Any camper or hiker who has spent more than a day in the wilderness knows that GPS is usually the first item to fail on long expeditions. Water, steep canyons, dead zones, and a lack of electricity regularly defeat even the hardiest cell phones and electronic devices.
At the same time, tall trees, twisting, branching trails, and a lack of landmarks can easily confuse novice hikers accustomed to real-time, step-by-step instructions.
What’s a nature lover to do?
If you take Karastin Katusin’s advice, you’ll learn orienteering.
“Being able to use a map and compass is not as archaic as it sounds, as there are situations where your GPS won’t work,” she said. “You could have a dead battery, no cell phone service, or have lost your phone in a ravine.”
Katusin teaches beginning orienteering at Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve. The activity challenges participants to navigate a course with only a map and a compass. Benefits include improving map-reading skills, sharpening memory, and building physical stamina.
“Taking an orienteering class is a good way to prepare for heading off the beaten path,” she said. “My goal is to get folks comfortable using and reading a compass. I teach you how to count your pace and find a bearing. These are especially important skills for the KMP course, as everything is based on orientation and pace. We practice these skills together before starting the course as a group. Once participants feel confident, they can try out the course independently.”
Katusin knows firsthand the importance of learning proper navigation skills. While studying geology in college, Katusin spent many days trekking through forests with only a map and compass as her guide. Her interest in outdoor recreation eventually inspired her to embrace orienteering.
“People are drawn to orienteering because it’s both physical and intellectual,” she said. “Some people enjoy the physical aspect of adventure races, while others like the puzzle of finding themselves on a map.”
When KMP opened a 1-mile orienteering course last year, Katusin took her newfound interest even further. After developing a curriculum suited to beginners, she taught her first Find Yourself Outdoors orienteering class in January and plans to teach her next class on Aug. 19, with many more to follow.
When starting out, Katusin advised visitors to take it slow, as each skill takes time to master.
“Orienteering is a skill that you build with experience,” she said. “Understanding how a compass works is the first skill to master. A related, but separate skill, is understanding how to read and interpret a map. Once you feel confident in those skills, you can learn how to use them together to navigate.”
KMP guests can practice orienteering anytime by visiting KMP’s permanent orienteering course at the back of the park.
“Visitors can definitely try the course if they know a few basics or attended a class and want to practice,” she said. “There are plenty of resources online, and we do offer in-person classes year-round.”
Those who would like to learn orienteering independently or need a refresher course can check out the following resources:
How to Use a Compass
- How to Use a Baseplate Compass
- Basic Orienteering Skills
- Features of a compass
- REI – How to Use a Compass
Compass Selection and Map Reading
About Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve
Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve is an 80-acre property at 20215 Chasewood Park Drive in north Harris County.