Book review: Navigation: Techniques and skills for walkers

Navigation: Techniques and skills for walkers. Second Edition. 2019

By Pete Hawkins. Cicerone Press 152 pp. RRP £9.95 (ISBN 9781852848910)

Trig point overlooking lower ground from Cullin Ridge, Skye

Halfway there. The view from the trig but you need your navigation skills on the way down to get back safe too.

Disclosure: This review is based upon a sample copy of the printed sent to Al McGowan, at his request, by Cicerone. 

Navigation is one of the keystones to a good day on the hill or a good expedition. Pete Hawkins captures the importance of this throughout the revised version of his 2007 book. Throughout the book he returns to this theme to stress to the reader that navigation is a skill that will enhance your experiences out of doors, whatever activity you are involved in. Selling navigation skills as a route to to enjoying yourself and relaxing more is an excellent pitch, compared to the sense that navigation is something that must be endured.

The book is clearly-written and concise with colour diagrams throughout. Diagrams with clever modifications are used to the full: for instance removing the compass needle to explain taking a bearing from a map to emphasise the use of the orienting lines in this operation (fig. 7.2 a, b).  The text also has good contrast, which is an advantage in poor light or for those using glasses. I particularly valued the multiple explanations of the same topic, which is usually a sign of an instructor who has mastered a topic. For instance, as well as the familiar means of remembering the order to give grid reference numbers, ‘Along the corridor and up the stairs’, Pete offers the idea of drawing an ‘L’, which also conveys the correct pair of bounding lines to use. In future, I plan to use this method when teaching this aspect of navigation.

For the person learning their navigational skills directly from the book, without the help of a formal course or experienced mentor, the material is covered in a logical fashion and builds towards bringing all the elements together. The maps chapter covers a wide range of map types that are available, rather than just focusing on OS maps. In  the compass chapter Pete goes beyond the trusty Explorer 4 to cover thumb compasses. Quizzes and resources are mentioned throughout the book. Attention is paid to questions about the place of satnav systems and how to get the most out of digital mapping, while focusing on physical paper maps as the key tool. Even the navigation tool included acts as a ‘call-to-action’ by getting the user to fill in their own values to create a personal tool, rather than just offering a standard card. The concluding sections in the book also gives advice about how to keep your skills current using orienteering courses and suggestions for face-to-face courses. 

Cicerone have proposed that instructors might want to consider using the book as a set text or part of a package for their navigation courses. Given the small size of the volume and the relatively low cost, I would consider this as a serious option when weighed against the costs and logistics of preparing my own materials. The softcover with the protective sleeve also give you some confidence that the book would survive use outdoors. As Pete runs a significant number of courses, I’d be confident that the material has been thoroughly tested. Given the shifts in navigation teaching practice being driven by NNAS, the volume works well for those who are either NNAS providers/tutors or are being influenced in their practice by Nigel Williams excellent articles in The Professional Mountaineer. Sarah Spencer at Cicerone has informed me that an eBook version will shortly be available in Kindle and ePub formats. The availability of an eBook can, in my opinion, only enhance the usefulness of the text for navigation course providers wanting to refer participants to the text or images.

Overall, this is an impressive update to the original book that is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants to continue developing their navigation skills for the hills.

Cicerone website page for book

with links to a PDF of the navigation aid card and information for trade customers.



I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Book reviews, Books, Mountain Training, Navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Al is a Summer Mountain Leader
MTA Logo
Follow me on Twitter
Previously on Hills of Hame
%d bloggers like this: