When GPS fails…could you navigate with a paper map and compass?

OS Maps app

OS Maps app

Most of us are reliant on a GPS in our day to day life – whether it’s following the reassuring voice directing us around a traffic jam or grabbing our phone for a quick check that we’re walking in the right direction in a new city. Many now rely solely on GPS for navigating in the hills too. But what happens when GPS fails? It’s something that walkers near Benbecula are likely to experience next month…

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system owned by the US government. GPS was originally intended for military use, but in the 1980s the government made the system available for civilian use. GPS will work in most weather (although space weather can impact – see our previous blog on solar flares), across the world, 24/7. Something that we all benefit from today.

However, the military can (and do) jam GPS signals for their own priorities, such as military exercises. The communications watchdog Ofcom issued a warning recently about GPS jamming due to take place for periods between 1 and 29 July while aircraft crews train over a military range on Benbecula. In these circumstances, would you be able to navigate?

We love the convenience of GPS (have you tried out our OS Maps app yet?), but we’d always recommend carrying a paper map and compass and having the basic map reading skills too. Whether you’re looking at a paper map or a digital one, you need to be able to interpret the map and where you are in the landscape. This can be particularly important in poor visibility or when you’re travelling over difficult terrain.

Learn to read a map

when gps fails...could you use a map and compass?You need to have at least the basic navigation skills in place to help keep you safe. There are a huge range of ways to do this from simple guides and videos on our website to map reading classes and mountain navigation courses. Make sure that you feel confident in interpreting a map and using a compass to navigate – it really could save your life. Especially if an accident happens, being able to give the emergency services an accurate grid reference for your location could save valuable time.

If you prefer to navigate with a GPS device, do carry a paper map and compass as back-up. Navigating with your mobile can use up a lot of battery – so only ever use this as a back-up. As we said, we love a digital map, all our OS Explorer and OS Landranger maps now come with a mobile download. But our OS Maps app is designed to complement the paper map, not replace it. Keep your phone as a back-up.

Letting someone know where you are going and when you are likely to return is also good idea. Make sure you notify them when you return and agree a time frame when they should contact the emergecy services if you don’t contact them. We’ve put together a handy route card for you to print and fill out – give a good description of your planned route, along with any grid references along the way.

Make sure you are full kitted out to survive if and when GPS fails and enjoy your next #GetOutside adventure!

Watch our map reading videos with Steve Backshall.

Download our route card.

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