When I initially began treking, I utilized whatever navigational resources were easily offered and appeared enough. Prior to thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2002, I bought the Appalachian Trail Data Book and downloaded the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association’’ s Thru-Hikers ’ Companion . And’ to check out Colorado ’ s Front Range the’following summer season, I purchased a couple of National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps that covered the location.

But when I began adventuring off the beaten course—– starting with the Sierra High Route , culminating with the Alaska-Yukon Expedition , and continuing with high paths of my own—– I needed to produce some or all of my navigational products from scratch. Through this procedure, I created what I think is an optimum mix of resources and maps.

 My 3 basic map types (clockwise from leading left): custom-detailed maps on 11-by-17-inch paper, an industrial introduction map, and digital maps and layers on a mobile phone My 3 basic map types (clockwise from leading left): custom-detailed maps on 11-by-17-inch paper, an industrial summary map, and digital maps and layers on a mobile phone (Photo: Andrew Skurka)

.Paper Versus Digital.

I typically bring 3 kinds of topographic maps: a paper small introduction map, paper massive comprehensive maps, and digital maps (in some cases consisting of extra images or information) on a smart device.

The present generation of thru-hikers may consider me old-school for my ongoing dependence on paper maps. General I believe they are functionally remarkable to digital maps. They use a considerably big seeing window: an 11-by-17-inch sheet total up to 187 square inches of topographic information, or about 13 times more than the screen on my Google Pixel 2 XL. Paper maps can likewise be composed on, which works for making path notes and drawing bearings. Unlike electronic gadgets, there’’ s little to no effect if they’’ re sat or dropped on, they stay practical after being exposed to water (so long as they’’ re laser-printed ), they put on ’ t need batteries or charging, and they ’ re more quickly seen together’by numerous individuals when going over path options.

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I comprehend the appeal of digital maps. They put on ’ t need a great printer or a journey to your regional equipment shop. A phone or’portable GPS is quickly filched and less unwieldy. The mapping software application can dependably determine your place and rapidly determine range and vertical gain or drop– and, for a long journey, it ’ s likewise more affordable.

.—Paper Overview Maps.  Here are numerous examples of introduction maps. Industrial entertainment maps are best, given that they ’ re upgraded frequently and consist of more than simply topographic information. When not available, I custom-print USGS 250K or 30-by-60-minute map series on 11-by-17-inch paper( upper right ). Here are numerous examples of summary maps. Business entertainment maps are best, given that they ’ re upgraded frequently and consist of more than simply topographic information. When not available, I custom-print USGS 250K or 30-by-60-minute map series on 11-by-17-inch paper( upper right). (Photo: Andrew Skurka )

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Overview maps generally have a scale of in between 1:50,000 and 1:100,000, suggesting that a person system on the map( e.g., an inch,a centimeter, a thumbnail) equates to 50,000 or 100,000 systems in the field. While preparing a journey, I utilize these small maps to establish a basic understanding of the landscape, consisting of the primary watersheds, roadway systems, and path networks. They help with determining a basic path and prospective alternates and overcoming logistics like travel, allows, and resupply points.

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In the field, introduction maps work for serving and identifying far-off landmarks as a recommendation for midtrip preparation conversations, self evacuations, and detours.

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 From Colby Pass in California ’ s Sequoia-- Kings Canyon, we were captivated by a popular peak on the north horizon. Utilizing our Trails Illustrated summary map, we concluded that it was Mount Goddard, 30 miles away and still inside the park. From Colby Pass in California ’ s Sequoia– Kings Canyon, we were interested by a popular peak on the north horizon. Utilizing our Trails Illustrated introduction map, we concluded that it was Mount Goddard, 30 miles away and still inside the park. (Photo: Andrew Skurka)

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On its own, a summary map can be appropriate for on-trail navigating. I ’d care that not likewise bringing a massive map is a missed out on knowing chance. By meaning, the topographic information on a small map is compressed, making it challenging to associate functions on the map with functions in the field, especially subtle ones. Attempting to enhance them utilizing small maps will produce restricted outcomes if your map-reading abilities are just so-so.

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Making matters worse, popular summary maps do not utilize a basic scale or shape period( the vertical distinction in between shape lines on a topographicalmap), so your brain needs to relearn this relationship with every brand-new map. The introduction map of Yosemite National Park that I utilized in July is printed at 1:80,000 and has 50-foot shape lines, whereas the map I ’ ll usage in Rocky Mountain National Park next month is printed at 1:50,000 with 50-foot shape lines, making the topography appear 37 percent less high.

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Also, these popular maps often have shaded relief. When not seen from the south side of the map and looking north, the shading triggers functions to stand out more however plays techniques with your eyes.

 When a shaded relief map is seen upside down( left),the shading can deceive your eyes, making canyons appear like mountains and ridgetops appear like valleys. For field usage, it ’ s much better to utilize a map without shaded relief( right). When a shaded relief map is seen upside down (left), the shading can trick your eyes, making canyons appear like mountains and ridgetops appear like valleys. For field usage, it’’ s much better to utilize a map without shaded relief( right).( Photo: Andrew Skurka)

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For a summary map, I choose to utilize an industrial entertainment map, like one from Beartooth Publishing , Green TrailsMaps , National Geographic, or Tom Harrison , because they due to the fact that revised and modified regularly upgraded routinely include easily consist of parking areas, locations campsite locations campground places, and services like permit authorization and workplaces. They normally likewise include a specified location, like a national forest or wilderness location, where my whole journey will most likely occur.

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Individual leisure maps cost$ 10 to$ 15 and are readily available online and from regional merchants. If you are a premium member of GaiaGPS ($ 40 each year), you can access the Trails Illustrated maps digitally through the site or app.( From the site, they can likewise be printed.)

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For more remote areas where entertainment maps are not readily available, the next finest alternative is to develop your own. I advise utilizing the MapBuilder Topo layer in CalTopo . In GaiaGPS, the very best layer is most likely Gaia Topo, howeverit ’ s likewise worth taking a look at Mapbox Outdoors or Outdoors by Thunderforest .

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A last alternative is to buy U.S. Geological Survey( USGS )30-by-60-minute maps, which are at a scale of 1:100,000.( In this circumstances, minutes are not in recommendation to time. The earth is divided into 360 degrees of longitude and 360 degrees of latitude; within each degree, there are 60minutes of latitude and longitude, and within each minute there are 60 seconds.) These maps are not upgraded frequently– numerous are more than 25 years old– and they leave out numerous beneficial leisure information.

. Paper Detail Maps.

 Left: An initial USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle. : A customized map based on the very same map series, digitally annotated and exported to a print-ready 11-by-17-inch PDF utilizing CalTopo. Left: An initial USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle. : A customized map based on the exact same map series, digitally annotated and exported to a print-ready 11-by-17-inch PDF utilizing CalTopo.( Photo: Andrew Skurka )

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At house I utilize comprehensive maps to more specifically prepare my path. In the field, I count on them to browse and discover campgrounds and water sources.

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In the U.S., the gold requirement for massive maps is the now digitized United States Topo series , producedby the USGS. United States Topo maps are imitated the pre-digital 7.5-minute quadrangles.

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Each paper quad– about 55,000 were initially made– represented 7.5 minutes of latitude and 7.5 minutes of longitude.This corresponded to about 8.5 miles of latitude( the map height) and about 5.5 to 7.5 miles of longitude( the map width), because the physical range in between lines of longitude reduces towards the poles.

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The USGS quads have a scale of 1:24,000. One inch on these maps equates to 0.3788 mile, considering that there are 63,360 inches in one mile.The most typical shape period is 40 feet. The USGS was not constantly constant in its systems or shape periods. Some parts of the High Sierra have 20-meter shapes( about 66 feet), while 80-foot shapes were utilized in the Tetons and Glacier National Park.

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 The natural scale of 7.5-minute quads is 1:24,000, so topographic information is much clearer. This series is the gold requirement for topographic maps in the U.S. and perfect for exact navigating. The natural scale of 7.5-minute quads is 1:24,000, so topographic information is much clearer. This series is the gold requirement for topographic maps in the U.S. and perfect for accurate navigating.( Photo: Andrew Skurka)

Today scans of the quads can be accessed digitally, utilizing platforms like CalTopo( my choice) and GaiaGPS. An associated item that is much better for Forest Service lands, FS Topo , is likewise offered through these websites. Both USGS and FS maps can be exported out of CalTopo and Gaia into print-ready PDFs.

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An 11-by-17-inch tabloid hard copy does not equal the appeal or quality of an initial quad. If you ’ re sentimental, acquire them straight from the USGS, ortry to find them at your regional outside seller (probably in a wood bureau with coin-slot-style drawers).

. Unique Circumstance: Alaska.

The maps offered for Alaska are typically various than those in the lower 48. Entertainment maps are ending up being more typical, especially for the national forests. For other locations, make your own map in CalTopo or Gaia, or locate the lovely one-by-two-minute series that are printed at a 1:250,000 scalewith 250-foot shapes, offered from the USGS.

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The digital United States Topo layer is progressively readily available for Alaska, however I still choose to utilize scans of the older 15-minute quads, which are printed at a scale of 1:63,360 and usually have 100-foot shape lines. A great deal of topography can conceal in these maps, due to the large shape lines, however the Alaskan landscape is so big that I discover the big scale and shape period more ending up being of it. The amazing information of the basic 1:24,000, 40-foot-contour series weakens its effectiveness in this surface.

. Digital Maps.

 A screenshot of the 7.5-minute layer, as seen in the GaiaGPS app A screenshot of the 7.5-minute layer, as seen in the GaiaGPS app( Photo: Andrew Skurka)

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As a backup and supplement to my paper maps, I likewise pack digital maps onto a smart device or GPS system, and in some cases other layers, too, like Landsat images and residential or commercial property limits.

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Digital maps have fundamental worth, even aside from the effective software application they bring. , if I lose my paper maps or get method off path– both have actually occurred– digital maps end up being important.. I ’ ve discovered other individuals ’ s maps, and I ’ ve had customers lose their maps. And on among my very first directed journeys, we bailed out of the Alaska Range and wound up 100 miles far from our desired exit point, method off both our introduction and in-depth maps.

. Other Resources.

In addition topographic maps, I like to have the following 2 other products.

. A Route Description.

A path description works for supplying basic info about a path (or a part of it), intriguing historic and clinical understanding, individual anecdotes from the author, and extensive descriptions of challenging areas. I tend to prevent those including long-winded descriptions of details that would be more effectively communicated by a topographic map’.

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While’getting ready for treks for which no path description was openly offered, I have actually made my own. In these DIY manuals, I combine little bits of details from e-mail and telephone call, online forums and journey reports, land-manager sites, and travel bookings. Since its complete significance typically can just be analyzed as soon as in the field, I copy the material verbatim.

 An example of an information sheet( left) and a path description( right) An example of an information sheet (left) and a path description( right)( Photo: Andrew Skurka )

. Information Sheets.

An information sheet is a list of essentiallandmarks( such as crossways, passes, creek crossings, and shelters )and matching information, typically consisting of cumulative and incremental ranges. Premade sheets are readily available for some well-trodden paths, like the Appalachian Trail, however I frequently make my own. In my high-route guides, I likewise consist of vertical modification since it ’ s more revealing than horizontal range .

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An information sheet it not helpful for a spontaneous schedule– you ’ ll be off it after a crossway or more– however it ’ s exceptionally hassle-free for recognized routes and tracks, like a long-distance path. With an information sheet, I can rapidlydead-reckon to future landmarks, recognize practical outdoor camping locations for the night, and figure out if I ’ m ahead or behind rate.

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The details on an information sheet can be computed by hand from a paper map, utilizing vertical modification and range, however it ’ s laborious work. Digital determining tools in CalTopo and GaiaGPS will yield more precise information and make much quicker computations.

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Data sheets can be modified down to develop other quick-reference lists, consisting of water sources in a dry location, resupply points on a thru-hike, or designated camping sites.

. Storage.

 My two-bag map bring system My two-bag map bring system (Photo: Andrew Skurka )

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To keep my resources and maps dry and tidy, I save them in gallon-size freezer bags. Resealable plastic bags are economical and difficult, and theyfit my 11-by-17-inch maps completely (after their half-inch margins have actually been eliminated and they ’ ve been folded in half ). Generally, I bring 2 bags. For journeys longer than about 5 days, I ’ ll take a 3rd bag so that I have a clear and fresh bag for the 2nd half of the journey.

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One bag is for products that I ’ m utilizing that day or will be utilizing quickly, like prior to completion of the day and perhaps prior to a long break, when I would have the opportunity to resort things. I keep this bag withoutmess– the more that ’ s in it, the less available things are– and I save it in an easy-to-reach however safe place, like a devoted side pocket on my knapsack.

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The other bag is for products not currently in usage, along with other documentation, like my backcountry authorization and in some cases some composing paper. I attempt to separate maps and resources that I ’ ve currently utilized so that I put on ’ t lose time looking through them for my next map. I save this bag inside my pack, generally sandwiched in between the body and the liner material.

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This is part among a four-part series about navigation.’Sequel will be released next week.

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Read more: outsideonline.com