More on Maps
Think outside the grid
Maps can be intimidating if you haven't taken orienteering since grade school. Even if you bring a compass or a GPS when trekking though unmarked wilderness or trailblazing through the backcountry, your powers of observation can make the difference between negotiating your way back to camp and being the object of a search-and-rescue mission. With map and compass in hand, don't forget to:
- Observe the landscape. Keep track of natural formations like ridge lines, shorelines and rivers. Don't just rely on the obvious. If you see a cave, an odd rock formation or an unusually shaped tree, make note of it on your map. These markers can help you if you get lost.
- Stay alert. Never assume that just because you're following a trail doesn't mean you can't take a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Continue to cross-reference the features you encounter and match them to your map. The sooner you realize you've strayed off-course, the faster you can get back on track.
- Keep track of time. Sometimes it's hard to gauge how far you've traveled. One of the easiest methods for estimating the distance you've covered is to keep notes on the amount of time it takes to reach predetermined landmarks. Alternatively, if your map has a grid system, record how much time it takes you to complete each section. Assuming you travel at a steady pace, you can use your approximate distance, landscape features and the map to ensure you're on course. Keeping track of time will also be helpful in case you have to backtrack - you'll know how long it takes to trek a particular section, despite the variations in the landscape.
In backcountry areas and wilderness zones, a standard-issue park map won't provide enough details. While topographical and specialty maps will give you general park information, make sure you have all the maps required to cover the area you plan to hike. Oh yes, and don't forget your compass.
- Topographic maps. Sometimes called contour maps, these identify features such as mountains, valleys, plains and woodland areas. They also include details such as mountain heights, the steepness of slopes and hill shapes.
- Specialty maps. These maps provide both topographic information and details about backpacking trails, campsites, side trails, bodies of water, recreational areas, etc. Designed for specific outdoor activities, most of these maps are made and distributed by private companies and are targeted toward specific parks, areas and regions.