This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.
Why do you need a map?
Navigation is one of the 10 Essentials. You always need a way to figure out where you are and where you are going that doesn’t have batteries and won’t break. GPS or phone apps are great when they work. Always have a backup. Batteries get cold or run out and electronics can break.
Maps and compass always work no matter the weather and rarely break. Even if you only use the map 1 out of 100 trips instead of your electronics, having them and knowing how to use them may save your life.
Buy topographic maps
If you can, buy maps that have topographic markings on them. Each line on a topographic map represents an altitude, or height, above sea level. Lots of lines close together means the area is steep and gains altitude quickly. Topo lines further apart mean the height changes slowly so it’s not very steep. No topo lines in an area means flat or close to it.
Topo maps that show trails and access roads in your area are helpful. You get to see your route as well as what the surrounding area looks like. Remember that those roads and trails may not be there any more.
Keep your maps dry
Most maps are not waterproof so make sure you keep them in something that will keep them dry. A ziploc bag is the most basic but there are good map bags out there too.
Take a navigation course
Maps and compass take a bit of practice to learn. If you want to feel comfortable using a map and compass to get home safely, take a course and schedule lots of practice. Use it when you don’t have to so you know when you need it.