Hiking has a rhythmic, almost hypnotic quality to it. At the end of a day, it’s easy to realize that you haven’t the foggiest idea what you’ve been thinking about for the last several hours. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts, and that makes it easy to get lost in the back country.
Getting “unlost” is a different matter. It’s possible to hike thousands of miles without ever learning to use a map and compass. If you stay on well-marked trails, if you depend on the expertise of a more experienced partner, or if you limit your adventures to trails described in guide-books, you may manage to avoid learning to navigate altogether.
However, knowing how to navigate does come in handy if, for instance, your more experienced partner drops dead of a heart attack, or an off-season snow storm covers the trail, or if someone in your party sprains an ankle and you need to find a shortcut to the road. Knowing how to navigate is not just for emergencies, though. Knowing how to use a map and compass can add to your enjoyment of the back country and allow you to explore off trail when something catches your attention.
If you’re interested in mastering a higher level of back country navigation skills, a course in orienteering, route finding or canyoneering may be in order as these skills are beyond the scope of this course. However the average Sunday afternoon (or Saturday morning) hiker who sticks to established trails will experience many miles of enjoyment without ever having to use advanced route finding skills.