“Official” hiking websites will tell you to always bring a map and your mother will tell you to always bring a compass.
Which is probably solid advice.
But the official sites are more worried about getting sued and your mother is, well, your mother.
And, let’s face it, some people suck at reading maps and suck at reading compasses and will probably end up getting more confused with them than without them.
So, do you need a map and a compass at all?
Well, if you are out for a day hike along the Appalachian Trail here in Warwick it would be really hard to get lost. The trail is wide and obvious and there aren’t a lot of options to get lost.
You are either on the trail or you are not on the trail. And those white blazes we talked about in an earlier post? They are everywhere!
You’d have to be pretty dumb to get lost. But, in retrospect, there ARE a lot of dumb people around.
If you can’t see a white blaze on a tree or a rock where you are standing then you need to get your eyes checked. I have to tell you that a lot of folks consider our local trails to be “over-blazed.”
Ninety-nine percent of the AT is pretty obvious and marked by “blaze’s” every 50-100 yards. AT blazes are 2X6 inch white stripes of paint located near eye-level, typically on a tree.
Having said that, maps and compasses are both good ideas if you know how to use them. (So maybe you should learn?)
And you really don’t have to spend a fortune on maps.
The New York / New Jersey Trail Conference publishes dozens of maps for these parts and I own them all. They usually cost around $10 or less and can be invaluable.
And a compass?
Well, there is a digital version right there on your smartphone so figure out where that compass app is hidden and put it to use.
I always have maps with me and I’ve used them quite a few times, especially in Harriman State Park where there are hundreds of miles of intersecting trails.
You can also get digital versions of maps and have them on your smartphone. Just keep in mind that smartphones don’t have reception in some places, especially in low-lying areas of the woods.
Which brings us to probably the most important thing you will hike with which is your smartphone.
And your smarts.
If you trip or hurt yourself in some way, you are only a 911 call away from help with a smartphone. That’s something the old-timers didn’t have at their disposal.
So don’t leave home without it!
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