Backcountry Navigation Essentials


AAI's Backcountry Navigtion Essentials class was designed for those that are in the process of becoming indepent wilderness travelers in complex terrain. This three-hour program provides a baseline from which an indiviudal can develop a deep level of confidence in their wilderness navigation skills.

Wilderness Navigation Essentials

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.

Every year experienced wilderness travelers disappear in the mountains. And every year, there are rescues and recoveries. To avoid this kind of experience, a wilderness traveler needs to hold a deep knowledge of both digital and analog navigational skills. AAI's Backcountry Navigation Essentials course covers these in depth, including:

    • Pre-Trip Planning
    • Analog Map and Compass Techniques
    • Digital GPS Techniques
    • Terrain Association
    • White-Out and Green-Out (thick brush) Navigation
    • Route-Finding Techniques


Backcountry Navigation Essentials

Program Structure

The Backcountry Navigation Essentials 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 and hunters. And while 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:

  • Notebook and Writing Utensil
  • Compass with a Mirror
  • Download an Alimeter App
  • Download CalTopo (Gaia or OnX are also okay)
  • Download a Compass App




Backcountry Navigation Essentials

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.

  • $85 - Three or More Students on a Scheduled Date
  • $140 - Two Students on a Scheduled Date
  • $250 - One Student on a Scheduled Date

Private Rates (Classroom Incuded)

  • $100 - Three or More Students
  • $150 - Two Students
  • $325 - One Student

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

Backcountry Navigation Essentials Dates

This program will run from 6pm to 9pm at the AAI Mountain Center in Bellingham on the following dates:

  • April 27, 2024
  • May 4, 2024
  • May 11, 2024
  • May 18, 2024
  • May 25, 2024
  • June 1, 2024
  • June 8, 2024
  • June 15, 2024
  • June 22, 2024
  • June 29, 2024
  • June 6, 2024
  • July 13, 2024
  • July 20, 2024
  • July 27, 2024
  • Aug 3, 2024
  • Aug 10, 2024
  • Aug 17, 2024
  • Aug 24, 2024
  • Aug 31, 2024
  • Sept 7, 2024
  • Sept 14, 2024
  • Sept 21, 2024


Backcountry Navigation Essentials

Optional Program Extension

This is an excellent program to add onto any entry-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:

  • Backpacking and Wilderness Skills
  • Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue
  • Alpinism I: An Introduction to Mountaineering
  • Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part I
  • Avalanche Training - AIARE I


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

Backcountry Navigation Essentials

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