Wilderness Navigation Course - Prerequisite for Climbing, Scrambling, and Snowshoeing - Seattle - 2023

Navigation Course

Wilderness Navigation Course - Winter

Wilderness Navigation Course - Prerequisite for Climbing, Scrambling, and Snowshoeing - Seattle - 2023

This Wilderness Navigation Course has four parts: activities #1, #2, #3, #4. They MUST be completed in sequence. Successful completion of activity #1 is mandatory before you will be admitted to activity #2. Activities #1 and #2 must be completed to be eligible to attend activity #3. Activities #1, #2, and #3 must all be completed in order to qualify for activity #4.

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Current course status

There is currently a wait list, but cancellations are common 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 Online Map and Compass course (activity #1).
  3. Register for one Online Introduction to Digital Navigation course (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 USGS Baring Map, 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 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.

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 course prepares you for back country off-trail and on-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. Note that these two latter 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. Please obtain your map and compass ahead of time in order to meet the CONCRETE DEADLINES. MISSING A DEADLINE IS UNACCEPTABLE. PLEASE DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE TIME COMMITMENT FOR THE ONLINE ACTIVITIES. THEY TAKE TIME. 

  • The Online Map and Compass course (activity #1) is online at your own pace over a 2-week period. It will take you a 7 to 8 hours to complete. It covers the basics of map and compass, coordinate systems, measuring and plotting bearings, altimeter and GPS system basics, and an introduction to trip planning. It includes readings from the Wilderness Navigation book, and practical exercises at home with map and compass.
  • The Online Introduction to Digital Navigation course (activity #2) is also done at your own pace over a 2 week period. 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.
  • 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 held at Discovery Park, Seattle. You'll tie together different ways to use all the 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, Map, 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 Online Map and Compass course, 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 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). The Mountaineers does not coordinate carpooling. You can set up your own carpool using groupcarpool.com.

For More Information and Other Courses

For more info about this course, equivalency optionsrenewing your badge, 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:

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

=== Computer =====

A computer, laptop, and/or tablet is used for completion of the online learning activities.

=== MapS =====

You'll need to purchase one map: USGS Baring. The best local source is the Mountaineers Books Online by clicking the items below, or check with the Mountaineers Bookstore at the Program Center for availability. Mountaineers members get a 20% members discount when purchasing from either Mountaineers source.

(Note that the Baring map is not required at the field trip.) 

Links to order from Mountaineers Online Warehouse:

Links to order from the USGS.GOV online store.

  • 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).

=== Romer =====

Optional: A Romer is a tool used to measure coordinates. In our course, you may use a UTM Romer Tool, (or just use the 1:24000 km scale on the compass baseplate). For the Romer, you have two options:

  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. Alternatively, 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 activity #1. Unfortunately, you can't share a map or compass with a friend or 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 =====

It is advised to carry a barometric altimeter in addition to the GPS altimeter within Gaia. iPhone 6 or later can measure barometric air presser, thus an inexpensive barometric app such as AltimeterPlus or similar will suffice. Other options include dedicated units made by Thommen or Sun Company, which are not battery dependent. Wristwatch style altimeters are also available. 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.