To find out where you are in the wilderness and how to get to where you’re
going, read a map. The map must allow you to find your location amid unnamed
topographic features and then determine a route to your destination. A map
that is accurate, readable, and convenient is essential on exploratory hikes
and helpful any time you are off trail and your destination is out of sight.
USGS 7 1/2' quadrangle maps set the standard for topographical accuracy. However they can be inconvenient, especially when your route is on more than one 7 1/2' quad. Sometimes their trail information is inaccurate or incomplete. Published maps derived from 7 1/2' quads tend to include more accurate trail information and seamless coverage of popular hiking areas.
The maps found in hiking books range from good (areas copied from USGS maps with the trail information brought up to date) to awful (line drawing maps that are obviously inaccurate). Park maps and the coarsely detailed topographic maps found in some hiking books are O.K. for route planning but insufficient for finding your way in the wilderness.
Custom-made maps are available from several sources. They can be printed from a digitized USGS map downloaded to your computer, made to order from the Internet, or made by cutting and taping USGS maps or by copying taped-together USGS maps on a color copier.
All hiking maps should be laminated or printed on paper that is waterproof and resistant to wear and tear. Your hiking map will be subjected to sweat, dirt, weather, being stuffed in your pocket or backpack and being folded and unfolded innumerable times.
In the ratings that follow, different kinds of maps are scored on their accuracy, readability, and convenience. All maps are assumed to be laminated and folded. Maps are arranged from best to worst in terms of their suitability for exploratory hiking in the wilderness.
|topographic, line drawing, park map, etc.
|1 inch on the map = number of inches on the ground
|A = accuracy
|the degree to which distances, directions and elevations on the map represent the actual topography
|R = readability
|how easy it is to see your position amid unnamed topographic features (an accurate map that is poorly printed could be unreadable)
|C = convenience
|how easy it is to carry the map and read it while you are on a hike
|Composite maps made by cutting and taping portions of USGS 7 1/2' quads or color copying portions of taped-together USGS 7 1/2' quads
|Earth Tracks maps derived from adjacent USGS 7 1/2' quads with updated trail information.
|Emmitt Barks maps derived from adjacent USGS 7 1/2' quads with updated trail information Available from Wide World of Maps, REI.
|Beartooth maps derived from adjacent USGS 7 1/2' quads with updated trail information Available from Wide World of Maps, REI.
|USGS 7 1/2' quadrangle maps, available from US Geological Survey, Wide World of Maps.
|Custom-made maps made to order from the Internet, such as those ordered from myTopo.com.
|Maps in hiking books showing areas copied from USGS 7 1/2' quads with the trail information updated, available at local bookstores.
Park maps, showing coarse topography and local trails
Available at state and national parks, recreation areas.
Maps in hiking books showing coarse topography and local trails
Available at local bookstores.
|Line drawing maps in hiking books, available at local bookstores.