What is an Attack Point in navigation?
Navigating to a destination is usually split into a series of legs from a known point to an attack point and repeat.
An attack point is a feature along your route that is as easy as possible to find, distinctive and ideally unique in your local area, giving you a strong fix so you can be certain of your position.
Attack point features can be a stream junction, wall junction, sheepfold, trig point, highest point etc, or even just a unique and clear change in direction of a stream, wall or path, for example.
On a good, clear day, legs can be up to 500m apart, but in clag, a blizzard, sandstorm etc they may need be down to 25m or less. The further you go between certain fixes of your location, the more error and track deviation can creep in, potentially taking you off course or even in you becoming lost.
You may not always have the luxury of an unmissable attack point in a convenient straight line on your route, and may have to pick one slightly to one side. This means a little further to walk, but the benefit will be you can get a clear fix of your position from your distinctive attack point, reducing the chances of becoming off course or even lost.
An attack point is a ground feature that is unique in the area you are in, that is easy to find, and that you can aim for, confident that you won’t miss it.
For example – Instead of going directly towards the Bothy in clag on featureless terrain where you may miss it, you would choose the corner of the nearby dry stone wall as an attack point en route.
At the Attack point take a compass bearing and measure the distance from the corner of the dry stone wall to the Bothy.
An Attack Point makes it easier to navigate in featureless areas, providing you with a closer launch point to the Bothy.
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A Waypoint is an arbitrary point chosen along your route to confirm your position and track. It is largely referred to on sat nav devices and used in aviation and maritime navigation. We tend to use the term attack point in hillwalking as our next point get a fix. Waypoints are similar but can be across open sea /air etc, where you are simply checking at an arbitrary waypoint, if you are on your planned course, or whether you are slightly off track due to wind or currents. Waypoints may not be an actual feature but a dot on the map that you have chosen along your planned route based on dead reckoning from speed, time, course, wind, current etc.
Ideally you choose a series of waypoints along your route that are as attack points, easy to identify, unique in the area but you may not always have that luxury.
A leg is a stage or small part of your chosen route. By splitting your route up into manageable legs (in hillwalking usually used for a breather!), you can take stock of your progress, the group’s condition, weather, time left of daylight etc, and generally how you are doing. It also enables you to assess your navigation, progress and conditions. Before heading across open high ground you may have a leg that ends just before the top, with some shelter so you can assess before moving on. Legs can be say 1-2km on a clear day on a nice well marked trail, or they may be a few hundred meters in clag, snow, poor viz, strong wind etc so you can reassess. That does not mean you navigate that far apart, you chose collecting features along the leg to confirm progress. And at the end of the leg have an attack point to aim for. You may have a couple of attack points per leg if the nav is difficult. Also choose a catching feature of you have one, to ensure you do not overshoot the end of the leg. So in summary break a long journey into bite sized legs to make nav easier and to give you time to assess progress.