This is a huge topic beyond the scope of this website. What follows is just some general information/advice for the inexperienced.

  • Mountain navigation is often much easier than finding your way around the road network with a road atlas or following an OS map in your local countryside - so if you've had problems with that in the past don't be put off. Mountain areas have fewer features to clutter up the map.

  • You do not need to be an ace navigator to take part in fell races.

  • As long as you can read a map fairly well and can use a compass if all else fails to get your bearings then you'll be fine (see blow for a 'refresher' on this. Some experienced fell runners who take part in fell races all the time will admit to being a poor map reader.

  • There are some easy fell races that require hardly any navigational skills at all... and some fell races require good navigational skills, especially in poor weather and bad visibility. Check out before you go if the race will suit your level of experience/competence

  • If the weather is fair and the visibility is good then the navigation element of a race is markedly reduced or not relevant

  • Going on a recce (navigate your way around the fell race route beforehand) will make the navigational element much easier as you will recognise features and know where to turn and when you're on the right track during the race

  • If you've never done a fell race before, make your first an easy one and do it in good weather with good visibility.


  • It is essential to get out there in the hills in order to gain some experience. Although you can learn the basics from books, websites etc there is no substitute for the real thing. As with all things in life, if you want to do well in a competition/test situation, you need to study and practice beforehand. When you practice, practice in the same type of environment as the competition - outside on the hills!

  • When practicing, select a series of landmarks you want to find beforehand, then visit each in turn. Obviously, you should start off with easy to find landmarks and progress to harder ones. Easier points to find might be on 'linear' features like rivers/streams/tracks/boundaries or at the top of a hill.

  • The key to navigation is being able to match up easily what you see on the ground with what you see on the map. When you can do that with ease move onto to some compass work

  • Getting lost (temporarily misplaced) will help you with your navigational skills. That's my excuse anyway ;)

There are numerous websites that offer a basic way in. Here is one: Everything Outdoors - Fell Race Nav


Understanding contours is key to mountain navigation.

Think of each contour on the map as a step, just like the steps on a mountain paddy field in somewhere like Vietnam. As you go up the steps you get higher.

Contours are an even step - each time you move over a contour you go up or down the same amount. This may be 5m, 10m, or 15m depending on the map.

Some maps are conveniently colour coded so you get a better understanding of which is up and which is down. Which was is up and which is down is sometimes hard to fathom. Look for the top of a hill (see the left hand pic below) and work it all out from there.

Compass work:

There are numerous types of compass. The one pictured left is the kind of thing many hill walkers and fell runners might use.

In essence a compass is merely a magnet, which is allowed to pivot. All magnets will align themselves to face north if allowed to spin freely. You may have carried out experiments at school with a basic compass - like a magnetised needle or magnets suspended on a string.

Since maps are set out with north at the top, the compass will help you orientate the map (set it out in the same direction as the terrain around you). Together a map and compass can help you move from where you are to where you want to go.

View this document which desfribes how to: TAKE A BEARING

A compass has 3 main parts.pdf