Night Navigation – learning to navigate at night for your ML assessment, long Mountain Days, and to deal with emergencies
Night navigation and Night nav courses are available from the Ultimate Navigation School – from beginners to experts, Mountain Rescue and Special Forces teams.
Learning to navigate at night is extremely useful. It improves your nav in the day no end, you need it for your Mountain leader assessment, and for long mountain days; and especially if you have an emergency on the hill which can happen to anyone.
Most Mountain Rescue Teams’ call outs are at night, especially in winter months when daylight is shorter. Hill walkers can easily find themselves caught out at night inwinter, when the group is slower than expected due to weather, or if someone has an injury. And some long Alps or Scottish Walk ins can mean part of the walk is in the dark inevitably. We see a lot of ML assessmentfailures are on night nav, so practising night nav (and always carrying a headtorch and spare) are essential. It is difficult to motivate yourself to get out for a night walk when the warm pub or bed beckons, but winter sunrises can be stunning and well worth the effort.
How is navigating at night different to daylight?
It’s harder! But practicing night nav will improve your navigation overall for poor visibility conditions and will make navigating in daylight seem so much easier. Judging distances visually can be harder at night and smaller features can be easily missed. You will find your speed can be a lot slower too. As a rule of thumb half your usual speed per leg when micro navigating off clear paths than you would take normally, and allow more time on route to do the navigation itself; and generally – take your time.
What challenges does navigating in the dark present?
When checking the weather before you go, look at the overnight temperatures and wind too as it is of course colder at night. Keep a closer eye on your group so as not to separate in the dark, with you more focused on your nav, it is easy to plough on looking for a fix and leave the group to string out behind you. As it is colder you need to consume more calories too, even though your body may not be used to eating in the night.
Most animals seem to like making holes, so you have to stop when looking at the map or compass and then watch your step when you move. If you can, pick a feature on your track or bearing in the distance and walk to that, or use a group member to go ahead on a bearing for you to spot left or right then move towards them (leapfrogging), rather than staring at your compass while moving.
What are the basic requirements (kit & ability/understanding) for night navigation?
Naturally night time can be a lot colder. Taking spare layers, kit, food and hot drinks for the cold and dark, spare headtorches or batteries are all vital. Cold will drain your mobile phone battery quicker, so a charge pack and cable are advisable and keep your phone insulated. Think about goggles with a low vis tint too if it is very wet and windy or snowy. Tell a responsible person your route and ETA back especially if going alone, and plan an easy escape route before-hand for each leg. Being on a ridge in a 50-knot blizzard at night is not the place to create your Plan B.
Night Nav top tips
Many people expect night nav courses to be about celestial navigation. While some techniques are useful, as we all know the UK tends to be cloudy/wet/claggy and so limits the number of clear nights you can use the moon and stars. Map, compass, altimeter, accurate dead reckoning, leg duration (pacing & timing) and micro navigation techniques come into their own at night. Contours are still extremely useful too, try to feel the if ground is rising or dropping away, and on clearer nights, stop, turn your torches off for a few minutes and look at the shapes of the hills around you.
Use shorter legs between your attack points at night; consider handrailing, aiming off and head for larger unmissable ‘catching’ features (if possible) along your route to get fixes closer to your attack point, before heading across patches of featureless terrain. This will reduce your margin of error. Try to aim for linear features to come at them from the side on so you are unlikely to miss them. If in a group, line out across rather than walk in single file; that means you have a wider profile to the target and one of you is more likely to see the target feature. Check the contours ahead for gradient to avoid getting into trouble with steep gullies etc at night.
Sat navs are a useful tool but their batteries drain faster in the cold night too, so carry spare batteries and insulate them.
Where is a good place to practice night navigation?
Go out with an experienced/qualified person or group or sign up for a night nav course. If going alone, start with a local park you know well, if you feel it is safe. Woodland is nice and hard to navigate in too. Practice your nav and relocation techniques until you are comfortable with them. Now going further afield, choose an easy safe area you are very familiar with that has unmissable escape routes e.g. ‘if I head south at any time, I will hit a main road’, and go on a clear night. Then go back in on a night with worse vis. If you have a sat nav – great, but do not keep relying on it, challenge yourself to only get it out if you are stuck, try and do the night without it. Then gradually move to more difficult terrain and conditions at night, trying the area during the day first until you are confident. Consider joining a Mountain Rescue team, they need good hillwalker volunteers and you will probably find yourself out more at night than in the day!
Why not book a night navigation course now and if you enter Xmas18 you will receive a 10% discount on all courses in 2019 booked by the end of January 2019.
The Ultimate Navigation School is a charity providing navigation training to hill walkers, with all our net profits supporting the following charities –
Mend Our Mountains, Fix the Fells, John Muir Trust and Mountain Bothy Assoc.