Wilderness Navigation Course   - Seattle - 2019

Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course - Seattle - 2019

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 in Seattle consists of four parts. To  receive credit, participants must complete all four. The two online activities (#1 of 4, and #2 of 4)  MUST BE DONE BEFORE THE IN-PERSON WORKSHOP.  the In-Person Workshop and Field Trip must be done IN ORDER .
   ==== Click MORE+ to see further details ========


  1. Register for this Basic Navigation Course and pay the course fee.
  2. Register for one eLearning (Online) Workshop
  3. Register for one Online GPS Module
  4. Register for one In-Person Workshop - scheduled AFTER the two online sections
  5. Register for one Field Trip - scheduled AFTER the In-Person Workshop
  6. Buy your MAPS, Book, and Compass (per Required Equipment and Course Materials tabs).
  7. Read the FAQ: Link provided in the class materials tab

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. 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.

Learning OUTCOMEs

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

COURSE COMPONENTS and time commitment:

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

  • The eLearning Workshop is online at your own pace over a 2 - 3 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 In-Person 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. It will take 7 to 8 hours, including readings from the book and practical exercises at home with map and compass
  • The Online GPS Module is also done at your own pace over a 2 - 3 week period and also must be finished before the In-Person Workshop.  It 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 on your smartphone and use Caltopo for trip planning.
  • The In-Person Workshop is about 3 hours on a weeknight at the Seattle Program Center.  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 event at Heybrook Ridge near Index, WA, on and off-trail, with about 6.4 miles of hiking and 1,800' of elevation gain.  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 because we'll be parking on private land with very limited space, 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: 

  • MAPS -- Get your maps early from the Mountaineers Online Bookstore. See the Required Equipment and Course Materials tab for links.
  • Compass, Map, Altimeter, and GPS equipment -- also see Required Equipment and Course Materials tabs for this 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 Seattle Navigation Home Page and/or the Seattle Navigation Committee Page.

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
Navigation Activity #3 of 4 - In-Person Workshop - Students and Instructors
Online Classroom
Sat, Apr 10, 2021
Registration closed Apr 2
12 participants
1 instructor
Navigation Activity #1 of 4 - online Map and Compass
Online Classroom
Mon, Sep 12, 2022 -
Sun, Sep 25, 2022
Registration closed Sep 7
16 participants
2 instructors
Navigation Activity #2 of 4 - Online Introduction to Digital Navigation
Online Classroom
Mon, Sep 26, 2022 -
Sun, Oct 9, 2022
Registration closed Sep 21
15 participants
0 instructors
Required Equipment

10 essentials and rain gear for the field trip.

And the following to complete the course:

  • Book
  • Computer
  • Maps
  • Romer
  • Compass
  • Smartphone with Gaia GPS 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 two USGS maps - Baring and Index.   The best local source is the  Mountaineers Books Online by clicking the items under Required Reading below.  The Mountaineers Bookstore at the Program Center might have the maps, but stock may be limited.  Mountaineers members get a 20% members discount when purchasing from either Mountaineers source.

Links to order from Mountaineers Online Warehouse:

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 and In-Person Workshop)
  • USGS Index, 1:24,000, Version 1989. Product Number 106874 (Used in the In-Person Workshop and Field Trip)

If you download and print a USGS Map on your own plotter, be sure to select the older Index 1982 and Baring 1965 maps above, not the new "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. Print the UTM Corner Romers from the Course Materials tab.  And, review the Quick Guide to UTM at Maptools.com regarding use of the "mini corner style tool".
  2. "OR" -- Purchase a slot style UTM Romer from Maptools.com

When you are on the tutorial at Maptools.com, be sure to select the tab for "Mini Corner Style Tool" as shown below:

mini corner romer.JPG


See the Course Materials tab for a "Mountaineers Approved" compass which you need to purchase before the eLearning Workshop. 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. 

=====Smartphone and GAIA GPS App:=======

You'll need an IOS or Android smartphone with the Gaia GPS 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 before coming to the In-Person 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 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

You must register for this course to see course materials.