When Map Reading Doesn’t Go To Plan

Posted on October 20th 2017 by Jason Rawles

As #NationalMapReadingWeek draws to a close I wanted to cover some things to do if your map reading doesn’t go as expected. It happens to us all so we should really have some kind of plan for dealing with it. But to recap what’s been covered this week –

What I Love About Map Reading

Taking Your First Steps In To Map Reading

Top Ten Map Reading Hints And Tips

Using OS Maps To Enhance Map Reading

Below are some thoughts and ideas about what you could do if things don’t go to plan. As always this does not beat having the rights skills and experiences.

Get your planning right

This has been covered in other blogs but I can’t stress this enough. This also comes in the form of using OS Maps, breaking down your route in to smaller legs and also, as part of each leg, ticking off features (cross one stream, pass a wooded area, head to NE corner of a lake etc.). All of these help visualise what’s around and then you have a last known point reference also.


Don’t panic

That sudden realisation that you’re not where you’re meant to be is quite a heart leap! I do know! But try not to panic first of all. Have a look around, what can you see? Where was the last point you knew where you were and how far have you travelled and in what direction? Instantly based on some basic timing (on flat ground cover 100m in 1.5mins) you could work out an area of probability.

Grab a drink, shelter from the elements, take a deep breath, and work through the information to hand based on your foundation of knowledge.

panic plans

Have a look around

Would it benefit to go and have a look around and see if you can absolutely nail the features around? If so think about pacing a distance in a known direction off a bearing. Then walk that distance back in the opposite direction. Use a pen to make some notes of where you and what you’re doing so you know how to get back (e.g. walking 100m on a bearing of 120 degrees).

You never know…you may get a break in the weather that helps with finding where you are!!!

look plans


This needs some visibility to see features in the distance and ideally 3 of them. Just imagine you were in your local park and in front you could see a church, to your left you could see a local supermarket and behind you there was a massive roundabout. If you drew an imaginary line from you to them you’d end up with 3 lines that crossed at a certain point. That’s where you’d be. Same principle in the outdoors but you’d be using your compass and map.

plans relocation

Trust your compass

I’ve had numerous head games with this. Unless your compass is next to a massive lump of iron or something like your phone, it’s going to be accurate. Trust it when orienting your map and trust it with bearings and direction of travel (assuming you’ve used it correctly!).

That said I have seen a compass reverse polarisation (point south rather than north) so treat your compass respectfully at all times. Don’t throw it around, store it safely and don’t smash it!

compass plans

OS Locate

This was covered yesterday in the BLOG so have a quick peek. In essence it’s a smartphone app that gives you a 6 figure grid reference of where you are which you can then refer back to your map. It’s accurate to 100m. You could then work out a plan to get you safe. This great article from OS talks about grid references and what they mean.

plan locate

Calling from rescue

If you feel your life is in danger or can’t work out what’s what then you have the option of calling for rescue. If you’ve planned well and something has just gone out of control then please use this option. It’s your call as to whether it’s appropriate but what I do know as an ex-member of Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation is they would rather come find you than you walk off a cliff.

If you do need to then ring 999 and ask for the Police and then Mountain Rescue. Have as much information as possible. Your last known location, where you planned to go, number of people in your party, any injuries, local weather conditions, what kit/food/water you may have etc.

If the point you were lost at has no reception and you’ve gone to find phone signal then stay where you are. Mountain Rescue WILL call back to check the details and tell you about the plan. They may sent an SMS message which has a link on it to SARLOC which gives them an exact location.

If they are coming to get you please don’t wander around and if you do find your way then please contact them to let them know so they can stand down. Courtesy really!

plan mountain rescue


As with all these blogs during #NationalMapReadingWeek they are to help you along your way. They don’t replace time on your feet and experience.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and please do share around.



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