Seattle Navigation Home Page

The Seattle Navigation Committee offers the Basic Navigation Course (required by other committees), Introduction to Map and Compass (an overview), Instructor Training, Mentoring for Basic Students, special event instruction throughout the outdoors community, and GPS for Smart Phones/Dedicated GPSers. We also undertake special projects to improve the wilderness navigation experience.


Navigation Tools

 MAPS - Hard Copy or Digital

Topographic maps are basically a 2-Dimensional rendering of a 3-D landscape, helping us to orient ourselves and navigate in that landscape. A map is part of the 10 essentials system, so every participant on a mountaineering trip should bring an appropriate one for their activity….but in my experience they often don’t, for a variety of reasons. The types and availability of maps is changing rapidly. The need to be able to read one is not.  Pre-printed maps are still available from USGS, Green Trails, National Geographic, etc.  But anymore, it's fairly easy to find digital versions online and print sections directly from your computer.   Just be sure to include key elements like UTM grid lines, a north-facing arrow, and the datum. 

For the Wilderness Navigation Course, you'll need to purchase two USGS maps before attending.  The best local source is the Mountaineers Bookstore, with a 20% members discount.  It stays open late on Wednesdays and it usually stays open later on those evenings when we hold our workshops, but not guaranteed. The required maps are also online at USGS.GOV with the product numbers shown:

USGS Index, 1:24,000, Version 1989. Product Number 106874

USGS Baring, 1:24,000, Version 1982 (1982 Revision of a 1965 map), Product Number 105315

If you download and print a USGS Map on your own plotter, be sure to select the older Index 1982 and Baring 1965 maps, not the new "2014 US Topo". 


For the Intro to Map and Compass, we have loaner compasses to use. 

For the Wilderness Navigation Course, you'll need a "Mountaineers approved" compass which you need to purchase before attending the Workshop. Unfortunately you can't share a map or compass with a friend of family member during the course. 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. Please note that the blue "Brunton O.S.S." compasses are not acceptable.


The availability of altimers is also changing rapidly, but they are a very useful tool when navigating through variations in altitude.  The altitude can help you see where you are on a slope .  Then use your compass to pinpoint yourself horizontally along that elevation line.

For our courses, we do not require an altimeter, but you may see one used in courses and activities by the instructors and leaders.  And as you participate in Mountaineers activities, you'll find one to be useful. 

GPS Device:

A device that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) is an invaluable tool, but not a replacement for basic map and compass tools.  And, the skills to use it are not the same as traditional map and compass skills, although there is some overlap.  There are dedicated devices for backcountry use, and many smart phones can now be used in the backcountry with appropriate off-line apps.  The offline capabilities are key as you move outside cellular data coverage.  Battery life and the ability to recharge are also key considerations.   

We don't require a personal GPS device for the Wilderness Navigation Course, but you may see one used by instructors on the field trip.

We do require a GPS device for the Smart Phone and Dedicated GPS course, as described on the course page.

Add a comment

Log in to add comments.