Ultimate Navigation part 8: hook and baseline

In part 8 of our navigation skill series Lyle Brotherton shares a handy technique that can help if you get lost...

"I developed the ‘hook & baseline’ technique while exploring the flat and relatively featureless Somme Valley in northern France, and I now employ it everywhere I navigate – from the streets of Manhattan to the mountains of Scotland."


A ‘baseline’ is simply a bearing taken on any prominent feature, from a water tower or a skyscraper to a mountain peak, that you can use to find your way back to your starting point – and it is especially useful if you are lost.

A ‘hook’ is a ‘catching feature’ behind the prominent feature from your starting point. These would ideally be linear, and hard to miss: in Manhattan for example I used the Hudson River!

"In Glasgow, the middle tower was my ‘baseline’ feature as I travelled towards the spot this picture was taken. The motorway in the foreground was the ‘hook.’ Navigating in urban environments is great practice for the hills."

"In Glasgow, the middle tower was my ‘baseline’ feature as I travelled towards the spot this picture was taken. The motorway in the foreground was the ‘hook.’ Navigating in urban environments is great practice for the hills."

Using the technique:

  1. From your starting point, take a bearing on a prominent, nearby feature (see diagram) – one that will be visible from all points on your journey. This bearing is your baseline; note it down.
  2. Study the map and select a hook (‘catching feature’, see diagram above) that is behind the prominent feature with respect to where you are, and note its location.
  3. On your journey, if you need to make a direct route back to your start, or you are lost, locate the prominent feature you identified, even if you have to (safely) ascend to do so.
  4. Take a bearing to your prominent feature, then move sideways until this bearing matches the one you recorded at the start.
  5. When your current bearing to the feature matches your baseline, following it will always take you to your starting point. On your journey back, if the prominent feature disappears from sight, or if you encounter obstacles in your path, use your ‘boxing’ techniques (see Part 6) to bypass them, and you will eventually arrive back at your start position.

If you overshoot your start, your hook (catching feature) will stop you:

  1. If you reach your catching feature – ‘hook‘ – stop.
  2. Determine the back bearing (see right) to your prominent feature.
  3. Now travel along your hook until you are on this bearing.
  4. Once there, travel back towards to your starting point.

Back Bearing
A ‘back bearing’ is in the opposite direction to your travel, ie plus or minus 180 degrees. For example: if you are following a bearing of 070°, to walk back along exactly the same route your bearing would be 250° (070°+180°=250°). This is the back bearing.


Employing this technique allows you to roam without a specific route, even off your map!
— Lyle Brotherton