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Mountain Navigation

  • Price: $229.00
  • Duration: 8 hours

Learn to use crucial tools like a map and compass, altimeter and GPS in this mountain navigation skills course based in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

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Knowing where you are is the most basic mountaineering skill of all. Three-quarters of all rescue operations do not involve injuries, just locating lost hikers. This one-day, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado based, orienteering course will teach you how to navigate using a map, compass, altimeter, and GPS. Whether you’re a mountaineer, hiker or backcountry skier, this course is extremely useful.  Mountain navigation skills are a must have skill set.

All of our courses can be run as custom outings.  If you’re interested in a course, but it doesn’t fit into your schedule, please check out our custom guiding options.


This course is designed to teach students to travel with confidence in the backcountry.  The following skills are covered in this course:

  • Become skilled in topographic map reading – visualize maps in three dimensions
  • Gain compass, altimeter, and basic GPS skills
  • Learn to plan your intended routes before you go
  • Learn to travel in unmarked terrain

Meeting location:

Colorado Mountain School
341 Moraine Avenue
Estes Park, CO 80517


If you require lodging at our Estes Park Adventure Hostel, please make your reservations online in advance. Beds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Our hostel features 16 beds in 3 rooms, bathrooms, showers, a full kitchen with appliances, dishes and utensils, wi-fi, ping-pong table, and a lounge area. Please be considerate of others lodgers during your stay.


COVID-19 Contingency:
We believe that your training is best taught by combining theoretical concepts and experiential learning. Some topics are best learned in a comfortable classroom setting and others in the mountains, moving through terrain. You’ll have both.

The first portion of your course will be conducted in a classroom setting. In the interest of health and safety for our students and instructors, classroom format for the 2020/21 season may include e-learning and/or group video discussions in an effort to limit close contact in closed spaces.

The majority of your course will take place in the mountains where we will learn in an open-air environment. You should be prepared, mentally and physically, to stay immersed in the backcountry for up to eight hours. You will be assigned to a small pod consisting of one Instructor and a maximum of six students to allow intimate instruction and physical distancing.The nature of this pandemic requires us to be flexible and adaptable in how we deliver a quality training experience. Rest assured, from the moment you enroll all the way up to your course field day(s) and beyond, our instructors will be a part of your learning progression and will provide you with the tools and resources you need to best prepare for your training. If you’d like to learn more about what we are doing to manage COVID-19 risk for our students and guides, please view our FAQ page.

All Upcoming Dates and Locations:

  • June 18, 2024 - June 18, 2024 - Mountain Navigation - Estes Park, Colorado
  • July 2, 2024 - July 2, 2024 - Mountain Navigation - Estes Park, Colorado
  • July 16, 2024 - July 16, 2024 - Mountain Navigation - Estes Park, Colorado
  • August 11, 2024 - August 11, 2024 - Mountain Navigation - Estes Park, Colorado
  • September 8, 2024 - September 8, 2024 - Mountain Navigation - Estes Park, Colorado
  • October 6, 2024 - October 6, 2024 - Mountain Navigation - Estes Park, Colorado

The Map

  • General definition of maps and United States Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps.
  • Overview of information shown in the margins, including: Projections (Mercator projection); degrees, minutes, seconds; longitude and latitude; scales and series; reference lines (Universal Transverse Mercator [UTM] grid, State grid, section and range lines).
  • Color designations and meanings.
  • Topography:
    • Mean sea level
    • Contour lines
    • Contour intervals (dark brown vs. light brown)
    • Identifying land forms
  • Orienting the map

The Compass

  • Discussion on the anatomy of the compass.
  • A look at different scales used on compasses.
  • Learning to shoot bearings.
  • Learning to follow a bearing.

Map and Compass

  • Declination (true north vs. magnetic north).
  • Measuring angles on the map (azimuths).
  • Locating or identifying objects on the map and on the ground – ded reckoning
  • Triangulation
  • Intersection


  • Learn to read UTM coordinates from the map
  • Roughly by sight
  • Using an interpolator

Route Planning

  • Discuss tour planning basics
  • How to record the tour
  • How to establish legs
  • How to establish times
  • Stress overall importance of proper planning

Modern Tour Planning Devices

  • Show and discuss modern electronic tour planning/navigation tools
  • Caltopo, Hillmap, Gaia, Topo Maps


No experience necessary


Be Expert With Map and Compass, Hjellstom

Outward Bound Map and Compass Handbook, Randall


8:00am - 4:00pm


8 hours

Maximum Ratio:


Minimum Age:

Please call to register participants under 18
Experience Level


Activity Level

Easy Active, Relaxed






  • Trained and/or certified guide
  • Use of Map and Compass for the day


  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Lodging
  • Clothing, backpack and non-technical personal items
  • Park Entrance Fees (where applicable)
  • Rescue Insurance
  • Trip Insurance
  • Gratuity
  • Expenses due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the control of Colorado Mountain School

Item Description Quantity Example Purchase At Rent At Equipment Type
Approach Shoes

These are “hiking” shoes specifically made for approaching and descending from a climbing venue where scrambling is necessary, or even for climbing an entire route. They have sticky climbing rubber on the bottom and a formed fit to influence better climbing abilities while scrambling. Consider high-tops for additional ankles support if needed. Regular hiking boots or athletic shoes may be acceptable for many climbs.


Men: La Sportiva TX3 Men
Women: La Sportiva TX3 Wmn

Neptune Mountaineering

Backpack: 18-25 liter

This small pack is carries one’s approach shoes, water, food, extra layers, and toilet kit on the route. This pack should close completely so that no items can fall out.



Neptune Mountaineering

Climbing Pants, Shorts or Capris

For all seasons, cotton, loose-fitting (or tight, stretchy) pants are usually acceptable for rock climbing. Shorts are acceptable during the summer – though shorts expose the knees and shins to abrasions. New climbers are encouraged to wear pants or capris. A synthetic material (like in softshell pants) may be required by your guide due to potential rain storms.


Men: Rab Sawtooth
Women: Rab Womens Sawtooth

Rab Stores


Used for navigation and orientation. A compass with adjustable declination is preferrable.


Silva Ranger CLQ

Neptune Mountaineering

Face Mask – PPE

Optional; Look for a mask with a bendable border at the top so you can mold the mask to fit the bridge of your nose and prevent your glasses from fogging.

1 Clothing

Proper lunches that are prepared ahead of time are recommended (sandwich, burrito, leftover pizza, etc), along with an assortment of snack bars, gels, or trail mixes. Feeze-dried meals are acceptable on overnight trips, but not day trips.


Made in Nature, Thrive Tribe

Neptune Mountaineering


Useful for navigation courses, including hiking and ski tour planning.

1 Optional
Lightweight Baselayer Top

Synthetic or Merino Wool; Worn against the skin and is considered a “wicking” layer that facilitates the movement of moisture away from the skin and through the layers. Hooded base layers add extra versatility.


Men: Rab Syncrino Base LS Tee
Women: Rab Syncrino Base LS Tee


Lip ScreenSPF 15 or higher.

Non-SPF rated lip balms can actually increase your chances of getting burned.


Rocky Mountain Sunscreen Lip Balm

Neptune Mountaineering

Mechanical Pencil

Great for taking notes in the field.

1 Optional
Midweight Baselayer Top

Synthetic or Merino Wool; Adds extra warmth and protection from the cold and wind without creating a moisture barrier as a jacket would. Having at least one base layer that is hooded adds versatility, protecting the neck and ears from cold winds.


Men: Rab Ascendor Light Hoodie
Women: Rab Ascendor Light Hoodie


Neck Gaiter

“Buffs” are quite versatile in their uses. They can be used as light beanies, neck warmers, and can offer face protection from the cold wind or sun.


CMS Neck Gaiter

Neptune Mountaineering

Smart Phone App

There are a plethora of apps that assist in navigation. These apps use your phone’s GPS functions and can work in the mountains offline.


Avanet; Gaia Maps; Topo Maps


Great for taking photos and videos. Smartphone batteries tend to shut down in freezing temps – keep your phone in a warm inner layer. A tether is ideal in the mountains to protet against dropping your phone.

1 Optional
Softshell and Fleece Jacket

Water-resistant, windproof, yet it “breaths,” which means it allows moisture to move through. Hoods are ideal. There are multiple thicknesses of Softshell jackets. A lightweight or medium-weight jacket is preferred. Fleece jackets are acceptable.


Men: Rab VR Summit Jacket
Women: Rab VR Summit Jacket


Sports Bra

Provides support and allows for full range of motion


North Face Beyond the Wall

Neptune Mountaineering

Sun Hat

A billed hat to keep the bright mountain sun at bay.


Rab Trucker Logo Cap



“Wrap-Around” style sunglasses with 100% UV Protection.



Zeal Optics 

Neptune Mountaineering

SunscreenSPF 30 or higher.

Travel size.


Rocky Mountain Sunscreen SPF 50

Neptune Mountaineering

Synthetic or Merino Wool Socks

Wool and synthetic blends are great for long days on the trail. “Ski” and “Snowboard” socks are especially useful when warmth is desired.


Point 6 AT Hike Light Crew

Neptune Mountaineering


Many ice climbers prefer to bring a thermos of hot water or soup instead of one of their water bottles.


Neptune Mountaineering

Toe Warmers and Hand Heaters

Help keep you warm on particularly cold days.


Neptune Mountaineering

Trash Bag

Lining the inside of your pack with a heavy duty trash bag will keep the contents of your pack dry on rainy days.

1 Optional
Trekking Poles

Adjustable and without powder basket.


CAMP Backcountry

Neptune Mountaineering

Colorado Mountain School

Watch with Altimiter

An altimeter is very useful in gauging progression of altitude gain or loss when climbing, and especially when visibility is decreased due to weather. Many Altimeter watches have compasses or GPS tracking functions.


Suunto Vector; Suunto Core

Neptune Mountaineering

Water Bottles

1 liter bottles are the standard. Bladders such as Camelbacks and Platypus are acceptable for above freezing temps, but only in conjunction with another bottle. Bladders are not acceptable during sub freezing temps. Sports drinks are also acceptable.


Nalgene, Hydro Flask

Neptune Mountaineering

Waterproof Shell Jacket

Non-insulated, Gore-Tex, Dermizax, Event, or other waterproofing system is required. Mostly, this jacket sits in the bottom of your pack and comes out when the weather gets nasty with precipitation. This jacket should fit over all other layers.


Men: Rab Khroma Cirque GORE-TEX Jacket
Women: Rab Women’s Khroma Cirque GORE-TEX Jacket




Q: Will COVID-19 impact my course?

A: 2020 made it clear that running programs while managing the risk of COVID-19 transmission is a challenge. It is a challenge that the Colorado Mountain School team tackled creatively and courageously. We may need to shift our classrooms to virtual settings at a moment’s notice. We may need to put on masks unexpectedly. We may need to go outside and distance ourselves. No matter what though, we are committed to running programs, providing education, and serving our mission, while also maintaining the highest standards of risk management. Please visit our FAQ page or contact us for more information.


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