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.