Wilderness Navigation - Foothills, Fall 2021

Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation - Foothills, Fall 2021, Student and Instructor. This course is limited to student 18 years or older.

COVID-19: Learn about our most up-to-date guidance for participants and leaders on our COVID-19 Response page. All participants and leaders must agree to the COVID-19 Code of Conduct before participating in this Mountaineers course.

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This Wilderness Navigation Course has four activities. Four are required. To complete the course you must complete all four required activities in order. Activities are:

  1. Online Map & Compass (required)
  2. Online GPS (required)
  3. in-Person Workshop (required)
  4. In-Person Field Trip (required)

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The Foothills Wilderness Navigation does not maintain “rolling enrollment”. This means that individuals on the last session’s waitlist are NOT automatically rolled over to the next session. Individuals who were waitlisted for the current session must re-enroll when the next course is posted.

We encourage you to enroll even if there is a waitlist. There are always some cancellations before the course begins. No fees are required to be on the waitlist. The waitlist is managed on a first come, first severed basis. If a slot opens, you will receive an email offering you the option to register. Payment of course fees are required upon accepting the offer to enroll.


  1. Register for this Wilderness Navigation Course and pay the course fee.
  2. Register for the online Map & Compass.
  3. Register for the online GPS.
  4. Register for one Workshop.
  5. Register for one Field Trip
  6. Obtain required equipment and materials listed in “Required Equipment” and “Course Materials” tabs
  7. Read the FAQ (Link provided in the Course Materials tab


Once you sign up for an activity, please try to keep that date. If you move to a later date, do so very early so others have time to fill your spot or be pulled in from the waitlist. If you make changes at the last minute, it affects everyone.


This course earns you the Basic Navigation and Basic GPS badges.  The Basic Navigation badge is a requirement for many advanced courses such as Climbing, Scrambling and Intermediate Snowshoeing. The Basic Navigation badge is valid for 3 years.

The course also incorporates all materials and skills trainings required for obtaining the  Basic GPS badge. Thus, a Basic GPS badge is also awarded upon successful completion.


There are no prerequisites for Wilderness Navigation. It is suitable for students with little or no navigation experience.

However, this is not an elementary or simple course. It requires a significant commitment of time and effort, but will reward you with the confidence and skills to navigate in the backcountry. It satisfies the off-trail navigation requirements for Climbing, Scrambling, Backcountry Skiing and Intermediate Snowshoeing.

If you are simply looking for an introductory course or something focused on "on-trail" navigation, consider the "Staying Found On-Trail Navigation" course. Or, take a look at the many navigation courses offered by the other Mountianeers Branches.  Note: These courses do not meet the navigation requirements for Climbing, Scrambling, Snowshoeing, etc. Wilderness Navigation does.


The four main class activities build upon each other, with these ultimate learning goals:

  • Skilled in travel thru varied terrain & conditions, on and off trail.
  • Navigation tasks can be shared among the entire team.
  • Able to maintain high level of situational awareness – all team members can determine point position & return to your Camp/Trailhead
  • Skilled in using the full tool set – map, altimeter, compass, GPS, and awareness of emergency procedures and devices.


There are 4 separate required activities which must be completed in order to successfully pass this course. The entire course will take up to 30 hours to complete. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE TIME COMMITMENT FOR THE ONLINE ACTIVITIES. THEY TAKE TIME.

  1. Online Map & Compass is “at your own pace” over a 2-week period. It takes 7 to 8 hours to complete. It must be successfully completed before moving to the Online GPS Module. This activity covers the basics of map and compass, coordinate systems, plotting and taking bearings and coordinates, altimeter and GPS system basics, and an introduction to trip planning. It includes readings from the book and practical exercises at home with map and compass. Register after signing up for the course.
  2. Online GPS Module is “at your own pace” over a 2-week period and must be successfully completed before moving on to the Online Workshop. It will take you 4-6 hours of online work and practical exercises. It expands upon Online Map & Compass into GPS and the use of digital tools for trip planning. It has you set up Gaia GPS on your smartphone and use CalTopo for trip planning. Register after signing up for the course.
  3. Workshop is currently scheduled as a 2-hour weeknight online session. Here you'll do more practical exercises with Map, Compass in preparation for the field trip. Register for one session after signing up for the course.

    Note: The Workshop was changed to an "online" format last year due to COVID. Our intent is to return back to an In-Person format once COVID rules allow this format and we secure a faculty. Registered students and instructors will be notified of any changes. 
  4. Field Trip is an all-day event at the Raging River State Forest near Preston, WA. It includes both on and off-trail exercises, with about 4.0 miles of hiking and 800' of elevation gain. You'll tie together different ways to use all four tools in your navigation toolkit - map, altimeter, compass, and GPS. Register for one session after signing up for the course.


Compass, Book, Maps, Smartphone, and GaiaGPS (with subscription), Altimeter (optional, GaiaGPS functionality will suffice). See the Required Equipment and Course Materials tab for details and links.


During the Online Map & Compass activity, you'll have readings from the Burns & Burns book "Wilderness Navigation", 3rd Edition. Mountaineers members get a 20% discount when ordering it online from Mountaineers Books as well as purchasing it in person at the Mountaineers Bookstore located in the Seattle Mountaineers Program Center. Please support the Mountaineers by purchasing it directly from the Mountaineers.

Additional reading is available in "Freedom of the Hills."


The Mounteers does not facilitate carpooling. However, due to a small parking area we do encourage carpooling from the BPA substation to the Field Trip trail head.  Carpooling must adhere to  the club recommendations in effect when the field trip is held. See the club Covid-19 Response and Good Carpooling Practices pages.


For more info about this course, badge equivalency options or renewing your expired (or about to expire) badge please see the Foothills Navigation Committee page.

Course Requirements

This course has no scheduled activities.

Additional badges needed to graduate


Required Equipment

10 essentials and rain gear for the field trip and the following:

  • Book
  • Computer for online activities
  • Maps 
  • Compass
  • Smartphone with GaiaGPS Premium App
  • Altimeter

=== BOOK ====

Wilderness Navigation, 3rd edition by Burns & Burns.

===== COMPUTER =====

A computer, laptop, and/or tablet is used for completion of the online learning activities.

 ===== MAPS ======

All maps will be provided as part of the course. There are NO requirements for students to purchase maps. 


You need to purchase before the online Map & Compass module. Unfortunately you can't share a map or compass with a friend of family member during the practical exercises. Some local stores might run out of the model you want so it's recommended you buy a compass well in advance. Only specific compasses will be accepted, so before purchasing a compass see our blog entry How to: Buy a Compass


You'll need an IOS or Android smartphone with the Gaia GPS Premium App.   You will be instructed on setting up Gaia GPS during the Online GPS Module.  

  • IOS
  • ANDROID OS 4.1 or newer, and a GPS chip in the phone (GPS and/or GLONASS capability)

Gaia GPS Premium is available as a Mountaineers Member Benefit, at no cost for the first year.  See the Member Benefits page to redeem this benefit. It works on IOS and Android phones and tablets, so long as you have a GPS chip in the device (GPS and/or GLONASS capability). 

You must have the Smartphone set up with Gaia GPS Premium before coming to the Field Trip. If you don't own a smartphone at all, check in with the course leader shown shown on the right side of this page.  You may be able to borrow one from a family member or friend.  We may (I say may) have other options.  If you are in the market for a phone, the newer phones will definitely have the best long-term compatibility, battery life, and usability.

Smartphone Protection -- Be sure you have good protection for your device -- drop protection, water protection, and loss-protection. Drop protection includes cases and such.  Water protection can be as simple as a plastic bag.  Loss-protection can be some kind of tether, as well as insurance, etc. We are not responsible for lost or damaged devices. We do however, practice navigation in a way that tends to keep the GPS secured in a pocket most of the time.  Just know that our field trips are often in wet, rough terrain and we don't want you to damage or lose your phone.

How about a TABLET?   Many tablets have a GPS chip and are compatible with Gaia GPS, so check that first.  Most "Wi-Fi Only" tablets have not been GPS-cabable, because they don't contain a GPS chip.


There is an altitude reading in the Gaia GPS Premium App, and it will get you through the course. Many people prefer a wristwatch style altimeter or analog altimeter as they delve further into mountaineering.  For reviews of inexpensive (and expensive) altimeters, see the Blog Entry on How to Pick an Altimeter.