Map, Compass, GPS or wing it

Do you use a map and compass when hiking? Do you know how to read a map? Can you use a compass? Is this a skill that is disappearing now we have the use of GPS devises? Do you just rely on the trail markers? Track Notes? GPS?



These questions I ask people a lot when I meet them on the trail, mainly because I am really interested in how people choose to navigate these days. Surprisingly on my recent trek on the Bibbulmun Track I came across a lot of people out there in the bush with no idea on how to read a map, use a compass or even have a GPS of some sort! What I found interesting as well was the amount of people who did carry them, as they thought it was the correct thing to do and it is, but they had no idea on how to use them so it renders them useless!


They chose to rely on the trail markers in good faith that they will always be there and pointing the correct way!

I would then ask, ‘How often do you get lost?’ the answer most often than not would be ‘quite a bit’ or ‘yeah I do loose the track but always find it again’, sometimes I hear ‘everyday’ and this is followed up by a chuckle.

On this recent trip, a lot of people got lost! One for up to 3 days! Some for a few km and some having to be rescued or get picked up. I also heard a lot of anger from some of these people blaming the lack of track signs, and misunderstanding or diversions and who did or didn’t place them correctly, (some rightly so but still no excuses for not being responsible for yourself) Now the diversions at this point is a prickly subject and one I am not about to get into but what I will say is I strongly believe that if you are going on a hike and you are out in the wilderness you must and should be responsible for yourself! Don’t expect others to be in control of your safety it is your responsibility.



If you are following a marked trail you probably will find you don’t need a map or anything to navigate your way but let’s say for some reason, and this happens a lot,

  • the trail markers are missing
  • or someone turns them around because they think it is funny (yes this happened a few weeks ago on the Bibb)
  • trees have come down
  • fire gone through
  • or many other reasons why a way-marker is not there

What do you do? If you have a map, GPS then you have a backup plan to help navigate your way, if you don’t what do you do?

  • Get proactive in helping yourself!
  • Learn a new skill!
  • Be prepared before you hit the trail
  • and when you research the trail you are about to walk. Look for ‘up to date maps’!
  • Download the latest maps for your GPS etc.
  • Don’t use maps that grandpa might have used as they are outdated and a lot of trails change over the years.

Think about it: Over time some trail will change due to things like new infrastructure, for example roads are built or natural changes might occur like track deterioration leading to it being unsafe so it is relocated, this means get informed with the right information before heading out.

Next step is if you can’t read your map, know how a compass works or make any sense of the GPS and its functions then learn! There are plenty of ways to learn this information and in this day and age with the technology we have it at our finger tips there is no excuses. There is this thing called GOOGLE. It is amazing what you find on there. You will even find groups that get together and practice these skills, courses you can do and another way you can learn is from YouTube. There are loads of video step by step on how to do it. So really there is no excuses for not being responsible for your safety when hiking out in the wilderness.

I have chosen not to write a step by step on map reading as there is a really good site that I feel is worth a look at. It is put together by Caro Ryan, (no relation) and I have to say she makes it really easy to understand so instead of me showing you I decided to put this link up to her site. Get on over there and learn a new skill.

Check out her YouTube as well


For those who are in Western Australia I would suggest joining in on a group course like “Get Lost with Steve” This is a course that is put on by the Bibbulmun Track Foundation and is a lot of fun while learning the basic skills and once you have mastered that why not join in on the “Get Found With Steve” With these courses you are not only learning new skills but also meeting new people who are like minded.

Hope this has helped you all with a bit of information and be sure to check out some of my other articles including – 

How to Choose series, 

Safety Tips when Hiking,


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