Land Navigation Skill Levels

Navigation in the desert has its own challenges.  In canyons your view is limited and in open desert, your perspective and depth perception are easily skewed.


Use Appropriate Maps  


The little maps that you may obtain at visitor centers are published to help you locate hikes.  These maps are inadequate for navigation.  Likewise the maps on many various trails websites are inadequate for navigating the landscape.  Frequently people download “maps” with a “trail” overlaid.  These maps are also challenging to use.

I have a thin blue line story of a hike I did with a person who had a just such an overlaid trail (a thin blue line) on his phone.  He showed it to me, as if it was the way to go, I smiled and said thats nice but we are going this way.  Halfway through the hike he thanked me for my wisdom because the thin blue line on his phone would have had us going up and down shear canyon walls of 40-50 feet throughout the hike.  Even though I had never been on this route, I looked at maps and quickly found the sweet spot for the hike.  Interestingly, I was not the only person to find the sweet spot since there was an old cowboy cattle trail for part of the hike and a somewhat obvious human path for the other part.  The takeaway from this story is that we do not know who put the thin blue line on the internet, nor do we know what their navigation skills are, so we should not blindly trust the validity of the information, rather we should do our own research and inspection of maps to verify the thin blue line  as an appropriate route or decide upon another route that may be better.

The best maps for navigating the canyon deserts of southern Utah are the United States Geological Survey maps in the 7.5 minute quadrants.  These maps are available at some visitor centers and hiking gear stores in the area.  If you know how to use them they are invaluable.  If you are inexperienced in map and compass navigation, take the time to attend a course, or hike with someone who has the ability to teach you the skill.


Map and Compass

Skill Levels  


Rate your navigation skills using the scale below.

Novice – Has little if any knowledge of map and compass navigation. Is most comfortable on maintained trails with clear and distinct trail markers.

Basic – has an introduction to basic map and compass concepts with little opportunity to explore the use of map and compass.  Prefers to navigate routes that are clearly identifiable. May be capable of noticing obscure trail markings.

Intermediate – Has an understanding of map and compass concepts and has taken time to practice these concepts in the field.  Prefers to navigate well defined routes and is uncomfortable with cross-country navigation.  Is capable of resolving basic navigational challenges.  May use map and compass skills once or twice a year.

Advanced – Is comfortable navigating cross-country routes, though prefers to have clear and distinct landmarks or handrails. Is capable of resolving moderate navigation challenges.  Understands map and compass and has the ability to use advanced techniques such as triangulation.  Uses map and compass a few times a year.

Experienced – Is completely comfortable navigating cross-country routes without trails or route markers.  Is capable of resolving complex navigation challenges. Has a complete understanding of map and compass and the techniques for using them.  Regularly uses map and compass on hikes and backpacking trips.


Traditional Navigation Training

with Map and Compass


Are you interested in practicing or improving your navigation skills?

Desert Dawn conducts various Traditional Outdoor Skills Workshops. We are able to include components of these workshops in any Day Tour activity. Navigation skills are particularly relevant within any day hike we guide and we are always happy to share these skills, provided complimentary. Let us know if your would like to include navigation skills in your Day Tour. Read more about the possibilities in on our Traditional Navigation Workshop page.