The Pro Tips Guide to Trail Navigation

Stay on track and follow along with these outdoor Pro Tips on how to navigate your next adventure.

Enjoying a hike when out on the trail can be fun, but nature isn’t confined to a beaten path. Navigating the outdoors can give you a thrill of adventure not found on a cut trail.

There are a few ways you can direct yourself when hiking so you stay on track to your destination. DICK’S Sporting Goods associate Michael Chmiel breaks down three common navigation techniques and how they can benefit your hiking experience.


A tried-and-true navigation method, a compass and map can be a great option for hikers and adventure-seekers. While simple in design and construction, using a compass and map does require some skill. Understanding how to use a compass and how to read a map are requirements for this navigation method. “Take the time to do your research and practice using this system before you rely on it when you’re out on the trail,” Chmiel says.

Some of the benefits to using a compass and map on the trail include:

  • Lightweight and easy to carry.
  • No service or signals needed.
  • No batteries required.
  • Reliable option; good as a backup.


Whereas compasses and maps are utilitarian options, handheld GPS units are a more technologically advanced technique for adventurers. Handheld GPS units use the method of trilateration – locking onto signals from three or more satellites to determine location – to identify where you are. These navigation tools can determine multiple factors, including altitude, speed and other statistics. Be sure to have your unit charged with fresh batteries before you adventure.

A few key benefits to using a handheld GPS unit include:

  • Accurate, detailed readouts on location.
  • Downloadable maps can help personalize your trek.
  • No need to connect to cellular service.
  • Can come loaded with other extras, like topographical maps or ski reports.

BONUS PRO TIP: Allow your GPS to connect properly by turning it on before you begin on the trail. “Be sure to connect to satellites before you start your hike,” Chmiel says. This can help ensure location accuracy and other features.


GPS apps and cellphones can be great options when you aren’t adventuring long or straying too far from society. This navigation technique uses the locating services programmed into your cellphone and applies it to your hike. Some apps also allow you to document and track your hikes for future trips.

Benefits to using GPS apps on your next hike include:

  • Convenience; no need to pack extra gear and equipment.
  • All-in-one option.
  • Similar readouts and accuracy when compared to handheld GPS units.

However, be mindful that GPS apps can drain your battery and deplete your data, according to Chmiel. Also, cellular service might not be strong in your area. This can render apps useless in these circumstances.

Each navigation technique can be a worthy option, depending on your hiking style. Chmiel notes, though, that it can be good practice to carry a compass and map as an emergency navigation system. Follow these Pro Tips and find the right guidance for your adventure needs.

Need some further help in planning your next trek? Follow these outdoor Pro Tips on planning your trail hike.