Basic NAVIGATION for the Tactical Athlete

Basic NAVIGATION for the Tactical Athlete

This article has risen from witnessing many hopefuls being in peak physical condition for certain special forces selections or specialty courses to be let down due to their map reading / navigational abilities. This could’ve been avoided with the correct balance of theory and practical application whilst following an effective strength and conditioning training program. Below highlights some basic points within this fieldcraft. This article also includes some lessons learnt that may give you a head start with your training.

You would think this is a commonly rehearsed skill, practicing map to ground navigation to any up and coming SOF candidate as much as their strength and conditioning, sadly not.

Always look cool.
Never get lost.
If you get lost, look cool.

Here are some basics we should consider whilst map reading and navigating:

Map Folding

Always start with folding the map in half with the contents facing outwards, Then fold across the other way, concertina fashion. Depending on map size will determine fold numbers.

Map Reading Terminology

Basin – An area of reasonably level ground surrounded, or nearly surrounded, by hills; or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.
Crest – The highest part of a hill or mountain range, or that line on a range of hills or mountains from which the ground slopes down in opposite directions.
Escarpment – The steep hillside formed by a sudden drop in the general ground level, usually from a plateau.
Gorge – A deep ravine, usually with steep/precipitous sides.
Knoll – A small knob-like hill.
Plateau – A tableland; an elevated region of considerable extent, generally fairly level.
Ravine – A long, deep, steep valley worn by a stream.
Re-entrant – A valley or ravine, usually between two spurs, running inwards towards the hill or mountain top.
Ridge – The line along a hill or range of hills or mountains from which water flows in opposite directions; sometimes the crest of line of hills as it appears along the horizon.
Saddle – A depression between adjacent hill or mountain tops; also called a col.
Spur – A minor feature, generally in the form of a ridge, running out from a hill or mountain. Undulating Ground – Ground which rises and falls gently

Calculating Distance

The scales used on the more modern Australian Military Maps are: 1:25000; 1:50000; 1:100000 and 1:250000. Distance between two points on the ground can be calculated by measuring the distance between the same two points on the map, 1:50000 map is 5.81cm. What is the corresponding distance on the ground? Distance on Ground = 5.81 x 50000/100 = 2905 metres.

Pace Counting

A pace count will enable you to know the distance you’re traveling by determining in advance the number of paces it takes you to travel a pre-set distance.

To understand how far we have gone or how far we have to our next pace counting is essential. This is counting every left foot step (individual preference) to your pre determined number that comes to 100m. Once you have the counting down pat we can then minimize it even further by counting every second left foot step, this frees up mental capacity.

To achieve this get yourself some line (we prefer para cord) measure and cut to 100m exactly. Next, get something to wrap the line on ready for walking out, We use a fishing hand reel. Then secure the end of the line to a hard point, Start with both feet together and commence your natural stride with the left foot first. This is so you don’t have double the numbers to deal with. Once you reach the end of your reel/line stop counting and the total number equals your individual 100m pacing.

To keep track of 100m intervals pace beads or nav note pads can be used but this comes down to personal preference. Every 100m gained move one pace bead up on your line secured to your person and then go back to count 0.

This is a base to work from, take into account drift, terrain, load, fatigue and night/day as all factors that may influence your pace counting.

Compass Selection

To be honest I have only used the Suunto Arrow -30 NH when I was in uniform but there are many more out there.

Merging Skill And Fitness

For the tactical athlete this becomes a balancing act of controlling volume, sufficient recovery and studying relevant material.

The requirement to read a map and conduct basic land navigation is a must for certain members of the Australian Defence Force. Questions need to be asked like, What does my job require in terms of map reading and navigation skills? To what level of proficiency will I be held too? Am I able to perform physically and mentally under fatigue conducting this skill? Am I wishing to attempt a special forces selection? If “yes” than this is a prerequisite and should be just as important as the training program you are following. If the answer is “no” than this isn’t a priority skill that needs to be taken to a advanced level but held to a given standard.

In conclusion our team believes a holistic approach is need for the tactical athlete training the mind body and spirit. We endeavour to share what we would’ve benefited from as young operators. Building an ever growing community of like minded individuals that take it upon themselves to perform for their team mates within the tactical environment.



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