Maps to Hike With
by Ted Tenny
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.

type topographic, line drawing, park map, etc.
scale 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

Excellent
Excellent
Very Good
Very Good
Good
Good
Fair
Fair
Poor
Poor

type scale A R C
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 1:24,000 Excellent Excellent Excellent
Earth Tracks maps derived from adjacent USGS 7 1/2' quads with updated trail information Available from Superstition Mountain Museum. 1:31,680 Excellent Excellent Excellent
Emmitt Barks maps derived from adjacent USGS 7 1/2' quads with updated trail information Available from Wide World of Maps, REI. 1:35,000 Excellent Excellent Excellent
Beartooth maps derived from adjacent USGS 7 1/2' quads with updated trail information Available from Wide World of Maps, REI. 1:39,000 Excellent Very Good Excellent
USGS 7 1/2' quadrangle maps, available from US Geological Survey, Wide World of Maps. 1:24,000 Excellent Excellent Good
Custom-made maps made to order from the Internet, such as those ordered from myTopo.com. 1:30,000 Excellent Good Very Good
Maps in hiking books showing areas copied from USGS 7 1/2' quads with the trail information updated, available at local bookstores. 1:24,000 Excellent Very Good Fair
Park maps, showing coarse topography and local trails
Available at state and national parks, recreation areas.
1:100,000 Good Very Good Very Good
Maps in hiking books showing coarse topography and local trails
Available at local bookstores.
1:50,350 Good Very Good Fair
Line drawing maps in hiking books, available at local bookstores. 1:60,000 Poor Fair Fair