Ultimate Navigation part 5: Hill Navigation

In part 5 of our navigation series with Lyle Brotherton we start looking at the techniques that can be put into practice where we need them most: on the hill.

"This time we’re looking at how easy it is to use natural features in the landscape to keep you on track. Handrailing, collecting features and catching features are the three techniques I use most, because they allow you to enjoy the great outdoors without constantly concentrating on navigation."


A ‘handrail’ is an easily identifiable linear feature, marked on your map, that you can follow towards your next attack point (or destination).

Typical handrails are:

  • Fences

  • Forest edges

  • Overhead power lines

  • Paths, roads and tracks

  • River banks

  • Ridges

  • Stream beds

  • Valleys

  • Walls

If visibility is reduced, either in poor weather or low light levels, then following a handrail is the safest form of travel – and in severe conditions the technique becomes essential.

On the maps above, the edge of the woodland is being used as the handrail.

Collecting features

Features are the things you predict or know will be on your chosen path. Mentally ‘collecting’ them along the way confirms that you are on the right route.

Typically, collectable features are:

  1. Spot features: such as bridges, intersections of paths, junctions in rivers/streams, cairns, summits.

  2. Linear features: such as walls, streams, and ridges with no junctions.

  3. Area features: the terrain may change from rocky to marshy to rolling; you start going uphill or downhill; the ground levels out; you reach a particular land feature.

Catching features

These are similar to handrails or collectable features, but rather than confirming you are on the right path, these features indicate that you have either reached or potentially overshot your destination.

For an example, take a look at this map section. Imagine you had been visiting the ancient settlement on top of Penchrise Hill at the trig point (1) and you want to travel to the settlement north-west of where you are at the summit of the small hill (2). If you reach the forest (3) you have travelled too far – the forest is your ‘catching feature’.