Land Navigation Skills and Techniques, Part 2

In part 1 I went over the major and minor terrain features and how to identify them in person and on a topographical map. This is an important skill to have for land navigation and I’d really suggest studying it.

In this article I’d like to build upon that and detail some useful techniques you can employ to help plan your route and stay oriented while navigating. We will be practicing these extensively at the Fieldcraft Course, so be sure to check the calendar if you’re interested.


Camp is blue square, travel route is blue arrow, back stop is road highlighted in orange.

Just like the backboard on a basketball hoop, a backstop is simply a linear feature perpendicular to your route of travel and on the back side of your destination. This can be a road, river, ridge line, or any other linear feature on the map. We would use a back stop to let us know that we’ve overshot our destination. For instance, if we are traveling back to our camp which is a hundred meters off a road, we will know we missed the mark if we end up at the road.

Offset Aiming

Backstop in orange, camp is blue square, route is blue arrows

Offset aiming is used in conjunction with a backstop. We use it when we want to intentionally hit our backstop on a particular side of our objective. We might do this to intentionally compensate for our own lateral drift. Let’s say we know we are going to drift left because it’s dark, we’re tired, and we’re on a slope that drops to our left. Our camp is 100M off a road that is serving as our backstop. By intentionally aiming to the left, we now know what direction to turn when we hit our backstop to find our way back to camp (right in this case). Rather than assume we are going to follow a perfect line back to our camp and risk missing it, hitting our backstop and not knowing which way camp is, we intentionally miss it in a direction of our choosing so we can find camp easier.


Route of travel in blue, handrail route in orange.

Hand railing is a technique we use when we want to follow a linear terrain feature. It’s not very tactical to actually walk down a road, but if the road happens to go where we want to and we want to utilize it as a guide, we can parallel it from a distance. This allows us to move quickly until we get to a point where we don’t want to parallel the road anymore.

Attack points

Objective is blue square, route around Cady Hill is blue arrow. Orange circle is hilltop attack point, orange arrow is attack azimuth of 020.

Attack points are easily identifiable features that if we can get to them, we can shoot an azimuth from them to our objective. For instance, let’s say you have to cross a swamp in the dark to get to your objective. It will be very difficult to keep track of where you are. Let’s say on the other side of this swamp there is a hill. If you can determine ahead of time what the azimuth from the hill to your objective is, as long as you get to the hill you can locate the objective.

Escape Azimuth

Blue box is Patrol area, red arrow is escape Azimuth 270 to N-S road.

Escape azimuths are an azimuth that you can use anywhere is your AO in an emergency to find a linear terrain feature where you can expect to be rescued. Just walk in that direction until you hit the feature. This would be something you would organize prior to heading out in your planning.


Intersection- camp is in blue box, orange arrows are azimuths to camp from known points.

Intersection is a technique to locate a point on the map. Let’s say you have a building that isn’t shown on your map, but you want to be able to relay the grid coordinates of the building. You’re going to need to get to a known point and shoot an azimuth to the building. Then you will need to get to another known point and do the same. When you plot these azimuths on your map, the intersection they create will be the buildings position. The more azimuths you can shoot the more accurate this technique is.


Resection- Orange arrows are back azimuths from identifiable terrain features.

The final technique is resection. Resection is used to locate your position on the map. You’ll need to shoot at least two azimuths to known points, then plot their back azimuths on your map. Where these lines intersect is your position. Of course adding more azimuths will make this technique more accurate as well.

If you’re traveling along a linear terrain feature you can also do what is called a modified resection to locate your position on the feature. You’ll need at least one known point. Shoot an azimuth to it, then plot the back azimuth on the map until it intersects with the feature you are on. Use three separate features for the most accurate result.

Modified Resection- Direction of travel is blue arrow on road. Orange arrows are back azimuths from identifiable hill tops.

So there you have it, some great tools to have in your land navigation tool box. You can use all these to help plan your routes before you leave, or to help you keep track of where you are once you get into the bush.


  1. Awesome. Thanks BR. Keep em coming. Resection is tricky. I have yet to get it right. But that’s why we practice. I had a college prof say to me once: you can read all you want about swimming but until you jump in the water you don’t know jack.

    Speaking of grid lines, in one class I took the cadre made us draw our own MGRS grids in the maps as an exercise using a steel straightedge and pencil. Yes we screwed it up and got our asses chewed 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks man, you’re very welcome! I’ve found it easier to plot the back azimuths using my compass. You have to ensure your map is oriented with the compass though, or you’ll be drawing all sorts of messed up stuff 😁 I like your old professors mentality, makes total sense to me. That would be pretty hard to make your own grid lines and have it come out correct. I just got done working through a problem from a map supplier for the maps for my classes. The N-S grid lines were short by 9 meters. They didn’t see anything wrong with it. And I’m thinking you guys sell maps to people?? I was tempted to try to create my own but it would take a lot to get them perfect. I’ve since found a new company that nailed the maps down perfect so my map woes are done luckily. Have you ever tried PAUL mapping?


  2. Good write up.
    The easiest way to differentiate between intersection and resection, RE is ME. To find ME I do a REsection.
    When I went thru infantry training almost 50 yrs ago they gave 1 compass to about 6-8 guys and turned us loose, everyone was supposed to take their turn as leader. Walking around in the dark and losing team members all along the way between compass points. Never figured it out well. Went to Okinawa and on day 3 there, find myself at NTA, their jungle school. Our map/compass instructor, SSgt Mulligan made it so easy to understand, the light went on and I’ve spent my life using maps, along with learning mapmaking as a draftsman.
    The best way to learn is take a course and get out and do it, walk the land and make an effort to study maps where you can read every detail and visualize what it represents.

    Liked by 1 person

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