Today was supposed to be a post on American made outdoor gear (coming soon, promise!). Instead, I heard a story just this morning. Tell me if it sounds familiar.
Two teenage boys went out hunting yesterday and never reported home. Search and rescue is called out to look for them. The family is frantically worried and out searching as well. Family and friends are posting on social media to ask for help searching or information from anyone who has seen them.
Have you heard this story before? Luckily, these boys have been found safe and the family is relieved to have them back. But it is a story we hear every year about this time as hunters head off into the wilds.
DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU! You do not want this story to be you or anyone you love. Save yourself the fear and worry. There are some very easy ways to boost your navigation ability and drop your chances of becoming the morning news. I will outline some steps below but today we will focus on taking a map.
I’ve singled out hunters because it is that time of year but this applies to all you hikers, backpackers, fishermen, family adventurers, and anyone else who gets outside
Safe Navigation Steps
- Tell someone where you are going.
- Take a map
- Take a compass
- Know how to use them!
Tell Someone Where You are Going
Luckily the hunters from our story must have told the family where they were headed because the search was focused on one area. In the event that you do get lost, it is important that someone knows that you are out and where you have gone. It will be pretty hard to find you if no one knows you are missing or they have to cover 200 square miles. Always tell someone where you are going! It would be best to provide them with a map that has your intended location or travel route marked.
Take a Map
Now we get to the good stuff. There are plenty of people who seem to think that maps have gone the way of books: who needs one? Why would I need a map when I have a GPS?
I have the GPS. Never need a map again, thank you. -that lost van from the movie Cars
Don’t be that lost van. A GPS is a great addition but not the only answer. The batteries could die, it can lead you to the wrong spot, Google Maps could show a feature that is not actually there… So many possibilities. Take a backup. If you need a story about getting lost following a GPS, you can find one here, here, and here (plus so many more I cannot list). It is most effective to have a GPS, map and compass to work together.
Where to Get a Map
Now you may be saying to yourself “I don’t even know where to get a map!”. Well that may be true so lets talk maps for the Unites States.
Gas Station or Rest Stop
Pretty much any gas station or rest stop will have a road atlas or map of the state you are traveling. Not super detailed about a specific area but it can help you get around. Price: $0-20
Local Visitors Center or Chamber of Commerce
These are little gold mines of local information! They usually have maps for the local area and attractions. Price: $0 (usually)
Your Local Government Agency
If you are on public land, there is probably an agency with a map for it. Look for the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, or National Park office. BLM and Forest Service offices usually have large maps and the local agent can help you pick the right one if you know where you are going. Price: $0-15
US Geological Survey (USGS) Store
If you need to use maps, the USGS is like your new BFF. They have maps of the entire country and you can find them all online. Just go to the USGS Store’s Map Locator & Downloader. These screenshots and directions may seem intimidating but it is pretty easy. I’m just trying to get you all the details.
Now that you are here, zoom in to the location of the map you wish to find. Or you can type the location in the search bar right above the map. We’ll zoom in around Diamond Lake which is not too far from my town. It can be a little tricky since there are not lots of roads on the map.
I changed to “Mark Points” on the right hand side (A) and marked which area I need a map for. This handy little box pops up with a list of all the map versions for that area. You can buy a paper copy from the USGS by clicking the green “Buy” button in the corner of the pop up. Price depends on the map version. Price $8-15
You also have the option to download the map and print it yourself. You can add multiple maps to your download cart (B) or download them one at a time (C). It is completely FREE to download the map. You can then take the map to a local large format print shop to have it printed.
This search give us maps that say size 7.5 x 7.5. That is not inches! These are 7.5 minute maps which print out to be about 22″x27″ and cover 49-70 miles. Large format printing is a must but you usually just need 1 map. We printed one recently for about $5 at Staples. Price $5-10
You can also find mapping sites like CalTopo which let you print maps in 8.5×11″ on your home computer completely free. These have a bit more of a learning curve so you will just have to jump in for now. This video shows you how to print a map from CalTopo step-by-step.
Take a Compass
Compasses are not the discussion today but they are just as important as a map. A map will help you be familiar with roads and landmarks and the compass tells you which way to go in relation to the map. We have some upcoming videos to discuss safety bearings, basic compass use, and keeping kids safe while hiking. You can sign up for our newsletter to hear about it just as soon as they go live.
There you have it! So many map options that you have no excuse to go without. Unfortunately for our international friends, every country is different in regards to getting maps and I do not have a comprehensive list. I would suggest contacting your local government agencies or outdoor groups. Outdoorsy people should know where to find good local maps (if not, you better send them to this post!)
If you are headed out into the wilds or even not so wilds make sure to take the time to grab a map for your journeys. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of search and rescue (I’m pretty sure that is the phrase!) See you outside!