Thursday, November 27, 2014

Don’t forget to use your map when hiking!

To avoid getting lost, check your map frequently when on
 a day hike. Photo courtesy of Forest Runner/Photoree.
Most day hikers are smart enough to bring a map on their walk, but a few too many forget to actually use it once on the trail.

After all, if you should get lost, a map’s usefulness is greatly reduced if you don’t know where you are on it.

Once at the trailhead, pull out your map and orient it, that is align it with the direction you’re traveling. See where landmarks are on the horizon relative to the trailhead, noting their compass direction.

Also, select a landmark farther up on the trail in which you will check the map again. This might be a significant bend in the route or a landmark such as a rock outcropping or a vista. It should be only a few hundred yards ahead; it need not be something you can see from the point where you're checking the map but should be something that is obvious once your come upon it.

Upon reaching that point, pull out your map again and orient it once more to the trail’s direction and the previously looked at landmarks. Note the landmark’s compass direction as well, for they may have changed since the trailhead. Before putting the map away, select the next point you’ll do a map check.

While this may sound dull to do, it usually ensures you won’t get lost, and if you do, you’ll probably be able to backtrack quite quickly to the last point where you checked your map – which is a spot where you weren’t lost. In addition, it can give you a better appreciation of the trail’s geography and help you better recognize interesting points in the distance.

If children are with you, especially if they’re teenagers, have them help you check the map so that they learn about orienteering. Indeed, should an injury occur and the teen is the only one who can go for help, their knowledge of the terrain and your location will go a long way in ensuring they can safely get back to the trailhead.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.