Hiking - An Easy Introduction To Using Maps To Find Your Way Around

By: Donald Saunders


Although you might guess that it should be the other way around, it is a fact that most seasoned hikers use maps in order to navigate their way along trails and through wilderness areas while novice hikers feel that maps are they can simply 'wing it'. The novice hiker frequently thinks that it is not necessary to go through the hard work of learning map reading and that sticking to used trails will be fine. Sorry to say, that is not the case.

You can get seriously lost even close to well marked trails and straying a few yards off the trail into a heavily wooded area has caught out more than one novice. Without the benefit of the stars, sun or geographical markers it is very easy to get turned around and to find yourself straying even farther from the trail and getting yourself lost in no time at all.

Now in the example above a map by itself would not necessarily help you out of that particular wood. However, you will normally run across another trail which will hook up with the one you were on and a good map would help you to easily find your way back to your starting point.

So, where do you start?

Get hold of an up-to-date map that covers the area which you are planning to hike in and start by studying it at home in a quiet and relaxed environment. Naturally you will not be in a position to match the map to features on the ground, but it will certainly assist you in learning and understanding the symbols used on the map.

All maps have a legend (which you will find differs slightly from one publisher to the next) and you should familiarize yourself with the symbols. You also need to familiarize yourself with the scale of the map which will be printed on it somewhere as something like 1 inch = 5 miles.

Do not forget though that distance is only one part of the story and that 1 inch representing 1 mile on level ground is a quite different thing from 1 inch representing 1 mile over an area that includes a steep and winding path up the side of a 2,000 foot cliff.

To make allowance for the latter, you need to think about altitude which is shown on the map as a series of curved lines that, if 'stretched out', would form a circle. The distance between two altitude lines around a natural feature like a hill indicates the altitude. Often there will also be numbers printed beside the lines in order to help you. These lines are called contour lines and the closer the lines are to each other the steeper the ground.

Next, you have to study the longitude lines and latitude lines. Longitude lines which show North and South run 'up and down' the map from the bottom to the top while latitude lines indicating East and West run 'right and left'.

During the day you can use the sun together with natural features on the ground to orient the map so that it is aligned with the ground that you are hiking over. Do not forget that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West so that at the start of the day facing the sun will have you heading in an Easterly direction. By the same token, late in the day facing the sun as it sets will have you hiking in a Westerly direction.

At night you will have to use the stars and you can often see the sky reasonably well because most wilderness areas are far away from the glow of city lights. One of the greatest joys of hiking is to be able to walk out under the canopy of stars and familiarizing yourself with such star formations as Orion and the Big Dipper as well as the North Star.

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One of the first things you will need as a novice hiker is a good pair of hiking boots and you could do a lot worse than a pair of Asolo or Vasque hiking boots

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