Wilderness Navigation - Foothills - 2024

Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation - Foothills

===== Click MORE+ to see further details ========


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


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 "Staying Found On-Trail Navigation".  That course is taught in the spring and is focused on the skills needed for on-trail hiking. 


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

  • Skilled in using a topo hiking map.  Understand contour lines, distance scales and coordinate markings.
  • Skilled in using a compass to measure or plot bearings on a map as well as measure and follow bearings outside.
  • Skilled in using a phone based GPS mapping app.
  • Skilled in navigating through actual on-trail and off-trail terrain.


This Wilderness Navigation Course has four activities. To graduate, you must complete all four:

  1. Online Map & Compass
  2. Online GPS
  3. In-Person evening Workshop in Bellevue
  4. In-Person all-day weekend Field Trip

ACTIVITy overviews

There are 4 separate activities which must be completed in order to successfully pass this course. Below are overviews of each activity.  Click on the links further down this page to read more details about each one.

  1. Online Map & Compass Module 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.
  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 uses the free CalTopo website for trip planning.
  3. Workshop is a 2-hour weeknight in-person session held in Bellevue. At tables, you will work small groups and do practical exercises with Map and Compass to solidify what you've learned in preparation for the Field Trip. There are also  short indoor and outdoor Gaia GPS exercises.
  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 3.0 miles of hiking and 800' of elevation gain. You'll tie together different ways to use map, compass, and GPS.  The actual hiking part is quite easy and is at a slow pace, but the 2 hours of off-trail terrain can be challenging for those with weak joints or other physical limitations.


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 at the close date 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 right before the course begins. No fee is 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.

UNDER 18 without your parent attending?

Contact the course leader before signing up.  At the Workshop and Field Trip, we have to have a Youth Qualified instructor and we can't guarantee that one will be available.


Up until the start of the course, you can cancel and get a full refund.  After that, there is no refund.  However, you can register for the next session for free and complete the missing activities.  If you have very little flexibility in your schedule, you might consider taking the course through Seattle.  They offer more sessions, but mostly in Dec-Feb.

THINGS TO DO after your register

  • Register for the course activities: (click the blue "Manage Registration" button)
    • Register for the self-paced online Map & Compass e-learning activity.
    • Register for the self-paced online GPS e-learning activity.
    • Register for one of the Workshop sessions (opens for registration a couple weeks ahead of time)
    • Register for one of the Field Trip sessions (opens for registration a couple weeks ahead of time)
    • NOTE: Don't register for the "Instructor Training Sessions".  Those are just for our new volunteer instructors
  • Obtain required equipment and materials listed in “Required Equipment” and “Course Materials” tabs


Once you sign up for an activity, please try to keep that date. If you move to a different session, do so very early so others have time to fill your spot or be pulled in from the activity waitlist. 
If you have lots of schedule flexibility, wait until about a week before the activity "close date" to let other students with tight schedules have first pick of dates.

Navigating this website

Sometimes it seems harder to navigate this website than to navigate outside through a dense forest.  Here are some tips:

  • After you register for a course, you can find a link to its webpage, by hovering over or clicking your name at the top of the website and then clicking "My Courses and Programs".
  • After you register for a course activity, you can find a link to it, just like hikes and other club activities.  Do this by hovering over or clicking your name at the top of the website and clicking on "My Activities".


Compass, Book, Maps, Gaia GPS Smartphone app.
Note: See Required Equipment and Course Materials tab for details and links.


During the Online Map & Compass activity, you'll have readings from a book that will soon be in print, but for now is available free here.


Please note that our VOLUNTEER leaders have busy lives and don't have time for questions you could have had answered by reading the notes on the website or in the email messages they send you.
In general, leaders will email you information 5-10 days before the start date.
Unless they say otherwise, please contact them by email using the address from the email they send out or from their profile page which you can link to by clicking their name to the right.
NOTE: If your question pertains just to one of the 4 specific activities, email the leader of the activity.  If it is a more general question about the course and not about 1 specific activity, email the course lead.  Please do not CC the other leaders.  They get buried in email, so please minimize unnecessary communication

instructing, badge RENEWAL & equivalency

If you have a current Basic Navigation badge and would like to help instruct at this course, please register for the course.  When doing so, click the "instructor" option.

If you previously took the course through the Mountaineers, but your badge has expired and you need to refresh it, (required for climbing and scrambling courses as well as becoming a trip leader for some committees), you can instruct at our Workshop and Field Trip and we will renew your badge.  However, without already having your badge, the website won't let you sign-up as an instructor, so email the course lead to request this.  Include some background info, a link to your website profile page and the Workshop & Field Trip dates that work best for you. 

If you never have had a Mountaineers Basic Navigation badge, but you are already skilled in wilderness navigation through Search and Rescue or some other group, you might be eligible for "Equivalency".  See details here.

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
Navigation Activity (1 of 4) - Online Map & Compass: Students & Instructors
Online Classroom
Sat, Aug 31, 2024 -
Sat, Sep 14, 2024
Registration closes Aug 30
32 participants
2 instructors
Navigation Activity (2 of 4) - Online GPS: Students & Instructors
Online Classroom
Sat, Sep 14, 2024 -
Sat, Sep 28, 2024
Registration closes Aug 30
33 participants
6 instructors
Instructor Training - Wilderness Navigation Workshop
Online Classroom
Wed, Sep 18, 2024
Registration opens Sep 18; Instructor registration open now
0 participants
5 instructors
Navigation Activity (3 of 4) - In-Person Workshop: Students & Instructors
Bellevue College
Wed, Sep 25, 2024
Registration opens Sep 11; Instructor registration open now
31 participants
10 instructors
Bellevue College
Wed, Oct 2, 2024
Registration opens Sep 11; Instructor registration open now
29 participants
7 instructors
Instructor Training - Wilderness Navigation Field Trip - Site Walk Through (optional)
Raging River State Forest
Sat, Sep 28, 2024
Registration opens Sep 28; Instructor registration open now
0 participants
9 instructors
Instructor Training - Wilderness Navigation Field Trip
Online Classroom
Mon, Sep 30, 2024
Registration opens Sep 30; Instructor registration open now
0 participants
10 instructors
Navigation Activity (4 of 4) - Field Trip: Students & Instructors
Raging River State Forest
Sat, Oct 5, 2024
Registration opens Sep 15; Instructor registration open now
31 participants
13 instructors
Raging River State Forest
Sun, Oct 13, 2024
Registration opens Sep 15; Instructor registration open now
29 participants
10 instructors
Required Equipment

discounts here === BOOK ====

Modern Wilderness Navigation by Mountaineers member Steve McClure. Will soon be in print, but for now is available free here.
NOTE: There is an older "Wilderness Navigation, 3rd Edition" book published by the Mountaineers which is out of date and not recommended.

===== COMPUTER =====

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

 ===== MAPS ======

Some printed maps are required for the online e-learning modules.  These can be purchased or the multiple sections of it can printed at a store like FedEx and taped together.  You will receive details from the leader.


Your compass needs to be purchased before the first activity; online Map & Compass module. Each student needs their own compass for the Workshop and Field Trip.
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 the suggestions in Mountaineers Required Compass Features

Our #1 suggestion is the "Suunto M-3 NH".  Available at REI, Amazon and other places. 

NOTE:   A compass with a mirror is optional.  It is helpful for measuring super-precise bearings and applying sun-screen , but is not needed for the course and is rarely used on actual Mountaineers trips.  Some people find them helpful, while others find they simply make the compass heavier and slower to use.  Plus they cost more.
NOTE:  There are some inexpensive knock-offs available on Amazon that are unreliable or have subtle problems such as the "Sun Company - Prosight". Stay away from these.  Buy one made by a leading brand such as Suunto, Silva or Brunton.
NOTE: Mountaineers 50+ hour Volunteers are eligible for discounts on Silva and Brunton compasses at Expert Voice.

=====GAIA GPS PHONE APP=======

An Apple or Android phone with the Gaia GPS Premium App.   You will be instructed on setting up Gaia GPS during the Online GPS Module. 

    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.

    NOTE:  We require Gaia for our course because we can't expect our volunteer instructors to know how to use other GPS apps or types of devices.  However, once you start going on hikes, scrambles or climbs, you are welcome to use other apps.

    TIP:  When it is raining, you can protect your phone by putting it in a zip-lock bag.  When it is very cold outside, you can manipulate the phone with gloves (and even ski mittens) using a "Phone Stylus" .  Under 10 dollars on Amazon.

    === Field Trip Specific ===

    The Field Trip takes place in rugged terrain often times in cold rainy weather.  The leader will send out details ahead of time.  Requirements will include:

    • 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

    NOTE: An altimeter is NOT required during the course or on the field trip.  In general, they are helpful for navigation in some scenarios such as hiking up up a valley.  When needed during the field trip, the instructor will tell you the precise elevation.