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Pentland Outdoor Navigation

Night Navigation

Since man is not a nocturnal animal, seeing at night has limitations, especially without artificial light.  We become very unsure of ourselves and our surroundings, especially in unknown terrain.

Moving at night will be much slower, which needs considering when planning your route.  Also, remember you could get caught out or delayed on a walk during daylight and may have to finish your walk in darkness, especially during the winter months.

At night or in bad visibility, prior to moving study your intended route on your map before proceeding, looking for any potential hazards that could be a danger to you or those in your party.

Using a Compass at Night

If you have to cover distances cross country at night to get to your destination, it should be done in stages and on a magnetic bearing.  Once you have your intended direction, apply the bearing to your compass, look down the bearing line (direction of travel) and pick out an object or feature on your line of march. Advance until you arrive at the intended object/feature.  Once there, check the bearing and carry out the same procedure until you reach your destination.

Even at night, because of the difference in darkness between the sky and the ground, you will be able to locate features, and objects on the skyline, even if it means lying down to observe.  The only exception to this would be foul visibility. 

Point to note: if you are having a problem seeing the luminous parts of your compass, all you do is shine the light of your torch onto the compass; this will then illuminate said parts.

"Leap Frogging" 

This is when you send someone out before you, keeping them on the bearing by talking to them or using hand signals. Tell them to stop once the person starts to disappear from view (your limit of visibility) Correct them back onto the bearing if needed using the procedure above.  Once you are happy with that, walk forward, meet up with them and continue the process until you reach your destination. This method is slow but can be very accurate when combined with pacing. 

When moving around in the dark, it is safer to move slowly, at a steady pace and avoid running—lifting your knees higher than usual when walking will reduce the risk of stumbling.

Check your position at least every 30 minutes.

Ambient Light

This is the light that comes from the moon and the stars.  On a clear moonlit night, it is amazing how much ground detail you can see, especially if you do away with artificial light and just use your eyes.

Judging Distances

At night this is even harder than in daylight due to shadow and dead ground.

Using your Senses

At night and in bad visibility it is always advisable to stop, stand still and listen.  You can hear a lot more at night than you would during the day.  For example, if you were looking for a stream or river you will hear the water, also looking for a wood or plantation you will hear the wind in the trees, bushes etc. even a slight wind.  All sound travels further at night.


When moving at night with a party or team it is advisable to nominate a responsible person (Good Navigator)to bring up the rear of the party or team.  Their role is to make sure that no other member of the party or team drops back behind them, keeping the whole group together and under control.


It is not easy in any circumstances to hold a constant course in the dark.  Every precaution should be taken and plenty of practice is needed before it can be done with complete confidence.