Wilderness Navigation - Foothills - Winter 2024

Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation - Foothills

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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.

It also incorporates all materials and skills trainings of the “Introduction to GPS Navigation, Trip Planning and Workflow” course. Thus, a Basic GPS badge will also be awarded. 


This is not a beginner's course. It focuses on "off-trail" navigation requirements for Climbing, Scrambling, Intermediate Snowshoeing and other more advanced courses. As part of the field trip, participants will be required to hike off trail hiking  across rugged terrain with fallen logs, creeks, brush, and steep slopes. There are no prerequisites for Wilderness Navigation. This course is suitable for students with little or no navigation experience.

If you are simply looking for a more introductory course or something focused on "on-trail" navigation, consider "Introduction to Map and Compass", " Staying Found On-Trail Navigation " and/or “Introduction to GPS Navigation, Trip Planning and Workflow”. Note that these courses do not meet the navigation requirements for Climbing, Scrambling, Snowshoeing, etc. Wilderness Navigation does.


The four 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.
  • The ability to maintain a high level of situational awareness – all team members can determine point position & return route to your starting point.
  • Skilled in using the full tool set – map, altimeter, compass, GPS, and awareness of emergency procedures and devices.


This Wilderness Navigation Course has four parts. For credit you must complete all four in order. Activities are:

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

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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 served 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.


There are 4 separate 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 a 2-hour weeknight in-person meeting. Here you'll breakout into small groups and do practical table top exercises with Map and Compass to solidify what you've learned in preparation for the field trip. Register for one session after signing up for the course.
  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."


Carpooling to the Field Trip trail head will be in accordance with the club recommendations in effect when the field trip is held.


For more info about this course, about equivalency options, about renewing your badge that has or is about to expire, or other navigation courses, please see the Foothills Navigation Committee Page.

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
Navigation Activity (2 of 4) - Online GPS: Students & Instructors
Online Classroom
Sat, Feb 24, 2024 -
Sat, Mar 2, 2024
Registration closes Feb 23
1 participant on waitlist
0 instructors
Instructor Training - Wilderness Navigation Workshop
Online Classroom
Wed, Feb 28, 2024
Registration closes Feb 27
9 participants on waitlist
7 instructors
Navigation Activity (3 of 4) - In-Person Workshop: Students & Instructors
Bellevue College
Wed, Mar 6, 2024
Registration closes Mar 5
22 participants
2 instructors
Bellevue College
Wed, Mar 13, 2024
Registration closes Mar 12
19 participants
4 instructors
Instructor Training - Wilderness Navigation Field Trip - Site Walk Through (optional)
Raging River State Forest
Sat, Mar 9, 2024
Registration closes Mar 8
0 participants
15 instructors
Instructor Training - Wilderness Navigation Field Trip
Online Classroom
Mon, Mar 11, 2024
Registration closes Mar 10
0 participants
8 instructors
Navigation Activity (4 of 4) - Field Trip: Students & Instructors
Raging River State Forest
Sat, Mar 16, 2024
Registration opens Mar 1; Instructor registration open now
35 participants
7 instructors
Raging River State Forest
Sat, Mar 23, 2024
Registration opens Mar 1; Instructor registration open now
25 participants
4 instructors

Additional badges needed to graduate


Required Equipment

=== Field Trip ===
The field trip takes place in rugged terrain often times in cold rainy weather.  To participate you must:

  • Wear sturdy waterproof hiking boots
  • Bring waterproof rain jacket & pants
  • Bring warm hat, gloves and jacket
  • Hiking pack to carry your gear in.
  • All other 10 essential gear

Other materials needed for the course:

  • Book
  • Computer
  • Maps
  • Compass
  • Smartphone with Gaia GPS Premium App
  • Altimeter  (optional)

=== BOOK ====

Wilderness Navigation, 3rd edition by Burns & Burns. Required. See below

===== COMPUTER =====

A computer, laptop, and/or tablet with quality screen, audio and video to be used for online activities. 

 ===== MAPS ======

Required maps are "to be determined". You'll be updated as soon as possible. 


Your compass needs to be purchased before the first activity; 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. See the blog entry How to Buy a Compass and review the Course Materials tab for a list of "Mountaineers Recommended" compasses.  
Mirror: A compass with a mirror is optional.  Some people find it helpful, others find it to be unnecessary. The Suunto M-3 compass, (no mirror) works very well.  It is also referred to as M3-D or M3-NH.


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 starting the Online GPS Module. 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, durability, 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?  Not recommended. They tend to be big and unwieldy in the field.  However, 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-capable, because they don't contain a GPS chip.  If Gaia does seem work on your tablet, check that it works  outside, away from wifi and that after closing and reopening, the maps still all display and the GPS works.


There is an altitude display in the Gaia GPS Premium App, and it will get you through the course. Optionally, you can also use 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.