Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive


AAI's Backcountry Navigtion Comprehensive course was designed for those that would like to become experts in wilderness and/or backcountry navigation. This is an excellent program for those that wish to explore deep into the backcountry, whether on foot or on skis. This course was designed for the following individuals:

  • Expeditionary Climbers and Mountaineers
  • Alpine Climbers and High Altitude Mountaineers
  • Thru-Hikers and Deep-Wilderness Backpackers
  • Off-Trail Hunters and Backcountry Fishers
  • Multi-Day Backcountry Skiers and Splitboarders
  • Aspiring Wilderness Educators and/or Guides
  • Wilderness Search and Rescue Volunteers and Professionals

Wilderness Navigation Comprehensive

Backcountry and wilderness navigation are essential parts of every single trip into the mountains, whether on foot, snowshoes, skis or crampons. Staying found is the best way to both get the most out of your trip, and -- perhaps more importantly -- to stay alive.

But staying alive and found, is only a part of deep wilderness navigation. Expert wilderness navigators go far beyond just staying found. They have a deep well of tools and techniques that they can draw upon to manage navigation, route-finding and time management.

The Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive combines the skills taught in the Backcountry Navigation Essentials course with advanced tools and techniques, including, but not limited to:

    • Pre-Trip Planning
    • Analog Map and Compass Techniques
    • Digital GPS Techniques
    • Terrain Association
    • White-Out and Green-Out (thick brush) Navigation
    • Route-Finding Techniques
    • Understanding Lat and Long and UTM Coordinates
    • Analog Coordinate Mapping
    • Munter Units and Other Mountain Time Planning Techniques

Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive

Program Structure

The Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive program is a front-country classroom-based course that takes place at the AAI Mountain Center in Bellingham, Washington. 

The course covers all the baseline skills required to travel in a wilderness setting for hikers, backpackers, snowshoers, skiers, mountaineers, climbers, SAR volunteers and hunters. After addressing the baseline skills, the course goes much deeper, delving into trip and tour planning at a professional level.

And though the program is classroom-based, instructors use a variety of techniques to teach wilderness navigation. These include:

  • Lecture and In-Person Instruction
  • Multi-Media Presentations
  • Navigation Games and Competitions
  • Analog and Digital Navigation Games and Excercises


Required Equipment for the Program

Some items on this list need to be downloaded ahead of time. Others may be purchased at the Equipment Shop at the American Alpine Institute:

  • Rite in the Rain Notebook and Mechanical Pencil
  • Compass with a Mirror
  • Download an Alimeter App
  • Download CalTopo (Gaia or OnX are also okay)
  • Download a Compass App
  • Analog Map Tool



Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive

Optional Program Extension

This is an excellent program to add onto any entry-level, intermediate or advanced-level wilderness-based program. The additional information learned here in a front-country classroom setting, will help you to understand how your instructor or guide is making route-finding choices and wilderness navigation decisions. 

Consider adding this course to the following programs:

  • Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue
  • Alpinism I: An Introduction to Mountaineering
  • Alpinism II: Intermediate Mountaineering
  • Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part I
  • Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part II
  • Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part III
  • Avalanche Training - AIARE I
  • Avalanche Training - AIARE II
  • Advanced Mountain Rescue
  • Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive


The dates have been designed to fit before, after or in-between many other courses run at AAI.

And of course, the program may be taken on its own without another program.

Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive

Dates and Details

This is a classroom-based course held at the AAI Mountain Center at AAI's headquarters in Bellingham. The pricing for this program is based on a minimum of three students.

  • $160 - Three or More Students on a Scheduled Date
  • $250 - Two Students on a Scheduled Date
  • $375 - One Student on a Scheduled Date

Private Rates (Classroom Incuded)

  • $225 - Three or More Students
  • $295 - Two Students
  • $495 - One Student

If you'd like to schedule this program at another location, call for pricing.

Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive Dates

This program will run from 9am to 4pm at the AAI Mountain Center in Bellingham on the following dates:

  • June 8, 2024
  • June 22, 2024
  • June 6, 2024
  • July 20, 2024
  • Aug 3, 2024
  • Aug 17, 2024
  • Aug 31, 2024
  • Sept 7, 2024
  • Sept 21, 2024

Backcountry Navigation Comprehensive

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