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NOLS Wilderness Navigation by Darran Wells
Reviewed by Joanne Kuntz

Unfold your map, dust off your compass and put fresh batteries in your GPS.  NOLS now has its very own authoritative manual on wilderness navigation by Darran Wells, Program Coordinator and Senior Field Instructor for NOLS Professional Training. A veteran of adventure races the likes of Eco-Challenge and Primal Quest as a lead navigator, he was granted the task of accumulating years of NOLS navigation curriculum and putting it into book form. 

“Our school is built on experiential education versus lecture or reading alone,” comments Wells. Included with each chapter of detailed how-to, readers can find hands-on navigational exercises that will get them out of the easy chair and into the woods.

Although this new manual is a comprehensive, step-by-step progression of skills that starts with the basics of map and compass, details how to plan and follow a route and even embarks on such sundry topics as GPS, geocaching, digital mapping and the world of competitive navigation, it also stays true to NOLS philosophy and first challenges the direction-finding student to start with map in hand, but compass and GPS tucked away. 

“You should start the learning process by studying the shape of the land itself,” Wells writes at the very beginning of Chapter 1. “NOLS Instructors have found not only that students can navigate in many areas without using a compass at all, but also that they develop their map reading skills faster without one.  The more navigational toys you have to play with, the less you are focused on your surroundings… Only after you are comfortable associating the terrain with the images on the map should you begin to use your compass”

So, remember to hike with your head up, check in with your map whenever visibility allows and learn the basic skills from NOLS Wilderness Navigation you can use to make your way through the wilderness safely — even after your GPS batteries die.

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