As a former Marine, I have become somewhat leery about classes that cater to outdoor “survival” lessons. Why? Often times these seem to appeal to those who did not not join the military and want to have a GI Joe experience. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, but it's definitely not for me. I've been uncomfortable enough in my lifetime and I don't see the need to pay for a weekend of that.
But, but, BUT! Let me now eat my words and tell you about Randall's Adventure Training (RAT), located in Gallant, Alabama (about 50 miles from Huntsville & Birmingham). RAT hosts a number of classes that should be of great interest to nearly anyone who participates in outdoor activities that could possibly require life saving skills; bushcraft, survival (basic and advance), first aid, rope work, and for the purpose of this review, Land Navigation.
Land Navigation (Land Nav) is a skill that I would consider myself to be of above average in. Since a child, I have almost always worked with maps in some capacity. From Boy Scouts to Boot Camp to School of Infantry & Scout Sniper School, to my current profession as a cartographer, Land Nav has just come fairly naturally to me. This is not to brag or boast, but to set up the rest of the story here.
Because of this life long endeavor, one would think that taking a Land Nav course would be unnecessary. Sure, the argument is there. However, it's very easy to become complacent in any skill you have if you think you are the best. But if you look at any pro-athlete, I can almost certainly guarantee you that he or she is in a near constant training regiment in order to stay on top. Land Nav is no different. I'm not out in the woods every day shooting an azimuth and looking for little points in the ground to walk to. I get rusty too.
Another factor in wanting to take the course at RAT was that a few months ago I was attending a Overland Rally out West and a small class was conducted on basic map reading and land navigation. I was completely astounded by two observations: 1) the number of people who seemingly had no idea how to use a map (young and old) 2) the amount of misinformation that was being presented. This is a very dangerous combination as you tend to hang on to information that is taught to you the first time you hear it. Unlearning the wrong way is incredibly difficult, especially by a so called “expert”.
Once I returned from this trip, I decided that I wanted to teach Land Lav as well so that I can reach out and instruct in a clear and informative way. No wrong info, no bad examples, no talking just to hear myself.
The way to become a good instructor is to watch other good instructors.
I had been familiar with RAT for a number of years through their knife company ESEE. Their knives are of the highest quality and at a very reasonable price. Often times, knives are sold under some sort of tactical marketing which will render the prices much higher than they should. ESEE does not do this. So when I was looking for a Land Nav class, RAT was the first business I checked out.
The Land Navigation class is held over about a day and a half and costs a measly $100.00. I'm here to tell you now that it's not even worth considering finding a cheaper alternative if you live a reasonable distance from Alabama. Hell, a multi day drive would be worth it too! The training site is located on about 170 acres off a rural road (but still have cell phone coverage). Camping is allowed on site in a field that looks like it's maintained by a golf course professional. A clean (but somewhat spidery) prot-a-potty is in the main area. For class room instruction, classes are held in a roomy and well equipped facility. Many of the adjacent fields for training are trimmed to at least knee height. The woods are typical South East trees and briers. Hey, can't make it too easy!
For this class we had two instructors: Jeff Randall (RAT Co-Owner) and Patrick Rollins. Both shared about an equal amount of time with class room and outside instruction. There were also a couple of RAT cadre members on site to help out. Class size is about a dozen and the instructors constantly walk around the room helping during assignments. I can say unequivocally that all of the instructors are there for the students, and not to just ram everyone though.
RAT instructors have a natural talent for picking up on those who are struggling and then break the session down into a way for them to understand. The instructors will not move forward until everyone understands the current topic. During the first day, I saw several students appear to have never picked up a map and compass before and then be able to plot a coordinate and walk a well defined azimuth to that point. It was amazing! This is how I know a course is good to go.
Course work covers what a compass is and how it works, how to read a map, and then combine the two in order to plot coordinates and navigate an azimuth. Students should supply their own compasses, but a few are available to lend out. Maps, pencils, and mapping tools (excluding the compass) are presented to each student to use and keep upon course completion. I personally felt that nothing was omitted from the course work that should have been covered.
While the first 8 hour day consists of mostly class room instruction with some field examples towards the latter part of the day, the second day is all field exercise. Without giving away too much, the class is broken into teams and each team is given a list of coordinates to plot and navigate to. There is no time limit to the course, but most teams are able to complete the list in about 3 to 4 hours. I would consider this course to be of intermediate experience level. However, the two students I was teamed up with were of very basic skill set on the first day and did a hell of a good job on the field portion. All because of the ability of the instructors to teach a difficult skill in a basic and understandable manner.
At the end of the exercise, the student graduates and is given a Velcro backed “moto patch” and a certificate that is worthy of placing in a frame. There is no stone left un-turned by RAT.
Do I have any nits to pick? Just two minor ones. Before I go on, this is sort of a list that I have because of my level of experience. If you don't know, then you would probably not notice. The maps given out for instruction are fine for the purpose but they are not laminated. Alabama is a very hot and humid state and my the end of the day, drawing points and lines with a pencil, only to erase them when finished, had rendered many of the maps into a flaccid and hole riddled mess. I much prefer a laminated map with fine tip alcohol erasable pens to use on a map. A new map is passed out the next day. Again, just a nit.
The other issue was the port-a-potty. That thing, while very clean, was riddled with spiders. Last thing I want is a big hairy spider crawling around my butt cheeks while, well you know. Let's get some spider-be-gone in there. I'm not wanting to embarrass myself with a shrill “eeeeekkkk” out here!
Land Navigation is a skill that goes back to the dawn of humans. While not an impossible skill to learn, it does take some time. To be quite honest, even a day and a half class is not enough to really learn how to use a map and compass. But a week long class would not be in everyone's financial or time budget. RAT has managed to compress this time into about 12 hours and has done so with the ability to send the student off with the knowledge and confidence to further their education on their on.
Randall's Adventure Training Land Navigation course is 100% money well spent. If you spend any amount of time in an area that would require the use of a map and compass (or even plotting points using a GPS), I cannot recommend RAT enough.