I was reading through an article on pilotage [Wikipedia] in the December AOPA Pilot. In general, I found the article enjoyable, but one thing stuck out like a wart — the author’s assumption that people should always read a chart track up (with the chart rotated for the direction they’re heading) rather than north up.
I have no objection to the suggestion that people try using a chart track up, but frequent claim that it’s easier — and some pundits’ and instructors’ insistence that it’s the only proper way — grates a bit. In informal surveys on aviation mailing lists, I’ve found people split about 50:50 between north up and track up, and I suspect that it has to do with how different people’s brains work, something along the lines of left-handedness and right-handedness.
Personally, if I’m flying west, my mind already pictures me flying right to left, so it’s by far easier to hold the chart north up so that it lines up with what I’m seeing in my head. Track up would be a double annoyance, since (1) I’d have to rotate everything in my head, and (2) all the text on the chart might be sideways or upside down. Likewise, when I’m walking, cycling, or driving around a city, I think of myself as heading northwest, south, etc. — I never memorize a trip as a series of left or right turns. I imagine that people who do navigate that way probably also find track up easier.
So if you fly, hike, boat, or whatever, do you prefer to hold your charts (or set your GPS display) north up or track up? Why? If you’re an instructor (aviation, seach-and-rescue, orienteering, etc.), have your students generally found one or the other easier? Has anyone every done a proper scientific study?