Hiking Maps and Books
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I can get a bit obsessed about maps. Once my wife used one of my maps as a coaster for her drink, which just about ended our marriage. I believe topographical maps are the most valuable item you can carry in your backpack. If you are new to topographic maps, you should do every hike with a map in hand, identifying features on the ground and correlating them with the map. This is the fastest way to learn this valuable tool, good map reading is the key to successful adventures. When I first started hiking and climbing, I was always reading books for ideas where to go. These days, all I need is a map. The map will tell you almost everything you need to know and what to expect. If you want to know what the plant life will be like along the trail, buy a book. It takes time but you will be able to visualize an area so well, youíd think you been there before.
I think every map is valuable for some amount of information but some maps are definitely better than others. Although I love the DeLorme State Maps, their detailed topographical hiking maps on CD suck. The real USGS maps are the ones to use for hiking and only certain companies like National Geographic have these maps in their CDís and fold-out maps. Buying paper maps is crazy. You would need hundreds of USGS paper maps for all locations you will go. Purchasing the entire state on CD, then printing them is the best option. Sometimes a semi-detailed map is nice such as the Green Trails maps in WA. These cover a larger area with 100 foot contours instead of 40. Other times, itís nice to have a large fold-out map of an entire National Park or Wilderness Area. Try to get a map with contour intervals of 40 feet. Contours of 80 feet is acceptable but anything more is dangerous for off-trail use.
This is what I use to get me to the trailhead. They also are best for overall trip planning when deciding where to go. Iíve placed notes all over the map with additional information Iíve learned from the internet or others. Other notes include where Iíve printed detailed maps so I know Iím ready to go to that area to hike or climb.
DeLorme State Maps
Regional Fold-out Maps
National Geographic TOPO CDS
Even though I might have the state maps on CD, itís nice to have one big trail/topo map to give you trip ideas for a specific region. Sometimes loop trips and traverses just get missed while scouting out ideas on a computer. While on a longer trip, itís also nice to have a map with the whole region incase plans change. Iíve walked off my printed maps many times or had to start at a different trailhead because of road damage. There are differences: my National Geographic ďTrails IllustratedĒ maps have a contour interval of 80 feet but their maps on CD have 40 foot contours...a big difference when off trail. I also buy fold-out maps if Iím just visiting that state infrequently. Iíve only invested in the CDís for my home states and one other I visit often.
This is what you want if you get out a lot, especially if you go where others may not. Even if you went to the local hiking shop and bought every trail map, there will still be areas where no ďhikingĒ maps are available. The USGS maps cover the entire state. They have a few disadvantages. The trails may not be up to date or there at all. Roads are marked but there is no guarantee whether they are 2WD or 4WD. What will be there is the terrain, with as detailed contours as possible. This is what will get you out alive.
All kinds of maps picked up over the years