Maps, who needs them right? We’re real rough n’ tumble adventurers, choosing a direction and finding the route afterwards. No foldy piece of paper is going to tell us where to go. Or is it?
Before you get all Into the Wild about it, let’s look at what maps really have to offer:
#1 Maps are safe as hell
This has to be the first point. When people get lost in the bush they can become disorientated and waste a lot of energy going in circles. Or lose all of their energy at once by falling off a cliff. Apart from helping you to avoid getting lost in the first place, a good topographic map will give you a solid idea of the terrain, the closest water sources and high points to flag down help friendly helicopters. They allow you to see a whole region in context, which is great when plans change due to injury or bad weather and you can make measurements and draw all over them with ease. They even come with unlimited battery life and a guaranteed 4 bars of signal. Take that GPS.
#2 Your Map is your canvas
Planning your trip is so much better with a physical map. Invite the crew around and spread it out, board-games-style on the dining room table and take it all in. Run a string along the trail to work out exactly how far you’re going to travel each day and mark out your campsites and must see’s. In the weeks leading up to your adventure you can hang the map on the wall. It’ll have you frothing to get out there and you’ll probably spend so much time looking at it that you’ll know the region back to front once you’re there.
I love to imagine how the contours on a map will look in reality and then satisfy that curiosity by immersing myself in the cliffs and valleys they represent. Most topos (important map user lingo) have a satellite image on the back, which is a great tool for working out vegetation coverage, or simply giving you a different perspective to froth over.
#3 They’re fun on the trail too
You’re the bloke with the map. The one with all the answers who’s running this trip. Checking the map semi-frequently can help you to stay on course and avoid backtracking or going off trail. Bush-bashing is crap for the environment and a big waste of time and energy. Don’t wait until you’re scrambling around at a cliff base instead of cresting the ridge, check off features as you pass them.
It’s also a perfect time to practise your 3D vision. The more experience you get comparing the map to reality the better you’ll be at judging inclines and estimating how long a leg of the route will take.
#4 The perfect trophy
A crispy map hanging on your wall is pretty cool, but what about a torn up, mud-stained warrior that you’ve covered in markings? Maps tell a story and you don’t have to be a cartophile to spend ages staring at one. You’ll have a physical record of your trip that shows what you achieved (and logs any awesome secret places you discovered). It’s also a much more immersive prop than a photo when you’re telling your mates/parents/tinder date about where you’ve been.
#5 Use it again, or pass it on
Maybe you were really into cards when you were little and can’t bear to start a new map until you’ve collected every hike in the region. Or perhaps you’re on a mission to smash out all of the best trips in Australia and you’re done with this one. It’s up to you. Hoard your maps until they resemble tissues that went through the wash, or share the love and pass your map (and knowledge) on to another adventurer.