Scouting Forums

How far? Maps, Compass, GPS, Orienteering & Navigation

Every Scout and Scouter (on land and afloat) can learn how to determine the distance to be traveled or the distanced traveled; and map a route to be traveled.

Where do you find the information and tools on how to do it? Where do you find Scouting information and resources?

To start you off, there is the string and map method described in the BSA Fieldbook. You can also search the internet for “mapping distance traveled” for ideas and tools.

What tools does your unit use?

Handbooks and Guides

(Incomplete DRAFT)

  • Scouts BSA: Chapter 11 “Navigation” in Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls, pp. 326-357), 39006, 2019 printing, SKU 648768. (Also in Boy Scout Handbook,)
  • Sea Scouts BSA: “Celestial navigation / The Sextant”, June 14, 2015 - 2 page introduction
  • Sea Scouts BSA: “Piloting and Navigation”, pp. 189-208, Sea Scout Manual, 12th ed., 33239, ISBN 978-0-8395-3239-2, ©2016 Boy Scouts of America, 2016 Printing,
  • BSA Fieldbook, Backcountry Basics, Chapter 8 “Navigation”, pp. 96-113, 34006, 2014 printing, SKU 614985


Related Scouting Requirements

Scouts BSA - First Class Rank Requirements (2019)

Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls, 39006, 2019 printing, SKU 648768


  • 4a. Using a map and compass, complete an orienteering course that covers at least one mile and requires measuring the height and/or width of designated items (tree, tower, canyon, ditch, etc.).

  • 4b. Demonstrate how to use a handheld GPS unit, GPS app on a smartphone, or other electronic navigation system. Use GPS to find your current location, a destination of your choice, and the route you will take to get there. Follow that route to arrive at your destination.

Orienteering merit badge requirements and resources

  • 4e. Show how to measure distances on a map using an orienteering compass.

Venturing BSA Ranger Award

Map resources updated: 2019-07-29
Post updated: 2019-08-07

Personally, I’m very fond of Wilderness Navigation by Bob and Mike Burns, published by The Mountaineers, for teaching instructors and adults advanced skills. The “Navigation” chapter of the scout handbook is pretty complete for basic skills.

I advise our Navigation Instructor, and we use a combination of USGS 7.5’ topos, custom maps, and other commercial maps to teach the scouts navigation. I have a variety of baseplate compasses from Silva, Brunton and Suunto that are used for initial instruction, assuming the scouts haven’t yet purchased their own.

Typically, for distance traveled I have taught a variation of Ranger beads (pace counting) for tracking distance covered. I don’t know that anyone in our unit besides me actually uses it, though. I’ve also taught the string method for measuring distance on a map, but largely recommend and use estimating to track it in the field. I also carry a GPS unit, but it’s largely for convenience rather than distance tracking. It’s pretty quick to pull UTM off of a map, rather than having to triangulate every time there isn’t an obvious geographical reference feature.

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