Part One
  Map Reading

  Reading Topographical Maps Introduction 1. HOME

  Topographical Maps - Definition, Purpose and Categories 2. Maps

  Information in the margins of an army map 3. Marginal Information    and Symbols

  Latitude, Longitude and Other Methods to Locate Points on Topographic Maps 4. Grids

  Translating Distance on a Topographic Map to Distance on the Ground 5. Scale and Distance

  Grid North, Azimuth, Declination And Other Concepts Used To Find Direction With Topographic Maps 6. Direction

  Overlays - Used Primarily In Army Map Reading 7. Overlays

  Aerial Photographs - Supplements And Substitutes For Topographic Maps 8. Aerial Photographs

 Part Two
  Land Navigation

  Using Compass, GPS, Sun, Shadows, and Stars in Land Navigation 9. Navigation Equipment    and Methods

  Reading The Shape Of The Land In Topographic Maps 10. Elevation and Relief

  Orienting and Navigating With Topographic Maps 11. Terrain Association

  Mounted Land Navigating With Motorized Vehicles 12. Mounted Land    Navigation

  Land Navigation In Different Types of Terrain 13. Navigation in    Different Types of    Terrain

  Sketching Topographic Maps A. Field Sketching

  Folding Topographic Maps B. Map Folding     Techniques

  Units of Measure and Conversion Factors Used in Reading Topographic Maps C. Units of Measure and      Conversion Factors

  Units of Measure and Conversion Factors Used in Reading Topographic Maps D. Joint Operations      Graphics

  US Army Training Material for Map Reading and Land Navigation E. Exportable Training      Material

  Orienteering F. Orienteering

  US Army M2 Compass G. M2 Compass

  Additional Aids such as Night Vision Goggles and Global Positioning System or GPS H. Additional Aids      (GPS, Night Vision)

  Global Positioning System -  GPS J. Global Positioning      System - GPs


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When a compass is not available, different techniques should be used to determine the four cardinal directions.

a.   Shadow-Tip Method.

(1)   This simple and accurate method of finding direction by the sun consists of four basic steps (Figure 9-7).

Figure 9-7. Determining directions and time by shadow.

Figure 9-7. Determining directions and time by shadow.

Step 1.   Place a stick or branch into the ground at a level spot where a distinctive shadow will be cast. Mark the shadow tip with a stone, twig, or other means. This first shadow mark is always the west direction.

Step 2.   Wait 10 to 15 minutes until the shadow tip moves a few inches. Mark the new position of the shadow tip in the same way as the first.

Step 3.   Draw a straight line through the two marks to obtain an approximate east-west line.

Step 4.   Standing with the first mark (west) to your left, the other directions are simple; north is to the front, east is to the right, and south is behind you.

(2)   A line drawn perpendicular to the east-west line at any point is the approximate north-south line. If you are uncertain which direction is east and which is west, observe this simple rule--the first shadow-tip mark is always in the west direction, everywhere on earth.

(3)   The shadow-tip method can also be used as a shadow clock to find the approximate time of day (Figure 9-7).

(a)   To find the time of day, move the stick to the intersection of the east-west line and the north-south line, and set it vertically in the ground. The west part of the east-west line indicates 0600 hours, and the east part is 1800 hours, anywhere on earth, because the basic rule always applies.

(b)   The north-south line now becomes the noon line. The shadow of the stick is an hour hand in the shadow clock, and with it you can estimate the time using the noon line and the 6 o'clock line as your guides. Depending on your location and the season, the shadow may move either clockwise or counterclockwise, but this does not alter your manner of reading the shadow clock.

(c)   The shadow clock is not a timepiece in the ordinary sense. It makes every day 12 unequal hours long, and always reads 0600 hours at sunrise and 1800 hours at sunset. The shadow clock time is closest to conventional clock time at midday, but the spacing of the other hours compared to conventional time varies somewhat with the locality and the date. However, it does provide a satisfactory means of telling time in the absence of properly set watches.

(d)   The shadow-tip system is not intended for use in polar regions, which the Department of Defense defines as being above 60° latitude in either hemisphere. Distressed persons in these areas are advised to stay in one place so that search/rescue teams may easily find them. The presence and location of all aircraft and ground parties in polar regions are reported to and checked regularly by governmental or other agencies, and any need for help becomes quickly known.

b.   Watch Method.

(1)   A watch can be used to determine the approximate true north and true south. In the north temperate zone only, the hour hand is pointed toward the sun. A south line can be found midway between the hour hand and 1200 hours, standard time. If on daylight saving time, the north-south line is found between the hour hand and 1300 hours. If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun is in the east before noon and in the west after noon.

(2)   The watch may also be used to determine direction in the south temperate zone; however, the method is different. The 1200-hour dial is pointed toward the sun, and halfway between 1200 hours and the hour hand will be a north line. If on daylight saving time, the north line lies midway between the hour hand and 1300 hours (Figure 9-8).

Figure 9-8. Determining direction by using a watch.

Figure 9-8. Determining direction by using a watch.

(3)   The watch method can be in error, especially in the lower latitudes, and may cause circling. To avoid this, make a shadow clock and set your watch to the time indicated. After traveling for an hour, take another shadow-clock reading. Reset your watch if necessary.

c.   Star Method.

(1)   Less than 60 of approximately 5,000 stars visible to the eye are used by navigators. The stars seen as we look up at the sky at night are not evenly scattered across the whole sky. Instead they are in groups called constellations.

(2)   The constellations that we see depends partly on where we are located on the earth, the time of the year, and the time of the night. The night changes with the seasons because of the journey of the earth around the sun, and it also changes from hour to hour because the turning of the earth makes some constellations seem to travel in a circle. But there is one star that is in almost exactly the same place in the sky all night long every night. It is the North Star, also known as the Polar Star or Polaris.

(3)   The North Star is less than 1° off true north and does not move from its place because the axis of the earth is pointed toward it. The North Star is in the group of stars called the Little Dipper. It is the last star in the handle of the dipper. There are two stars in the Big Dipper, which are a big help when trying to find the North Star. They are called the Pointers, and an imaginary line drawn through them five times their distance points to the North Star. There are many stars brighter than the North Star, but none is more important because of its location. However, the North Star can only be seen in the northern hemisphere so it cannot serve as a guide south of the equator. The farther one goes north, the higher the North Star is in the sky, and above latitude 70°, it is too high in the sky to be useful (Figure 9-9).

Figure 9-9. Determining direction by the North Star and Southern Cross.

Figure 9-9. Determining direction by the North Star and Southern Cross.

(4)   Depending on the star selected for navigation, azimuth checks are necessary. A star near the north horizon serves for about half an hour. When moving south, azimuth checks should be made every 15 minutes. When traveling east or west, the difficulty of staying on azimuth is caused more by the likelihood of the star climbing too high in the sky or losing itself behind the western horizon than it is by the star changing direction angle. When this happens, it is necessary to change to another guide star. The Southern Cross is the main constellation used as a guide south of the equator, and the above general directions for using north and south stars are reversed. When navigating using the stars as guides, the user must know the different constellation shapes and their locations throughout the world (Figure 9-10 and Figure 9-11).

Figure 9-10. Constellations, northern hemisphere.

Figure 9-10. Constellations, northern hemisphere.


Figure 9-11. Constellations, southern hemisphere.

Figure 9-11. Constellations, southern hemisphere.

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Map Reading and Land Navigation Buy the book this website is based on: Map Reading and Land Navigation

This website is based on the US Army Field Manual: "Map Reading and Land Navigation" Buy a copy from to take with you out in the field.


Book Review - Be Expert with Map and Compass

One of the best ways to learn and become proficient in any subject is to find a way to make a game or sport of it. That's exactly what orienteering does! Orienteering began to develop almost 100 years ago in the Scandinavian countries as a fun and effective method for military training in land navigation. Bjorn Kjellstrom was closely involved with the early development of orienteering, and he is the person who introduced the sport to North America. He, along with his brother Alvar, and a friend named Gunnar Tillander, invented the modern orienteering compass. They manufactured and marketed it as the Silva Protractor compass. This compass, along with Bjorn's book Be Expert with Map and Compass, made it much easier for anyone to learn how to use a map and compass.

This book has become the most widely read classic on the subject of map reading, compass use, and orienteering. Over 500,000 copies have been sold in the english language editions alone. There have been very successful editions published in French, Italian, and other languages as well. It is a short (just over 200 pages), easy to read, enjoyable book that can help you to have fun while you learn the subject quickly and effectively.

The book is organized into four main parts, plus a short, useful introduction. Part 1 covers having fun with maps alone. Then, Part 2 covers having fun with a compass alone. Part 3 puts it together and shows you how to have fun with a map and compass together. This section also introduces the game or sport of orienteering. Part 4 covers competitive orienteering for those who would like to compete with others in the sport.

A reproduction of a segment of an actual topographic map is included as a fold-out in the back of the book. It is used together with the "how-to" instructions the book provides. For example, one of the exercises in Part 3 is an imaginary orienteering "hike" that uses the sample map.

If you would like to have one of the best books available on map reading and using a compass, Be Expert with Map and Compass is hard to beat. You can buy a copy from today.

Read a book review of Agincourt

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