Thursday, January 05, 2012

Trail Maps – Why Bother?

Being a frequent contributor to hiker forums, I have seen the Appalachian Trail map debate time and time again. And time and time again I see the same reasons crop up as to why hikers choose not to carry maps or even find them an essential part of their gear list -  

Common arguments against taking maps on the Appalachian Trail - 

-          The trail is blazed white and easy to follow. You can’t possibly get lost unless you’re stupid
-          I know the trail cold, so I don’t need them
-          I never plan to get hurt, face a drought, need a road to bail a friend out or meet a friend, avoid storm damage or any such calamity because my hikes go perfectly every time
-          My guidebook is good enough
-          Maps are too heavy
-          Maps are too expensive
-          Some maps cover such a small portion of the trail, they’re a waste
-          I don’t want to have to rely on a mail drop for a map
-          I can always look at someone else’s map
-          Maps are for whimps
-          Maps are only for those who like looking at something else besides the woods
-          Maps are only good for TP (toilet paper...)
-          Your own special reason…..

Now the Reasons Why you Need a Map – based on the above

-          Yes, the Appalachian Trail is blazed white. But did you know there are places where other areas are blazed white? State Game Lands of PA are. I have seen dirt roads with obscure white or other areas. Just because white blazes often signify the AT doesn’t mean other areas won't also use the same markings. And that can mean you veering into other areas with the potential of – uh – getting lost. Also, many designated wilderness areas have infrequent trail blazing. Or blazes are obscured due to rerouting or lost over time. It’s easy to miss them at road junctions. Or pranksters could have obliterated them. To say blindly there will always be blazes to follow is being, in my opinion, ignorant
-          So you never plan to get hurt or encounter adverse weather which may necessitate your need to bail out or emergency camp at a place that has water? A map will show you areas that may suffice for an emergency campsite. Maps help point out road crossings or alternate trails that can lead to bail-outs and safety if you or a friend need them. Or if you run low on supplies. Maps help show possible detour routes if the trail is blocked by severe storm damage (i.e. hurricane damage like Vermont suffered) or high water from a t-storm. Maps also help locate adequate, uncontaminated water sources where reliable ones in a guidebook may not be flowing. Essentially, maps could save your hike and maybe even your life
-          Guidebooks are giving elevation profiles of the trail but don't have the other features a map contains. They do not have contour lines. You don't know for sure where that trail is really going from a guidebook. There are no side trails outlined on it except in verbage. They don't always point out all upcoming road crossings and trails, nor do they tell you where they lead. They cannot pinpoint obscure water sources you may need, esp in drought conditions or in beaver fever areas. Guidebooks provide words not visual illustrations of the trail and its surrounding areas
-          If you think a tool that could help you or save a life is too heavy, then maybe your aren’t cut out for the rigors of hiking
-          Ditto for $$. You’ll spend it on other things, maybe even brew or tobacco, but not on a map. Priorities.
-          Maps are never a waste if they are needed. OK – you may have been fine on a section without them. But no doubt the one time you need it, you won’t have it. Why take that chance?
-          Mail drops are no big deal and hardly an excuse for not picking up an essential piece of gear
-          Sure you can look at someone else’s map, but why not have your own? This is your hike. Carry your own stuff and be self reliant. If you ask me, the whimp factor in the next response can also apply to the one who refuses to carry a map then must rely on another to provide it for him / her.
-          I believe the other answers are addressed above when one see the value in a map. Also, maps are part of Leave No Trace, that is, planning for your hike. Maps can be life savers. I have never known a hiker having to quit a hike because of carrying a map. But for sure some have had to quit because they did not have one – i.e., they got lost, they got hurt and didn’t get medical attention in time to help the injury, had to take an unintentional detour or other reasons.

Bottom line is, save the excuses and take a map.    


mpsteen2 said...

I would rather emblazon my own trail, or follow what I see, this way I have a higher chance of stumbling upon something unique! Just a thought. :)

Turtle said...

A map is like homeowner's insurance. You don't need it until your house burns down and then you're very glad you have it.

Joe Harold said...

I love maps.

Cricket said...

I am a map maker, so I always carry a map or prepared GPS whatever land or water trail I'm on. I usually do NOT use it for the trail, but to know what surrounds the trail - for emergency use or just for the satisfaction of knowing the name of the mountain on the horizon or the stream I'm camping near.

However, over my years of making maps I have come to believe that there are map people and non-map people. You will never convince a non-map person of the utility of a map and you will never convince a map person not to carry one.


Linda said...

Being free spirited and 'freestyle' when hiking is all well and good, but not much use when things go awry and other folk have to try to trace steps taken! At best I see it as foolhardy not to have a planned route that can be easily replicated by rescue services should the need arise and at worst reckless, as it potentially puts other people at risk - not to mention the costs incurred!
Sorry if this sounds a bit hard line, but it's a problem encountered all too often in the mountains around our chalet.