True North Blog

Our Newest Navigators

Our Newest Navigators

On Friday night, 40 students and staff from a Pennsylvania university needed to be rescued in Kentucky after they got lost while hiking along a popular trail.  Clearly, no one in the group had bothered to learn the basic map and compass skills that would have let them safely find their way, or, more importantly, would have likely prevented their predicament in the first place.  Regrettably, this is the way many people approach the outdoors.  Except, that is, Ian and Skot, who just completed “Basic Wilderness Navigation” yesterday.

On what was probably the loveliest day of the year so far — clear skies with a bright sun, little wind, and temperatures in the low 50s — we met at Hartwood Acres County Park to learn the fundamentals of map and compass.

We started the first evolution of the course learning the basics of a standard USGS topographic map, and then learning about the parts of the compass, as well as an overview of different ones.  This not only was intended to offer a strong grounding in important basics, but to offer a better understanding of potential equipment and resources.

But since the real approach of the course was to “learn by doing,” we soon jumped into the second evolution by beginning to navigate around the 568 acres of Hartwood using an orienteering map licensed from Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club (  After working out the kinks, Ian and Skot very quickly picked it up.  By their 3rd waypoint, they each hit their intended objective within just a few feet, even after bushwhacking about 1/4 mile!

By the 3rd evolution, Ian and Skot where comfortably using a standard topographic map and hitting objective after objective spot on, even over longer distances.  It really made for a wonderful afternoon, especially with the warm sun on us.

Better yet, Ian and Skot will be attending “Basic Wilderness Survival” in a few weeks.  It should, then, prove to be a great group that will provide a great learning experience for us all.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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