Ultimate Navigation part 7: Boxing

In part 7 of our navigation series, Lyle Brotherton explains how to cleverly avoid obstacles.

"The usual definition of the phrase ‘boxing clever’ is to use one’s resources beyond conventional ways. This is equally apt for ‘boxing’ in navigation; it is a much underused technique, and yet it’s incredibly effective and very straightforward to master."


When plotting a route to your objective, you navigate a series of short ‘legs’. Each leg starts from a known point and leads to an identifiable point in the landscape/on the map known as an ‘attack point’. Given good visibility, your attack point can be quite a distance from where you are. Consequently there may be obstacles in your path that are difficult to walk over, such as rough ground or a bog, which require you to deviate from your original bearing. To keep on track we can use ‘boxing’ to circumnavigate these obstacles and return to our original line.

There are three levels of difficulty for boxing – rough, pure and stepped; learning them all will put you at the top of your game. Remember this, though: the golden rule for boxing is ‘Do not move your compass bezel ’.


The golden rule is 'Do not move your compass bezel'


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Rough box

This technique is used where you can clearly see to the other side of the obstacle.

  1. As you approach the obstacle – in this case a lake – identify a very clear intermediate landmark (B) that is on your bearing beyond the obstacle.
  2. Stop at a point before the obstacle (A) that you’ll be able to see once you’ve reached the landmark (B).
  3. Circumnavigate the obstacle to the landmark (B). Once you have reached it, turn around and confirm that you are in the correct place by taking a back bearing to the point before the obstacle (A).

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Pure box

This technique is used where you cannot see to the other side of the obstacle.

  1. Stop at a safe distance from the obstacle – in this case a bog. Estimate its size, either from the map or visually ifit is not on the map. The detour starts at right angles to the obstacle by choosing either east or west on your compass.
  2. As you’ve been walking on a bearing the needle of your compass will currently be pointing north. Rotate your body until the red north of the compass needle points to either east or west on the compass bezel.
  3. Do not touch the compass bezel! Pace the new bearing (along the ‘direction-of-travel’ indicator on your compass), counting your steps until reaching the outer edge of the obstacle.
  4. Turn so that the needle of your compass is once again pointing north, and begin walking on your original bearing.
  5. On reaching the far edge of the obstacle, stop and rotate your body until the red north of the compass needle points either east or west on the compass bezel (whichever is the opposite of that selected at the start of your detour).
  6. Walk on this bearing for the same distance that you paced on the first leg of your detour, then stop. You should now be back on your original line. Turn so that your compass needle is pointing north once more, and continue on your original bearing.

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Stepped box

This technique is used if the obstacle is particularly large and irregular in shape.

  1. Stop at a safe distance from the obstacle. The detour starts at right angles to the obstacle by choosing east or west on your compass.
  2. As you’ve been walking on a bearing, the needle of your compass will currently be pointing north. Rotate your body until the red north of the compass needle points to either east or west on the compass bezel.
  3. Do not touch the compass bezel! Pace the new bearing (along the ‘direction-oftravel’ indicator on your compass), counting your steps until reaching an area where it is safe to walk forward again.
  4. Turn so that the needle of your compass is once again pointing north, and begin walking on your original bearing until reaching another area where you need to detour.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you have cleared the obstacle, making a note of your accumulated paces from each leg.
  6. On reaching the far edge of the obstacle, stop and rotate your body until the red north of the compass needle points either east or west on the compass bezel (whichever is the opposite of that selected at the start of your detour).
  7. Walk on this bearing for the pace count that you have accumulated in your outward journey.
  8. If your progress is blocked by the obstacle, however, repeat steps 2-4 in the opposite direction, deducting steps from your pace count as you travel.
  9. You should now be back on your original line. Turn so that your compass needle is pointing north once more, and continue on your original bearing.