Basic Navigation Course - Olympia - 2020

Navigation Course

Basic Navigation Course

Due to Covid-19, Olympia's basic navigation course has been postponed until late September, unless continued pandemic efforts are necessary. Students may keep their registration and attend in September or receive a refund for their course fees. The new dates are September 15, 17, 18, and 19. In addition, Olympia students do the online coursework provided by the Mountaineers.

See the title above for changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic response.

The Olympia branch navigation course consists of online coursework, a preparatory workshop, and 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 $80 for members, $90 for guests, plus purchasing the text. Alpine Scrambling and Climbing Course students are eligible for a $15 discount.

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.
  • Read either text:
    • All of "Wilderness Navigation" by Burns and Burns, 3rd ed., which may be purchased with your registration,
    • 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:

  • Complete the online coursework.
  • 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
Romer 1:24000

A 1:24000 Romer that you can print, especially if you have transparencies (remember them?).


Another Romer you can print. This one has several scales and a different design, which might be more useful when printed on regular paper.

Order Romer from Maptools.pdf

Or you can order a plastic Romer from Maptools by following the link in this document.