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Tough, Light, Waterproof maps for Walking, Running & Cycling

Navigation blog

Welcome to the HARVEY Maps blog on all things Navigation.

Here you will find insightful articles, useful tips and interesting stories on navigating outdoors, written by HARVEY Ambassador Nigel Williams.

National Map Reading Week
March 2019 - Global warming
February 2019 - Winter clothing tips
January 2019 - Winter Munroing kit
December 2018 - Be Avalanche Aware
November 2 2018 - Altimeters
November 1 2018 - It's Getting Dark
October 2018 - The psychology of getting lost
May 2019

May 2019

National Map Reading Week
by Nigel Williams

My first thought is why do we need a National Map Reading Week? Is it perhaps because there is no established teaching methodology for the subject in the UK. The focus of what is taught seems to be map reading based on numeracy and static plotting e.g. grid references and bearings. What we really need is a "National Navigation Week" and focus on the navigation skills required to walk with a map.
These skills are simple and don’t require numeracy. The skills required should match our walking experience. If that is achieved confidence levels will rise and perhaps more people will want to explore the countryside more often. Accept that everyone makes navigation errors but the skills improve with practice. Even if you are not responsible for navigating, have a map to hand and follow the progress identifying features and the distance covered.

Plan progressive walks
Build confidence with the map symbols and scale. Start by choosing routes that keep to large, simple handrail features e.g. tracks and paths. This will reduce the chance of navigation errors.

A second stage would be a mix of handrails and short cross country sections to another handrail (cutting corners) or big, obvious point feature (hill top). The third progression would be going cross country between smaller points features without handrails, probably requiring a good range of strategies and technical compass work and relocation skills.

Planning your route
Spend time studying the map and planning the route, to create a handrail to follow. Try to visualise the ground and know what to expect and see.

Timing a journey
Estimate the likely speed of travel over the day. Almost all walking maps are 1km across a grid square, 1.5km diagonally. We all walk at different speeds but estimating the day based on 3kph (20 minutes across a grid square) allows for regular stops. If walking uphill add a minute for each contour crossed going uphill. Treat downhill the same as being on the flat.

Setting up to navigate
Have the map and compass readily available and easy to use, ideally waterproof and in a pocket. Fold the map to the area being walked (about A5 size) and have the compass available to be held on the map with one hand so the two items are used as one.
Map and compass hung around the neck compromise the core skill of map setting. Be able to hold them in a comfortable position for ease of reading and so that they can be held up near arms length at eye level to accurately align features on the ground with the map and vice versa.

Re-tie the loop of cord that often comes with the compass as a single cord with one end tied to the compass and tie a loop big enough to thread the compass through at the other end. Attach to a belt loop or pocket zip.

Map setting
The single most important navigation skill is setting or orientating the map. Either by the features around you or by simply ensuring the red end of the compass needle points to the top of the map where the title is. The needle should be aligning accurately with the north south grid lines.

Look around and take in information. Think about the relationship between objects you see. This helps set the map and follow progress using tick off features.

Tick off features
Be curious to identify features on the map and on the ground whilst you are walking. Bends in the path, crossing streams, edge of woods, fence bends etc. Tick off features as you travel along the route.
Catching features
Recognise “Catching features” - identify things beyond the decision making points on your route. It is very easy if you don’t see what you expect, to keep on walking. A catching feature might be a stream crossing the path beyond the turning you should have taken. Using timing or pacing can also act as mental catching features.

Contours provide about a third of the map information available to the walker. They portray the shape of the terrain around you. Learn to include this third dimension when navigating.

As a back up to the map and compass, download a free app to your mobile phone that can give you a grid reference of your location (no signal required). It won’t drain the battery like digital mapping does and it is free. Also useful if you need help.

Practice for confidence
A wise navigator once said that "Navigation is 25% map work, 25% compass work and 50% confidence in the other two". The individual skills of navigation are easy and practice builds confidence.

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March 2019

March 2019

Global warming
by Nigel Williams

Today (Friday 15th March, 2019) there will be a "Global Climate Strike for the future - The beginning of great change". Greta Thunberg, the remarkable 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl, spoke at the Davos conference urging the world's most powerful, influential and wealthy people to act on climate change and the IPCC report is worth a read.

Predictions of warming are impacting, and will further impact, topography and mapping, so here is a parochial view of a few aspects that might affect the walker.

If temperatures rise by as much as 2 degrees over the next 30-50 years, sea levels around the UK could rise by over a metre.

The impact on mapping is obvious in Alpine and Arctic regions where glaciers and ice fields are shrinking and disappearing altogether. Around the UK the coastline would be the most obvious area to change as it is the lowest lying land.

On all Harvey maps, the High Water Mark or the high tide line is shown as a thin blue line. The line can be used as a safety aid for walkers to help them choose when to access coastal areas on long distance paths that integrate beach and coastal rock (such as the Anglesey Coastal Path – see image) or when to use an inland alternative route.

Mapping these lines has never been an easy task as it can often depend on the time of day the aerial photos used for photogrammetry were taken. However, there are several clues to assist in the interpretation of the images and photogrammetrists look for a mixture of natural signs to plot the high tide line. These can range from change in beach slope, drift lines on the beach and the change in colour of coastal rock. There is a significant skill involved in looking for these signs that requires years of practise. During the ground survey stage, these lines are checked and altered accordingly to give the clearest picture to the end user.

Should sea levels rise then not only would those lines need to be recalculated and re-drawn but every black dot (ground survey) spot height on our maps would need to be changed. Whilst contour lines would remain as they are all the contour numbering on every map would have to be adjusted.

Could Ben Vane become a Corbett? Will the Munro, Corbett, Donald and Marilyn tables all have to be re written? Could there be pre and post global warming rounds, the earlier ones being harder with cumulatively several hundred metres more height climbed?

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February 2019

February 2019

Winter clothing tips
by Nigel Williams

Let’s start with a good pair of stiff soled walking boots. If you can twist the sole they are likely to be too soft for winter. A small amount of toe flex is to be expected in a walking boot but the key issue is having crampons that are compatible with the boot sole. Boots are graded for flex from B0 lightweight trail shoes unsuitable for crampons through to B3 for a rigid winter climbing boot. Crampons are graded from C1 to C3 according to their flexibility and attachment method. The crampons should match the boot. Take your boots to the retailer when you want to buy a pair.

A good quality rucsac around 35 - 40 litres with a traditional lid pocket works well. Line it with a separate dry bag or water proof liner. (Rucsac covers in winter tend to get blown away or collect blown snow).

Gaiters are good in winter to stop snow going into your boots. I wear mine under waterproof trousers as any snow has to go up inside the trouser before it can travel down into the boots and melt. Wearing them outside trousers allows rain and snow to travel straight down into your boots.

Take your walking boots with you when buying a pair of walking trousers. Nothing worse than finding you can’t get your new trousers on over your boots in pouring rain or snow and have to remove them. Longer side zipped trousers are more expensive but they are quick to put on without needing bare hands to fiddle with boot laces.

“Cotton kills” is an old adage, a good thermal base layer is a must. A buff is also a simple light and versatile piece of clothing that around the neck is almost worth another thin layer.

As an extra warm layer many mountaineers carry a synthetic duvet type jacket referred to as a belay jacket which will keep you warm even if wet. Down is for dry cold weather which is not the norm in Scotland.

A good pair of outer mittens or gloves that are waterproof is also an essential piece of kit for me. Gloves are very difficult to make waterproof with so many seams. Mittens are easier and warmer but tricky if manipulating a compass.

No piece of winter kit works in isolation. It is the sum of the whole set of clothing and equipment and one weak link can often expose others on a bad day.

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January 2019

January 2019

Winter Munroing kit
by Nigel Williams

I’m often asked, what is the most important piece of kit to carry for a winter hill day? My answer is ski goggles! Strong wind with snow and ice particles blasting your face hinders navigation skills from route finding and avoiding hazards to basic map and compass work. They’re awkward to carry, but can be a life saver. Tinted ski goggles are good for seeing the terrain, clear lenses make the map easier to read. It’s really worth paying more for anti fogging goggles. Condensation often freezes on the inside and is almost impossible to sort until back in a warm environment. Also check compatibility with wearing reading glasses if required.

Having the kit, ice axe & crampons etc. and the skills to use them is often talked about. Making the decision to use or change equipment before things get fraught however seems to be all too often overlooked. Spare warm layers, hat, gloves and/ or mittens in waterproof bags and accessible doesn’t require knowledge of use, but once hands are cold and wet it is difficult to carry out the simplest of tasks. It also impacts one’s ability to make sound decisions and use the skills.

Walking poles (ideally a pair) with a large snow basket are invaluable on soft snow in easy terrain, BUT the timely decision to put them away and replace with an ice axe is critical.

GPS as a quick location confirmation tool rather than a navigation tool. However touch screens rarely work in poor conditions or wearing gloves.

Head torch for an early start, although errors in planning and decision making often lead to it being used at the end of the day.

“Group shelter” a useful item not just for emergencies, it is a light wind proof (not waterproof) nylon bag that can be pulled over the top of a group. With everyone huddled inside it soon warms up and enables people to sort equipment, take on food and check the navigation.

A 4-6 person size is probably most useful. A 4 person one works for 2 people but not the other way around. If you can’t get the whole party inside even split between several shelters there may be a reluctance to use it and leave someone stood outside in the cold. However not having one leaves no option of shelter for anyone.

This piece may appear to be about safety kit for a winter mountain day, but it is also about planning and timely decision making.

Example of Winter Munroing Kit:
1. Rucksack
2. Warm and waterproof layers (plus spares)
3. Head torch
4. First Aid Kit
5. Gloves or Mittens (plus spare)
6. Hat (plus spare)
7. Ski goggles
8. GPS device
9. Map & Compass!
10. Watch
11. Emergency Shelter
12. Ice Axe
13. Walking Poles
14. Crampons
15. Dry bags (for keeping spare kit dry)
16. Warm drink/food

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