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November 2019 Issue
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Location awareness

While hiking, make note of waypoints like fallen logs and the time you saw them so you can recognise your location should you need to backtrack or if you become lost. Photo: Xavi Costa Losa
Location awareness is the knack of staying in tune with your surroundings for accurate navigation, writes Noel Bigwood

While you are walking it’s important to look, listen, feel and smell your surroundings. What is happening on your left, your right, in front and behind you? Being aware of these factors aids navigation and helps you backtrack if you lose your bearings.

Slope of the ground
Is the ground rising, dropping or flat ahead, behind, left or right? Initially you may find that in the bush it just looks like trees but with time you will be able to make out changes in slope through the trees.

Direction of travel
Which direction are you moving in relation to the sun, landmarks, water flow, or your compass bearing. Notice changes as you go, is this a minor wiggle or a change in general direction?

Ground features underfoot
Is the ground rock, sharp stones, rounded stones, clay, topsoil, grass, leaf litter (and what type of leaf), swamp or artificial track bed. Consider what any changes signify – are you getting closer to farmland, a river, or a change in landscape?

Surrounding vegetation
Consider the types and overall height of trees, scrub, grasses, lichens, flowers and weeds. Changes may indicate you are approaching tops or farmland.

Note any signs, turn-offs, stream crossings, distinctive rocks, logs or plants that might help you identify your location if you need to backtrack.

Distance travelled
Distance is usually estimated by time but also by step counting. Imagine yourself out of body, floating above the track watching yourself moving across the land. This should help you take in the whole picture of what is around you and keep track of where you are. In time, with practise, this should become second nature. Does it all tie in with what you are expecting from the map, what you have heard about the track and your own navigational instincts?

– Noel Bigwood is an instructor with Outdoor Training New Zealand