Basic Navigation Course - Olympia - 2019

Navigation Course

Basic Navigation Course

Olympia's Basic Navigation course which includes two lectures and a field day, as well as homework and final test.

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 Olympia branch navigation course consists of two evenings of instruction, exercises, and discussion, followed by a day of outdoor exercises and testing.

There are no make-up sessions, so be sure of your schedule before registering. Sign up early, as registration closes a few weeks before class begins, to allow time to purchase compasses and complete the pre-course reading and homework.

Students will learn about maps, compass use, coordinate systems, terrain association, and route planning. The course cost is $60, plus purchasing the text.

Contact Mike Kretzler, 360-866-4497, with any questions.

Pre-course requirements:

  • Bring an approved compass (approximately $50) to all sessions. See Required Equipment for details.
  • Sign up for both lectures and one field day, either Saturday or Sunday.
  • Read either text:
    • All of "Wilderness Navigation" by Burns and Burns, 3rd ed.
    • or the Navigation chapter (ch. 5) of "Freedom of the Hills," 9th ed.
  • Complete a homework assignment based on the text to be turned in the first night of class.

Course completion requirements:

  • Attend all course sessions.
  • Complete pre-course homework assignment.
  • Complete the outdoor session exercises.
  • Pass the written final exam.

Badges you will earn:

Course Requirements

This course has no scheduled activities.

Required Equipment

This course requires a high-quality compass, purchased before and brought to the first class. The Olympia Mountaineers do not have suitable compasses to loan for the class. The compass you bring to use MUST have the following features:

  • Adjustable declination. Some compasses are sold with “declination scale,” which means the declination is NOT adjustable. If you have a question at the store, ask the salesperson to show you how to adjust the declination. If you can’t adjust for declination, don’t buy the compass.
  • A transparent rectangular base plate. You’ll need the transparency and the straight edges for plotting and triangulating on the map.
  • A sighting mirror. Nothing improves the accuracy of your compass work like having and learning to use a sighting mirror.
  • Degrees in 2-degree increments and marked from 0 to 360°. You’ll need the accuracy of the 2‑degree increments. Avoid compasses called “quadrant,” that are marked 0-90° four times around the bezel.
  • Meridian lines. These lines are marked on the bottom of the rotating housing, line up to north on the scale, and rotate with the housing. These lines are how you use the compass with a map.

Additional, useful features include:

  • Large baseplate. Three to four inches is normal. Less than that is not very useful for straightedge work on the map.
  • Ruler and/or gradient scale. Usually engraved on the baseplate edge.
  • Clinometer. This swinging arrow allows you to estimate slope angle and calculate heights (with a little geometry).
  • Luminous points. This is handy in the dark or dim.

Acceptable Models

Expect to spend around $50. You do not need a “global” compass for this class – these cost more – though you may need one if you plan to use it for navigation in the southern hemisphere, where your northern-balanced needle will drag and not spin freely.

The following models meet the requirements above. Many are available from local retailers. Be careful, however, as not all salespeople are knowledgeable about compasses and may try to sell you a compass that you won’t be able to use.

  • Brunton O.S.S. 60M and 50M (
  • K&R Alpin and Sherpa BW2 (
  • Silva Ranger CL (
  • Suunto MC-2 (

The following retailers may be able sell you the recommended compasses:

Course Materials