Hiking Navigation _ Determining your Altitude

Knowing your altitude can help determine your location. If you know your height, you will be able to narrow down your possible positions on the map, and it will help you to better translate the features around you to your location on the map.

Furthermore, if you know you are on a slope, knowing your altitude will help you determine if you need to make your way up or down to reach a destination. In this section, we will look at some common ways to determine your altitude:

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  • Use an Altimeter. Obviously, the best way to be sure is to use an altimeter or a 3D-fix on your GPS Device. Nowadays, altimeters come integrated into wristwatches and other gadgets that combine a whole set of functions. These all-in-one integrated altimeters could be using a mechanism that is far from accurate and very sensitive to changes in air pressure, weather conditions, etc. So make sure to either buy a high-quality altimeter or at least know the accuracy you can expect from your altimeter. Many altimeters can only give your altitude with a 50-100 meter allowance.
  • Use the Map and Terrain features. If you are able to identify some elements of your surroundings and locate them on your map (a hut, cliff, hill shapes, etc.), then determining your location with respect to these features might help you determine your altitude and location.
  • The vegetation on mountains changes as you reach higher altitudes. In general, a hill has altitude zones that go from leaf-carrying trees to pine trees, bushes, moss, to bare rocks and snow. If you know the altitudes of these boundaries, then you will be able to roughly deduct your altitude by knowing your location with respect to these natural boundaries. Of course, this method is far from accurate.
  • The vegetation boundaries are largely determined by temperature as temperature decreases as altitude increases. Many local weather forecasts include the temperature at various altitudes. Knowing these temperatures, you should again be able to determine your altitude roughly. Yet, this method is far from accurate.

These are some of the ways of Altitude Determination. Some can give accurate results, while others can roughly give you an idea. Thus, be careful in determining your altitude. Use whatever it is that you think is best in knowing your height.