Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Avoid making navigational errors on day hike with kids

Even though you’ve familiarized yourself with the area you’ll be day hiking by looking over a map of it, you still can get lost on the trial. Most of the time, this is because of entirely avoidable navigation errors.

When on the trail, be aware the navigation error can occur because:
g You’re not using a map – Just because you’ve looked at the map before hitting the trail doesn’t mean you no longer need it. Instead, check it frequently, such as at rest stops, and compare it with the surroundings.
g Maps are outdated – A storm or recent forest fire easily can alter where trails run through an area. In addition, most USGS maps were made several years ago, and a trail’s course may have been changed since then.
g Not orienting map to terrain – By not doing this, we’re making the translation of symbols on the map not perfectly match the terrain our eyes see, increasing the possibility that our brains will misinterpret the symbols and lead us astray.
g Leaving the trail – Never leave the trail except for small spurs in which you don’t lose sight of the main trail. By heading into unfamiliar territory or by bushwacking, you increase the chances of getting lost.
g Relying on “sense” over the map or compass – The romantic notion that your intuition knows better than the navigational tools you’ve brought almost always will get you into trouble. Your compass may be broken, but odds are that it’s working just fine so long as it’s not next to a piece of metal.

Often when taking well-traveled short loops at major state or national parks, navigating day hikes is simply a matter of following the signs. But when farther into the wilds, use good navigation practices to avoid getting lost and to make the trip enjoyable.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.