Terrain Association – How to Navigate Long Distances

Posted: November 15, 2014 in Bugging Out, SHTF Preparedness, Survival and Skills
Tags: , , , ,

One of the first things I learned when I entered the military besides to “Hurry up & Wait” was how to read a map and second was how to use a compass. During the years since both of these skills have severed me well.

Map and Compass

Map and Compass

However, it wasn’t until after I was assigned to special operations that I learned one of the most important land navigation skills. Terrain Association. Terrain Association is not hard to learn, but it does require some skill and basic knowledge of map reading.

Terrain, Mountains & Valley

Terrain, Mountains & Valley

Terrain Association is a simple process identifying terrain on the ground and the associating these terrain features with those on your map. Terrain association should only be used when you can see those terrain features. If you can’t see the terrain features, there is no telling where you end up.

Navigation by Terrain Association is not as difficult as most people make it out to be, however it does take the ability to read a map and to maintain a pace count. The following are the steps for Terrain Association.

  • Orient Your Map. You want to orient your map to “north”. Use the north arrow in the legend of your map to either magnetic north using your compass or “true north”.
Orient Your Map

Orient Your Map to North

  • Determine Your Location. You have to start from a known point that you are able to associate your location on the map.
Determine Your Location

Determine Your Location

  • Plan Your Route. You want to study the map and determine the route that you will want to take. Your route should be based upon your reason of travel. If you are wanting to make it to your denotation in the shortest amount of time, use a route that is the easiest the travel. If you have security concerns, use a route that most people would not travel.
Plan your route

Plan your route

  • Identify Major Terrain Features. Identify some of the more predominant terrain features that you see. You will also want to identify some major terrain features that you should encounter along the route you will be traveling. Those major terrain features will help your to determine your location along the way. If you know you should encounter a “saddle” 5 kilometers (km) from the beginning of your route, this will serve to confirm both your location and your pace count. These major terrain features will also serve as a checkpoint for you along your way.

Mountains and stream, easily identified terrain features

  • Maintain Your Pace Count. Your pace count is very important for you to maintain. You have to know the approximate distance that your have covered. If you know that you should come across that saddle at the 5 km checkpoint and you encounter a saddle at the 2 km, you should realize that the saddle you at your current location is not the one you are looking for and you should conduct a map check. A good practice for maintaining your pace count is to use “Ranger Beads” as a way to keep track of your pace count.
Ranger Beads

Ranger Beads


  • Use the Checkpoints to Verify Your Position. As you arrive at your checkpoints, take the time to verify your location. Do this by re-associating your map with the surrounding the terrain. If the terrain doesn’t match your map, you’re in the wrong location and you should try to determine your location by another means. I would use re-section which we will discuss in a later article.
Checkpoints & Routes

Checkpoints & Routes

  • Keep repeating the process until you arrive at your destination.

Terrain Association is a great way to navigate over long distances, however this technique is not ideal for short distances. However, if you are moving over a long distance and have enough terrain to use this technique, it is in my option the best way to go. And today with GPS being available to everyone everywhere, this technique is a lot easier and faster than before. The one caution is remember that your pace count will change based upon the terrain you are traveling over.

Remember, when you a navigating always use the basics of map reading…


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