Pictures or words? Which is your navigational tool of choice? In the land of Mapquest, I always go immediately for the words. No, don’t print the maps please. My discomfort with maps stems from a lack of education and exposure as a youngster and from being more comfortable with words than visual symbolic representations. Testing the boundaries of my comfort zone, I ventured to explore National Geographic’s Appalachian Trail maps. What a pleasant surprise! Whether you’re a map geek, (whom I seriously envy) or if maps have intimidated you in the past like they have me, you’ve got to check these out. Simple to use but complex in detail, National Geographic has published a series of Topographic Map Guides that detail features of the Appalachian Trail such as shelter locations, backcountry campsites, detailed elevation profiles, and so on. A complete trail guide with a topographic, easy-to-read map weighing in at only 3 ounces? Oh wait, the pages are waterproof and resistant to tearing too? Win win! Read on for Clarity’s review of these trail guides and the pros and cons of using these maps to find your way along the Appalachian Trail’s white blazed path.
Pros of the National Geographic Map Guide
- Waterproof and tear proof, its pages are designed to hold up in rugged, rustic conditions. I challenge a thru-hiker to put it to the ultimate indestructibility test and report back from Katahdin!
- Each booklet weighs only 3 ounces, the lightest weight trail guide out there. With the wealth of information found in its pages, this little map guide legitimizes the platitude, “Big things come in small packages”.
- Detailed maps feature pertinent information that hikers need to know. Water access, scenic view points, even hostels and laundry are shown along the trail with easy to decipher symbolic representation. Roads are labeled and road types are differentiated. Elevation profiles located on each page list mile markers between shelters, roads, etc.
4. Comprehensive town maps with street names are included for easy navigation on and off trail. Bus stops, overnight accommodations, hospitals, grocery and hardware stores, laundromats, pharmacies and restaurants are listed. Post offices are shown as well.
5. Each booklet starts with a neat summary of that specific section of trail. Its highlights, its profile complexity, safety tips, and any rules and regulations for that section are summarized at the front of each booklet.
6. There’s a handy metric to standard units conversion chart.
7. Camping options and available features are condensed in an easy-to-read table.
Cons of the National Geographic Map Guide
- You get what you pay for in this case. The maps are high-quality so they are a bit expensive with a price tag of $15 for each section. The full set includes 13 map guides, so you’re looking at about $200 for the entire set.
2. Sections are inflexible. Depending on where your section starts and ends, you may have to purchase 2 (or more) volumes.
3. Though you know exactly what is in town and how to get there, no names or specific contact information is listed for the icons. You know there is a hostel in town, but you know no other information about it. You know there are several restaurants, but name or food type is not specified. Not that hikers are picky when it comes to food. Contact information and business names would certainly be helpful if a hiker chooses to use this guide solely. Be sure to do your homework before you leave and jot down names and contact information for the places you anticipate stopping.
In summary, National Geographic got it right! Their beautiful maps offer a 360 degree view of your surroundings that you wouldn’t get from a simple trail guide. If you’re hiking long distance, supplement these with one of the A.T. trail guides that includes names, telephone numbers, and details about the places along the trail you might visit. If only hiking a section or two, the National Geographic guides are plenty adequate on their own as long as you do your homework and write down contact information you may need before you begin. Though it takes a bit of time initially to figure it all out if you’re a reader of “Maps for Dummies” like I am, there is a ton of information condensed into this little booklet and it’s worth investigating. Stay safe, always know where you are, and remember, not all those who wander are lost. We’ve got our National Geographic map guides with us!