I once did a math calculation in my head, a simple multiplication, I was faster with the answer than all the young people around me who were firing up their apps. One looked at me amazed and asked how on earth had I done that. Well, I spent my early years learning my times tables and that stuff never leaves you. Another didn’t bother doing the calculation because she didn’t have an app on her phone and anyway someone else would have the answer.
Recently on social media there has been lots of posting about using Ordnance Survey’s phone app for navigating in difficult weather conditions or when the user was not sure where they were. It’s a good app, I have OS Maps on all my devices, iphone, ipad, Macbook. I use the app on my Mac to reproduce routes to 1:50k scale for my guidebooks. The ipad is good for sitting in bed and exploring new routes without spreading out my 1:25k map, it sort of keeps Alison awake if I do that. I put the map on my phone because I could, it is rare that I use it and to be honest its just taking up space.
What has intrigued me about the different postings and threads is that they all seem to default to the use of apps when the going gets tough, bad weather appears to be the most common reason, getting lost a close second. And there is nothing wrong in that. But what would the person have done if the phone had not worked and why is the app now the default for getting out of a sticky situation?
I was taught that the easiest way to know where you are, is, to know where you are. And that means having the map to hand and following your route, ticking off features, tracking distances and timings, knowing what is ahead and around. That way I knew where I was at all times.
The use of technology is great, if it gets people out exploring then that is a good thing. What I detect now is a growing reliance on technology and a disconnection with map, compass and the landscape. The map and compass are now somewhere in the rucksack. The app has become a shortcut to navigation. The problem is that using a phone or an app or a device removes so much from the skill base to my mind. When I look at a map I look at a far wider area than my walk route. I see the little nooks and crannies that look so interesting its worth exploring them. Little bits of information on the map draw my eye and I build up a picture of the terrain, it’s an exciting thing to do. And I carry that information in my head and use it on the walk along with the map.
Using a map and compass is a hill craft that is a part of a much wider range of skills, how to move over difficult ground, what to take on a walk, how to plan a route that does not lead to exhaustion, escape routes when things don’t go to plan etc.
In truth, it’s not necessary to use a compass in good visibility, all the information is on the map. Compass comes into its own in bad visibility when used in conjunction with a map. Or, and here is a confession, checking which way to go after walking to Ben Macdui, having lunch, relaxing, moving around and then setting off back in the wrong direction. Thankfully saved by a mate who had switched his brain on. They say the hardest part of any walk is always getting out of the car park in the right direction and often it’s true.
Using technology is good, but relying on it is not so good. And that is what I am seeing more and more of. Recently on social media and in the press there have been several reports of people having to be rescued by Mountain Rescue teams because they were reliant on an app. Along with battery failure there is often an inability to cope with the terrain and to be poorly attired for a day on the hill.
What now seems to be happening is a transfer of responsibility to technology and when that fails a transfer of responsibility to other humans. Isn’t it much better to have the skills to navigate out on the hill using a map and compass? Use the app if you want, but don’t make it the default device. Don’t be reliant on technology.
My best time out on the hill navigating was doing my triennial MR navigation assessment in visibility of no more than three metres on Saddleworth Moor at night in winter. Five check points spread across 8 square kilometres each one a 25cm stick painted brown stuck into a peat grough, 2 hours to complete using only map and compass.
If you want to learn navigations skills using a map and compass these two outdoor professionals will be able to teach you.