waterfalls? They should be marked on the map

  • Fences or walls (you can relate these to your 1:25,000 map if you have one) – see line features

  • Are you next to or near a line feature? A wall, fence, track, path, edge of wooded area. If you are in-line with one, you could take a bearing along the length, then try to find the equivalent line feature on your map 

  • Pylons – also line features, and quite distinctive

  • Nearby summits and/or radio transmitters – their use depends on how much of your map is visible. It could be possible to do some resection/back-bearings 

  • Buildings – could also be used for land to map bearings or more likely general observation and location on the map

  • Are you on the flat, going up hill, down hill, on the side of a hill, on a ridge or on a col/saddle/belach? Interpreting contours could be your only immediate option if visibility is poor.

  • What kind of terrain are you on, or were you on? Maps can distinguish terrain type by rocks, bracken, shrubs, trees etc

Where Have You Been

As well as what you can see now, think back over the last few minutes of walking and note down a few of the features that you can remember passing. Same categories as above. All information is good information.

If you’ve been taking photos on a digital camera, you should have times taken, so you can determine specific location times even if you didn’t have a Feature Tick List.

Height Gained

How much height have you gained or lost in the few minutes before you stopped? Is that height change consistent with what is expected on your route? Does it give some clues about you location? Steep slope v shallow slope etc.

Poor Visibility

It’s more likely that you’ll become mis-located when the mist is down etc, and in such cases your visible features are somewhat limited. Contours can be your friend here. What have you passed that was abnormal when compared to the general shape of the land? Contours associated with topographical abnormalities are easier to find on the map.

Practice: next time you’re out walking, have your map at hand throughout. Use land features to locate yourself as usual, but then observe the shape of the landscape around you and relate that to contours on the map. Try to find prominent and less obvious undulations. With practice you will be able to find yourself based on contours alone, even in poor visibility.

Less Obvious Clues (in poor visibility)

Has it become more windy now that earlier? If so, you could be close to a summit, saddle or belach, which is funnelling and speeding up the wind.

Can you see juniper, or other small trees that are not in keeping with the rest of the terrain over which you’ve been walking? It’s quite common for juniper trees to grow at the top of, and part way down rocky, steep slopes and crags.