Navigation Skills

Simple navigation techniques and route finding skills allow you to identify the land around you and to choose a good route  avoiding dangers such as cliffs and river crossings. Like many mountaineering skills they are easy to learn, but using them under stress is a different matter.

Mountaineering Ireland facilitates both informal and formal training for hillwalking. Our informal training includes Happy Hiking skills days and a Club Leadership Programme. 

Mountain Skills is the most popular formal training scheme - see details below. 

Mountain Skills Courses

The Mountain Skills (MS) training courses provide thorough training for hillwalking and covers the fundamental skills of mountain navigation & safety.

Offering a solid foundation for gaining personal mountaineering proficiency, Mountain Skills training teaches the necessary skills in mountain safety, navigation techniques, knowledge of hazards, and personal equipment, so that a person finishing the course may be in a position to safely, and competently, take to the hills.

Mountain Skills training and assessment also provide foundation training for those who wish to progress to a leadership qualification, such as the Summer Mountain Leader Award (SML). Mountain Skills courses are available throughout Ireland. Please click here for more details on Training.

Club Leadership Programme

Following on from the success of our Club Leadership Programme in 2021 and 2022 which saw over 1,100 club leaders trained from 91 different hillwalking clubs in total, Mountaineering Ireland is delighted to be able to offer all clubs the opportunity to avail of this programme again in 2023.

This programme is fully subsidised by Mountaineering Ireland as we believe there is still a significant need to provide further training to clubs to encourage more members to come forward and lead walks. Additionally, current walk leaders across all our clubs, will benefit from refreshing their skills, helping ensure they have both the ability and the confidence to continue leading walks.

Training Purpose: provide informal training for club leaders, tailored to the needs of the club, with a focus on building members’ skills and confidence to lead and encourage more leaders within clubs. The key objectives are; to increase the number of leaders available to our clubs, to support clubs to encourage more members to step up and lead, to refresh the skills of current club leaders and to assist leaders to share knowledge on hillwalking and enjoying the outdoors responsibly with participants on walks.

If you would like further information on this programme please contact Ruth Whelan Hillwalking Development Officer: or 01 625 1115.

                                              GPS Devices

Knowledge Of Basic Navigation And Compass Use Is Vital Prior To Any Introduction To GPS Device Or Mobile Phone App.

What Do We Mean By “A GPS Device”?

• Most Mobile Phones (and Tablets) are equipped with a GPS receiving capability
- this functions independently of the telephone service
- once maps are downloaded to the phone this functionality does not require phone service and does not use data

• Google Maps uses this GPS capability to display the familiar “Blue Ball” which locates your current position on the map, whether you are online or offline.

• Many Smart Watches have GPS capability
- used by many participating in various running based sports
- such units are most suitable for data recording and display given the small screens
• Few units utilise topographical maps and, in reality, screens are too small to afford useful mapping functionality

• Handheld GPS units are also available - very useful for all types of hiking with topographical maps pre-loaded.

• Some units are “button operated” whilst others utilise touchscreens. This is an important consideration when selecting a unit.

What Type Of GPS Device To Use?

• In Ireland two systems are dominant in the market
- Hiiker and Outdooractive (previously ViewRanger) app for use on a Smartphone
- Garmin Handheld Unit; we will discuss a button operated model such as Garmin 66s rather than Garmin touchscreen units

• Both systems will allow you to plan, follow, record, save and share walks

• Some issues to consider when deciding between these systems are listed below. They largely relate to reliability / operability

So Should I Discard My Map And Compass; No!

• Paper maps and compasses long pre-date GPS and continue to be recognised as fundamental basic skills for safe navigation in the outdoors.

• It is important to have map and compass skills in order to utilise GPS based systems beneficially.

• Utilisation of GPS systems does not dispense with these fundamental skills, rather GPS can add to the enjoyment of outdoor activities.

What Benefits Can A GPS Device Bring To Hillwalking?

• An appropriate topographical map is a prerequisite for safe hillwalking. This could be a printed map (with compass), and / or GPS Device with appropriate topographical map downloaded onto it.

• Many of the topographical maps used on GPS Devices display the many “established paths” that, while often rudimentary, we often use when crossing mountain ground. Many such paths are not shown on paper maps but are very clear on the GPS maps.

• One can make use of the GPS topographical map;
- when planning your walk (creating a “Planned Track”), and / or
- when actually out walking (the GPS will locate you on the topographical map; you can always know exactly where you are, correct your direction, and / or for future re-use, or sharing, of the detailed walk.

(Touchscreen) +  Hiiker & Outdooractive
Garmin Unit
(buttons e.g. 66s)
Cold; Touchscreens can be difficult / impossible
to operate while wearing gloves

Wet; Touchscreens can be difficult / impossible
to operate in wet weather

Extent to which phones may be safely exposed
to rain varies

Cold; Buttons can be reliably operated while
wearing gloves

Wet; Buttons can be reliably operated

Unit is rated IPX7, waterproof and can be fully
immersed for at least 30 minutes


Phone screens can suffer reduced readability in bright sunshine

Screen designed to be readable even in bright sunshine
RobustnessTouchscreen has no significant external protection

Units have “screen behind a screen” - in case of severe impact one may crack the outer rigid plastic screen without affecting operability
- outer screen can be replaced

Battery PowerMost phone batteries would be significantly depleted over a 6-8h hike, or less
Having a backup Power Pack is advised

Typical rechargeable AA batteries (2,800mAh) would support 15-20h hiking


Simple to carry two AA batteries


Most people already own a suitable Smartphone


Topographical Maps

Purchased from the app platform. Typically those “tiles” you believe you need, not necessarily a whole country


Annual Subscriptions may be chosen

66s would cost (2021) €350
- cheaper models are also available

Topographical Maps; many sources but individual country maps are available (2021) for €15

Annual Subscriptions may be chosen

*It is always advisable to have backup hard copy maps with compass and know how to use them.

Managing Data Input To / Recovery From Your GPS Device

• Before your walk you can plan a route
• After your walk you can save the track you actually walked, step-by-step
- easily reused out on the hills
- easy to share with friends
• If using a Phone app (e.g. Hiiker and/or Outdooractive) then data storage is on the device or in the cloud
• If using a Handheld GPS data storage is on the device, on your PC and also (if you wish) in the cloud
• These tasks may be performed directly on the relevant units (Phone, Handheld GPS)
- however with a Handheld GPS it is often more convenient to complete such tasks using a PC with the relevant software downloaded

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