Remember the limitations of electronic navigation, says Mountain Safety Adviser Heather Morning

Heather Morning, the Mountain Safety Adviser for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, has issued a warning to hill-goers not to place too much reliance on GPS devices – especially in winter conditions, which continue to linger in the more northerly mountains of the British isles. Battery life is significantly reduced in cold weather, and if you travel without the traditional navigational tools of map and compass, you could come unstuck.

It’s worth remembering also that small buttons and touch-screen devices can bedifficult to operate when wearing gloves. Heather has recommended that walkers follow this checklist of precautions for navigation devices:

[1] Ensure that you practise with your GPS/smartphone mapping system and learn how to use it in a safe environment.

[2] Remember that battery life will be very limited, particularly in the cold.

[3] All electronic devices stand the risk of malfunction. You should never rely on having all your eggs in one basket.

[4] Always ensure that use of modern technology is underpinned with traditional map and compass skills. It is vital that map and compass are carried in addition to your electronic device.

[5] It is easy to become lazy and rely on technology and lose the ‘edge’ on your map and compass skills.

[6] Your compass should be stored (and used) well away from any electronic devices – metal/magnets have the capacity to influence your compass reading either temporarily or permanently.

Heather adds:

“There’s a temptation to think that splashing out lots of money on an electronic gadget is going to solve all your navigation and safety concerns. But recent trends with mountain rescue call-outs suggest the opposite. Those electronic gadgets designed to make our life easier and safer in the mountains are in some cases even contributing to problems.

“Quite apart from the heavy toil conditions take on batteries, and the risk of water or impact damage, there have been instances where people simply have not known how to use the devices properly.”

Photos: Tony West