Practical Wilderness Navigation

Practical wilderness navigation involves the use of baselines and checkpoints.

A baseline is any feature of length such as a road, river, trail, railroad line, and so on. You can use both natural and man-made baselines to find your way over land. Even remote wilderness areas generally have suitable baselines you can use.

A checkpoint is any place on the map that is easily recognizable from the ground. This might be where two baselines converge. For example, where a trail crosses a creek, or where there's a sharp turn in a trail. Since you can easily recognize such a spot, it's a good place to have as an intermediate destination. At least, when you arrive at it, you know for certain where you are. You can then make your way from that known point.

Directions can be as simple as using one of the four cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West) or some point in between.

Aiming off is a trick as old as navigation. It means to introduce some intentional error in your course so as to arrive at a baseline clearly to one side of a checkpoint. That way, you'll know which way to walk when you find the baseline.

Navigating the Wilderness

By making good use of baselines and checkpoints, you can find your way across great stretches of wilderness terrain. Frequent intermediate checkpoints break your journey into manageable legs, which can add up to one long otherwise unmanageable navigation task.

The following 10-minute navigation video was, as I recall, the first one I made. In that short time, it will show you the basics of baselines, directions, checkpoint, and aiming off, and how to use them to find your way through the wilds.

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