Navigate like a pro

Learn these, remember to think about them every time you check your position or directions, and hey presto! You’ll never get lost again.

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The four Ds of navigation

  • Direction
  • Distance
  • Description
  • Duration

Anybody (well, almost anybody_ can navigate passively. By this we mean that although you’re using a map, you’re basically riding the trail and reacting to whatever you find on the ground (junction, landmark etc). The map is used first to locate yourself, then to decide what to do next. It works. But it’s slow and inefficient, and it ofter results in the odd turning being missed and a few stops that never needed to be made.

But there is another way.

Strategic navigation involves using the map to make a mental plan for each chunk of your journey. Once made, the plan can be easily followed and your ride will run a whole lot more smoothly as a result.

How does it work?

Firstly, you split your ride into sections, or legs, each connecting a major navigation point like a junction or a landmark (summit, farm, pond etc) – we’ll call these waypoints.

Then at each waypoint, you make a plan or strategy that will get you to the next waypoint – simple.

And making the plan is pretty easy too – this is where the Ds come in.


Direction may sound simple, but it’s easily overlooked and mistakes are often made because it’s not checked.

Firstly check it at the waypoint – which actual direction do you need to go in? Not right or left or straight on as these are relative and if you haven’t checked them recently, you may have approached from a different direction that you expected. Instead use a cardinal point (N, E, S, W).

Ask yourself this simple question: does the track on the ground go the way the map shows?

Then keep an eye on it as you go, because the odd easily-missed turning can leave you heading in the wrong direction – especially in a forest or in poor visibility.


How far will yo be travelling in that direction for? Ideally use a computer or GPS to measure this.


What will happen along the way? Will you track along the valley? Start to climb? Pass a lake? Cross a river? Even better, what will you see at, or just before, the next point you need to navigate at? Where will you check again?

For advanced navigation, this can be broken down further into:

What will you see on the way to your destination?

What will you see when you arrive?

What will you see if you overshoot and go too far?


This is generally only really useful on long legs where you can let yourself switch off completely, e.g. its going to be at least half an hour before you meet the road.

Put them all together

“Take the trail that heads E for 800m, you’ll cross a stream and go up a sharp climb before meeting a path junction on the edge of a wood.” All you need to do is watch that computer for the 800m and mentally tick off the stream and the climb as you pass them.