Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation - Foothills, Fall 2020 - All activity dates are tentative.

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.

The Wilderness Navigation Course consists of four parts. To  receive credit, participants must complete all four. The two online activities  MUST BE COMPLETED BEFORE THE WORKSHOP.  The Workshop and Field Trip must be done IN ORDER .
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  1. Register for this Basic Navigation Course and pay the course fee.
  2. Register for one online Map & Compass module
  3. Register for one online GPS module
  4. Register for one Workshop - scheduled AFTER the two online modules
  5. Register for one Field Trip - scheduled AFTER the Workshop

Once you sign up for a particular 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. PLEASE KEEP YOUR DATES.


This course is a graduation requirement for Basic Alpine Climbing, Alpine Scrambling, Backcountry Snowshoeing, and other courses that require the Basic Navigation badge. The badge is valid for 3 years.

This course also earns you the Basic GPS Badge since it covers  material from our Introduction to GPS and Trip Planning Course 

NOTE: This is not a beginners course.  This prepares you for the rigors of back country and off trail navigation.  If you want an Intro course, two other courses may suit you first, the "Introduction to Map and Compass" offered by the Seattle Branch, and "Staying Found", offered by the Foothills Branch. However, those other two courses don't meet the navigation requirements for Climbing, Scrambling, Snowshoeing, etc. This one does.

NOTE ON EQUIPMENT: This course requires use of a smartphone capable of running the Gaia GPS App (IOS or ANDROID) .  See Required Equipment tab for more details.


Please see the Curriculum Summary / Syllabus in the Course Materials Tab for more details on the curriculum.  The sections build upon each other, and the learning goals by the end of the course are as follows:

1.Skilled in travel thru varied terrain & conditions, on and off trail.

2.Navigation tasks can be shared among the entire team.

3.Able to maintain high level of situational awareness – all team members can determine point position & return to your Camp/Trailhead

4.Skilled in using full tool set – map, altimeter, compass, GPS & emergency communicators

5.Able to provide support to bewildered, abandoned, ill-equipped or overly ambitious souls


The entire course will take 24 to 30 hours to complete. You must plan accordingly.

  • The online Map & Compass module is self-paced over a two (2) week period. It will take you a 7 to 8 hours of time to complete the included readings from the book, the online modules, and the practical exercises with map and compass. You must finish this activity before the Workshop. It 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. 
  • The online GPS module is also self-paced over a two (2) week period. It also must be finished before the Workshop.  This module will take you 4-6 hours of online work and practical exercises to complete. It expands further into GPS and the use of digital tools for trip planning.  It has you set up Gaia GPS Premium on your smartphone and use Caltopo for trip planning.
  • The Workshop is a 3 hours on a weeknight session at an "Eastside" location.  You'll do practical exercises with Map, Compass, and GPS and other exercises to prepare you for the field trip.
  • The Field Trip is an all-day on and off-trail event held at the Raging River State Forest near Preston, WA. You'll hike about 3.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet..  You'll tie together different ways to use all four tools in your navigation toolkit - map, altimeter, compass, and GPS, along with how and when to use emergency communication devices such as locator beacons and satellite messengers.


Carpooling to the Field Trip is strongly encouraged due to limited parking, so please specify your carpool preferences in your personal profile. You can view other students' carpool preferences by viewing the roster on the field trip activity page. (The activity page can be found after sign-up under "My Activities" when you click your name on the Mountaineers website).

Required Equipment: See the Required Equipment tab and Course Materials tab below for  the required Compass, Map, Altimeter, and GPS equipment. 

Required Reading Assignment 

  • During the eLearning Workshop, 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."

 For More Information and Other Courses:

For more info about this course, about equivalency options, or other navigation courses, please see our Foothills Navigation Committee Home 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 to complete the course:

  • Book
  • Computer
  • Maps
  • Romer (not required but nice to have) 
  • Compass
  • Smartphone with Gaia GPS Premium App
  • Altimeter

=== BOOK ====

See below for the required 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 ======

You'll need to purchase one USGS map for the online Map & Compass module and Workshop. Field Trip maps will be provided.  The best local map source is the  Mountaineers Books Online by clicking the items under Required Reading below.  The Mountaineers Bookstore at the Program Center also has the maps.  Mountaineers members get a 20% members discount when purchasing from either Mountaineers source. Please contact the bookstore for store hours. 

The required maps are also online at USGS.GOV with the product numbers shown below.

  • USGS Baring, 1:24,000, Version 1982 (1982 Revision of a 1965 map), Product Number 105315  (Used in the eLearning Workshop)

If you download and print a USGS Map on your own plotter, be sure to select the older Index 1982 and Baring 1965 maps, not the new "2014 US Topo". 


A Romer is a tool used to measure coordinates.  In our course, we use a UTM Romer Tool, and you have two options to obtain and use one:

  1. Purchase a slot style UTM Romer from
  2. Print the UTM Corner Romers from the Course Materials tab.  And, review the Quick Guide to UTM at regarding use of the "mini corner style tool".


See the Course Materials tab for a "Mountaineers Approved" compass which 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 make sure to read our compass requirements. 


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 Workshop. If you don't own a smartphone at all, check in with the course manager 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.

Course Materials
Compass Required Features and Evaluation

Compass requirement and suggested models for Wilderness Navigation. Content copied from: - Required Compass Features 03Jul2018ph.doc - Compass test results table 21Jun2018 bb ph.doc

Foothills - Wilderness Nav 2021 Curriculum Summary.docx



Workshop Map-2.pdf

Map - Compass Course Checklist_FH.docx

Workshop Map-1.pdf

Route Info Table.pdf