Most people prefer the ease of GPS over a map and compass — in a combat scenario, stopping and conducting map-checks by definition leave the element exposed, it takes unnecessary time, and requires the element to set up security and then break it again down upon movement. GPS takes all of those out of play, providing not only the ease of navigation, but added security and timeliness as well. In actual combat, no one has a chip on their shoulder about sticking to the ‘ol map and compass.

However, relying on GPSs may not always be a luxury soldiers can rely on, and that’s why the military still trains with maps and compasses. A conflict with China, for example, could likely begin with the destruction of GPS satellites. Training this way also simply develops a better sense of direction, and ingrains essential concepts like cardinal directions, maneuvering through the woods or other terrain, and using terrain features to your advantage — to name a few.

Like it or not, land nav is an essential part to any selection course. The cadre tends to have a way of ratcheting up the stress and demanding a high level of performance. Some people shoot straight azimuths, “dead reckoning” their way through the woods, some people just sort of get general directions and go for it, and others take azimuths from key, nearby intersections. People mix methodologies depending on the course and/or specific point, and at the end of the day, all that matters is that it works.

The days of shoving your compass to your face are over | U.S. Marine Corps Photo

Everyone has their preferred method, and here is mine, especially if roads are available. Using this method, I never had to take the time to pull out my compass to get anything more than a basic, cardinal direction, so I can do it while running. I have gone to an unfamiliar course and found the first point (after planning) in under seven minutes — the biggest issue simply being distance. But, like anything else, it takes practice and is not some “cool trick” that you can master by reading words on a screen, but learning is the first step, practice is second.

First, understand that this method is effective because it allows you to use only cardinal directions. That way you can run while glancing down at your compass instead of having to walk carefully on a specific azimuth. The amount of time you can save by doing this is significant.

Step 1: Plot your points
The beginning of this step is like any other. You use your protractor, moving across the map grid square by grid square, and you mark all your points, as usual.

Step 2: Label the intersections nearest to each point
You find the nearest intersection to your point, as you might if you were to shoot a direct azimuth, and label them; I would use A, B, C, X, Y, Z — easily recognizable letters.

Step 3: Plot and measure your route to each point
Don’t worry about getting a direct azimuth from the intersection. This is the important part: find the road that gets the closest to your point. Draw a line from the point, using a cardinal direction, straight to that road (the 50m line below). Measure the distance from that point to the road’s intersection (the 100m line). I repeat, do not get an azimuth from the intersection (unless it’s less than 25 meters or something easy). Like this:

Step 4: Annotate your plans on a separate piece of paper
Before you say it, yes you will probably be the last one to leave the planning stage, but an extra two minutes here will pay off exponentially.
On a separate piece of paper, write the instructions for yourself. Mine would look something like this:


Step 5: Run your ass off from point to point
At this point, the biggest fears are a) that you planned wrong, and b) how good your cardio is, if you’re planning on running the whole time.
Figure out the order of points you want to hit. Go to the first intersection (or distinctive feature) and simply follow your directions. Go straight north up the road, even if it curves or seems to be getting further away from your point, keep track of your pace count, and then cut straight into the woods as your note paper instructs. Where you might lose a little by deviating from a straight line, you’ll gain by being able to quickly follow the straight EAST or straight NORTH arrows on your compass.

The green dots represent the path taken. You can see how it’s different from a direct azimuth — and using cardinal directions (east, in this case), you can run the entire time.

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It helped me to have a good handle on my running pace count, as the number of strides will be significantly different from if you’re walking.

Here are some other examples, using the same method with different point locations. You can see in example B that I will even go a bit out of my way to use cardinal directions, as the time lost by going north on that road will be gained by the ease and speed of following the big S for south on my compass.


While you might not be taking the most direct path possible, it is the fastest. Instead of shooting an azimuth, walking steadily on course while glancing up and down at your compass to get the exact number, you can run and glance down to make sure you’re hitting the correct cardinal direction.

Temper any methodology it with common sense. If the point is 20 feet in the woods past an intersection, you probably can just head in that direction and spot it — no need for anything complex. Or if, like in my notes/instructions above, you have a point just off the road, annotate it as such.

This is the quickest way to do it if you have access to roads, in my opinion, but it does not have to be limited to roads. You can use this principle with any major, easily identifiable point on a map.

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Featured image: U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Stephen M. Fields/Released