Why I am pleased to spend $500 on maps

To thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, you don’t even need maps, or resupply boxes. There are 165,000 2” by 6” painted white blazes along the length of the Trail, with the vast majority of them within sight every moment you are on the trail. If I were walking again, I’d buy a set of 4 “Mapdanas” to assist in planning my way.

On the PCT, you’d better have maps. I walked for a few hundred miles in California’s High Sierra on snow pack that was so deep that the trail and any of the blazes were buried below. While I would have preferred a GPS on my thru-hike, I was able to sharpen my navigation skills, but I did often get off course, even in the company of capable others.

People have walked the length of the Continental Divide Trail without a GPS or detailed maps. It’s possible- you just keep heading north, making adjustments as you go. Better navigators than I have strongly recommended carrying, and knowing how to use, a GPS on this hike. I have read that there are trail sections that go as long as 200 miles without a CDT sign, and that the real issue is unmarked intersections that leave no clue as to where the actual trail goes.

I bought a new GPS for this trip- a Garmin eTrex30. It’s small, light, and allows the use of removable SD cards. If I encounter other eTrex30’s out there, we can engage in wireless data transfers of waypoints, tracks, and routes. The unit also utilizes a barometric altimeter, which can pinpoint elevation readings. When I travel trail, my practice of keeping an estimate of miles hiked, along with elevation readings, really helps locate me on the map.

In practice, my GPS will be turned off while hiking, and will be activated if and when the going gets questionable. Otherwise, I’l go broke replacing AA batteries.

I will also be carrying a complete set of Jerry Brown’s CDTNST Map books, along with his 2013 upgrades. These maps reflect the 2013 “official route”. The CDT is 70% complete (with Montana less complete than that figure) allowing for as many as 5 alternate route sections along the way. There is always the possibility that an alternate route may be needed, due to the nature of the ever-present summer wild fires that close sections of the official trail, and storms and deep snows that might affect a choice in places like Northern New Mexico and Colorado. In 2011, the Gila River alternate was closed to a huge fire.

Because of this, I’ll also be carrying alternate maps, most specifically Jonathan Ley’s map sets . I have just received word from Jonathan that his 2013 set is fully updated and that he will be sending me a compete set on a CD. I will download the sections I plan to use as back up, load them onto a zip drive, and take it to Staples where they will be printed on color double -sided 11 x 17” paper. For all of his work, Ley receives donations from his appreciative map users.

I am also using selected pages from Maine’s own Delorme Atlas and Gazetter series of the states that make up the CDT. While these maps are not detailed anough to navigate by, they do allow one to view the features and alternate route that support the main route. I have transcribed the Ley maps onto the Delorme’s so that I can pull them out and refer to them as needed. Here’s an example of how I’ve worked up page 53, from Deming, NM to Doc Campbell’s :

Delorme/ Ley details
Delorme/ Ley details

That’s not all. I took advice from Yogi’s CDT Handbook and also purchased selected Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service maps.

How much does all these maps and GPS cost? Over $500. Yikes!

4 thoughts on “Why I am pleased to spend $500 on maps

  1. Nice work, Tom! Considering the eTrex was probably a big chunk of that $500, I’d say not a bad investment. And I really like the idea of actually having several options and map sets for a trip like this. Seems like more of a “choose your own adventure.” I can’t wait to hear the updates as it goes!


  2. Uncle Tom, I think the 11×17 maps are probably the way to go. I ordered the 8 1/2 x 11. There is a lot of fine print on the maps and I can’t read it at all in many cases. Hopefully it won’t be a major issue for those of us who went with the smaller maps. Hope to see you out there this summer. Good luck with the surgery!


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