Wilderness Navigation Course - Seattle - 2020

Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course - Winter

Wilderness Navigation Course - Seattle - 2020


Click here to see the current status of this course 

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This Wilderness Navigation Course has four parts. For credit you must complete all four. Take them IN-ORDER, Activity #1, #2, #3, #4. The two online activities (#1, #2) can be done concurrently or separately, but BOTH MUST BE DONE BEFORE THE IN-PERSON WORKSHOP. Then the In-Person Workshop, Activity #3, and the Field Trip, Activity #4 must be IN-ORDER.

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Current course status

There is a wait list currently, but people cancel all the time and we have sessions in the fall. Click here to see how this course may still work for you.


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

KEEP YOUR DATES. 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.


This course earns the Basic Navigation badge, a requirement for Basic Alpine Climbing, Alpine Scrambling, Backcountry Snowshoeing, and other courses and activities. The badge is valid for 3 years.

Starting in 2019, this course also earns the Basic GPS Badge, since the material from our "Intro to GPS and Trip Planning" is included in this course.

NOTE: This is not a beginner's course. This course prepares you for the rigors of back country and off trail navigation. Although it is suitable for students with little or no experience in navigation, you may want an Intro course or more of an "on-trail" course prior to embarking on this more rigorous Wilderness Navigation course. Two introductory courses are 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.


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

  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 the full tool set – map, altimeter, compass, GPS, and awareness of emergency procedures and devices.


The entire course will take up to 30 hours to complete. You must plan accordingly. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE TIME COMMITMENT FOR THE ONLINE ACTIVITIES. THEY TAKE TIME. 

  • The eLearning Workshop (activity #1) is online at your own pace over a 2-week period. It will take you a 7 to 8 hours to complete. 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 includes readings from the book and practical exercises at home with map and compass.
  • The Online GPS Module (activity #2) is also done at your own pace over a 2 week period and must be finished before the In-Person Workshop. It will take you 4-6 hours of online work and practical exercises. It expands upon the eLearning Workshop 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.
  •  Can I take the eLearning Workshop and GPS Online Module concurrently? -- You can schedule the eLearning Workshop and GPS Online Module during the same time period, but plan your time accordingly -- about 11 to 14 hours over a 2-week period (1-2 hours per day). Or schedule the eLearning Workshop first, then take the GPS Online Module at a later time period, but both must be finished before the In-Person Workshop.
  • The In-Person Workshop (activity #3) is about 3 hours on a weeknight at the Seattle Program Center.  You'll do more practical exercises with Map, Compass, and GPS and prepare for the field trip.
  • The Field Trip (activity #4) 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.

Required Equipment 

  • Compass, Book, Maps, Altimeter, Smartphone, and GaiaGPS (with a paid subscription). See the Required Equipment and Course Materials tab for details and links.

Required Reading Assignments

  • 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."


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).

For More Information and Other Courses

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 Seattle Navigation Committee Page.

Course Requirements

This course has no scheduled activities.

Required Equipment

10 essentials and rain gear for the field trip, and the following to complete the course:

  • Book
  • Computer
  • Maps
  • Romer (optional)
  • Compass
  • Smartphone with Gaia GPS App (with a paid subscription)
  • Altimeter

=== BOOK =====

You will need 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 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:

Links to order from the USGS.GOV online store. IMPORTANT: there are multiple products, so order only 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, In-Person Workshop, and the Field Trip)
  • USGS Index, 1:24,000, Version 1989. Product Number 106874 (Used in the In-Person Workshop and the Field Trip)

Download and Print your own: 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". Also, at this scale, you will need to print a rather large map (8.5x11in or 11x17in are not going to be large enough). The commercial maps are 27x22in.

=== Romer =====

Optional: A Romer is a tool used to measure coordinates. In our course, you may 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

=== Compass =====

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 with GAIAGPS App =====

You'll need an IOS or Android smartphone with the GaiaGPS App. You will be instructed on setting up Gaia GPS during the Online GPS Module. 

You will need one of the paid subscription versions of Gaia to complete the course (see the course FAQ for information on subscriptions). GaiaGPS Premium level 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). 

Smartphone Protection: Be sure you have good protection for your device, including 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.

=== Altimeter =====

There is an altitude reading in the GaiaGPS 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

Workshop Module B Photos

Module B Photos 1-6 for the Workshop.

Workshop Program Center Gaia Exercise

A link to the GPX file that contains the waypoints used for the In-Person Workshop (same file for both students and instructors).

WildNav GPS Setup Guide - Student

Link to the GPS Setup Guide for Students to prepare your smartphones GaiaGPS with the data (tracks, waypoints, and maps) needed for the In-person Workshop (activity #3) and the Field Trip (activity #4). Follow this guide only after you have completed GPS Online Module (activity #2).

Field Trip GPX data file for students (Discovery Park)

Student GPX file for Discovery Park

USGS Baring/Index Map

Map required for eLearning (Activity #1), and In-Person Workshop (Activity #3). The Baring map is not required for the field trip, as Caltopo maps will be issued at the trailhead. Order the USGS Baring map early from Mountaineers Online, or stop in to the Mountaineers Program Center at Magnuson Park. Note: You will need only the Baring portion. The map available at Mountaineers Books is double-sided, with Baring on one side, and Index on the flip side. The map you bring to the workshop must be 21.75 x 27 inches, in the datum of NAD27.

Compass Requirements

A link to the compass requirements for this course

UTM Corner Romers - Scales

Printable UTM Coordinate Scales (Romers) to use in the eLearning Workshop

Field Trip Maps (Discovery Park)

Contains a link to the Field Trip maps for Discovery Park ONLY for both students and instructors. You do not need to print these maps as they will be distributed at the trail head. These maps are for electronic review only.