Backcountry Navigation


Footsteps on gravel during introduction.Alaska's backcountry offers a chance to experience the risks, sense of discovery, and adventure seldom found elsewhere. In order to enjoy this experience safely, you must be able to navigate using a map and compass.To determine your position on the landscape, look around you and identify major features of the terrain, including peaks, rivers, valleys, glaciers, and more. Navigation is determining and following the proper route to your desired destination.You will need a map and compass, and the skills to use both tools effectively.Use your compass to determine north and orient the map to your position by aligning north on both compass and map.To determine your location on the map, relate the major features of the terrain around you and identify them on the map. For example, in this slide, I am looking up the river valley at the Gulkana Glacier with a mountain peak on each side and I am near the confluence of two major glacial streams.While travelling your route, continue to stay oriented to the major features around you and monitor your rate of travel to help keep track of your current position.Linear topographical features that parallel the direction of travel, such as ridges, can be used to help you stay on track, especially in times of low visibility, like dense brush and fog.In order to follow the easiest and most efficient route to your destination, look at the landscape and select the path of least resistance that offers good visibility.Thick brush can be extremely difficult to travel through, reducing rate of travel from 2-3 miles per hour, down to one-half mile per hour. Remember that dense vegetation can increase the chance of close encounters with dangerous wildlife and usually contains dense mosquito populations.Continue to assess your route by taking the path of least resistance. River beds and ridgelines typically offer the best routes of travel, due to their solid ground and lack of thick vegetation.Knowing and practicing these skills can open new opportunities for safe and efficient backcountry travel on your next adventure.This has been a production of the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.For more information about backcountry skills and safety, please visit us in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska.