Hill Skills Series – Navigation training – How to look after your map and compass


Map case or laminated map?

We learn in navigation training that it’s vital to keep our paper maps dry and legible, this can be done in one of two ways; by putting our map in a waterproof case or by buying a map that has been pre-laminated.

Laminated maps are popular with outdoor centres and training providers as they are durable and will withstand a lot of rough handling, as well as being very weatherproof. These are the maps we use on our navigation courses.


Laminated OSI 1:50 000 map


The disadvantages are that they are more expensive than their paper counterparts, are not always available for your chosen area, can be heavy to carry, and are harder to fold to show a specific part of the map.

Like all maps, when opened out they have a tendency to catch the wind and blow around, making it hard to read and increasing the risk of damage and loss. Fold the map to show your chosen route for the day and secure with a large rubber band.

Though initially more expensive, map cases can be a better option as you can use them time and again with paper maps of different areas, and un-laminated maps can be less than half the price of the laminated version.

Fold the paper map to show your selected route, or simply photocopy the part that you need, then slip this into your map case to give a lightweight, easy to manage and weatherproof map.

Paper maps are not as durable as the laminated versions, but with care they can still last a long time.


Soft plastic map cases are easier to use

When looking for a map case for hiking avoid the heavy, stiff, board like plastic ones with a neck lanyard, these are both cumbersome and likely to throttle you in a stiff breeze.

Instead, buy a soft plastic one, like the Ortleib model pictured, and remove any cords. Fold the map to show the area you intend hiking in and slide it into the map case, expel any air and seal. There is now no need to open it again all day and your map is easily accessible and completely waterproof. It will fit neatly into a large pocket or into the top of your rucksack when not needed.

Love your compass

Your compass is a very important bit of kit and in a crisis it could well save your life. Keep it clean and secure but storing it in your pack in a soft spectacles case. They are very inexpensive and can be picked up at many opticians.


A bit of TLC for your precious compass!

Try to avoid exposing your compass to extremes of temperature as this may cause a bubble to form in the housing, which can affect the accuracy of the instrument.

Never stow your compass near your mobile phone, GPS or other electronic devices, as the magnets in these instruments can permanently affect the polarity of the needle and render the compass useless.

When in use, attach the compass cord to a zip-pull or rucksack strap and keep it in a pocket, don’t hang it around your neck as this makes it hard to use and it can swing around when you lean forward. Inadvertently dropping, or knocking the compass can damage it.

When using a compass make sure it is well clear of metallic objects and electronic devices stored in pockets and around your neck and wrist, as this will deflect the needle and an inaccurate reading will result.


About Author

Russell is the founder and owner of mountaintrails.ie. With over 35 years of mountaineering experience, including expeditions in Europe and Africa, Russell leads many of the trips himself, and is a fully qualified Mountain Leader, has a Rescue and Emergency Care First Aid qualification and is fully insured.


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