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Methods of Measuring Distance for Land Navigation

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Straight Line

Measuring distance on a map is critical to be able to determine how far you must travel between points or locations. You can measure straight line distance and curved distance (roads).

The most accurate method for measuring straight line distance on a map is to line up a straight edge of a piece of paper (or 3×5 card) and mark your start and end point on the paper. Then match up the paper with the appropriate bar scale on the bottom of the map. Ensure you use the bar scale for meters!
Another method for measuring straight line distance is to mark the start and end points on a sheet of paper and use the 1/50,000 meter coordinate scale triangle inside your protractor to measure the straight line distance.

Curved Distance

Measuring curved distance is important when travelling mounted. The most accurate way to measure road distance is to use the straight edge of a sheet of paper and place a mark at your starting point. Place another mark on the paper at the first curve in the road you come to. Rotate the blank paper to follow the road, placing a tick mark at each curve.  Once you have completed this, simply measure the total distance between your first and last tick mark on the sheet of paper using your bar scale.

Bar Scales

The bar scales will be located at the bottom of the map. Generally any distance on paper of 1 inch equals 1,000 meters. Most maps have 4 different bar scales in meters, statue miles, yards, and nautical miles. For all dismounted movements you will want to use the meter bar scale. Sometimes for mounted movements you might want to use the miles bar chart, particularly  if your vehicle has an odometer.

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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Get Tabbed - How to Graduated Army Ranger School

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