Did You Get Deferred on Your Navigation?

Did You Get Deferred on Your Navigation?

Top tips for Mountain Leader, Hill & Moorland Leader and Lowland Leader Trainees

The majority of deferrals on Mountain Training walking qualifications are due to poor navigation. In fact, in 2015, Glenmore Lodge considered that 25% of candidates who deferred on their Mountain Leader deferred due to navigational errors and lack of tactics. To compare this to the climbing awards, it is considerably higher than the deferral rates of the Rock Climbing Instructor qualification.

It appears that the major reason for these deferrals are related to interpreting contours on the map, use of strategies and tactics, relocation and generally not enough quality mountain days or hill walking days.

Minimum of 40 Quality Mountain Days/Hill Walking Days

There is no excuse for turning up to your Lowland Leader, Hill & Moorland Leader or Mountain Leader assessment without the absolute minimum days stated in the syllabus, skills checklist & guidance notes - yet people seem to do this and seem surprised that they got deferred.

These days should be very clearly marked or flagged in your DLOG -bonus points if you upload it as a GPX file as these are super user friendly for the assessor to view. Have a few days to spare (maybe 60-80 in total rather than the 40 minimum) in case the assessor thinks that some of your routes are not quality mountain days or hill-walking days.

Likewise, make sure you read the syllabus and guidance notes; there are a lot of trainees out there asking on social media about “what is a quality mountain day” even though it is clearly stated in lots of documents and handbooks on the Mountain Training website. If you do your reading and do your quality days then this should solve most problems that occur at assessment due to the quality of your walks and the navigation needed. You’d be surprised how many people turn up to an assessment without reading the qualification handbook.

Contour Interpretation

The contours you see on the map are going to be a feature that will not change for a very, very long time. They also give your body a lot of feedback through slope aspect & angle.

Look for prominent features at first to build your confidence with contours, these could be ridges, valleys, plateaus, changes of steepness and where you are in relation to these (is the path going alongside the contour or across it? How does this change what’s underfoot).

If you cannot navigate on contours, you are only navigating with half of the details that you find on your map… that sounds challenging.

Use Tactics & Strategies

Those who get a solid pass at assessment use tactics such as attack points, aiming off, catching features, etc. Those who defer often aren’t aware of these tactics or implement them with poor execution. If you struggle with these, break your journey down in legs and make a note on the map how you are going to break down each leg with what tactics you need to use, pacing and timings, wind direction, and points of interest. Keep it as simple as you can so you don’t put yourself under pressure, simple decisions are the easiest to follow - use attack points and catching features to help you with where you are on the map. If you are unsure on use of tactics, have a look at the Hill Walking or Navigation in the Mountains book availible from the Mountain Training Website or consider booking a navigation course with someone who’s already qualified.


If you are unable to relocate then you are very likely to get deferred, this is an essential skill when walking in the hills or mountains. Candidates tend to get confused and stare into their maps rather then look around them when misplaced. Consider travelling to unravel the mystery or moving around to prove your location to the assessor and find at least 3-4 bits of information that prove where you are before committing to your location.

Likewise, you can also use your previous known location to help you and consider how long you traveled since this location and what terrain you went over, what did you see? Spend more time looking around you rather than burying your head into your map; contours are over half of the details availible to you so make sure you use them. Also use areas to narrow down and localise where you are; are you on a hill side? Is that a linear feature? Is that an obvious kink in the contour line? Can you take a bearing off of that feature to gain slope aspect of where you are on the hill? If you can’t work out where you are, start to eliminate where you are not.

If you have tactics and strategies to work through you will feel more relaxed and perform better as a result.

If you enjoyed reading this journal entry and thought it was worth your time, then consider treating us to a coffee! We drink loads of coffee when we write up journals and sometimes the coffee jar gets empty!


Working towards your assessment? Consider booking a course with Climb Devon to brush up your skills and have a final Navigation/Hill Skills MOT. You will gain instruction from experienced Mountain Leaders who can look over your DLOG and test your navigation on the hill.