Interpreting a topographic map for the purposes of planning a hike is essential for longer-distance or cross-country expeditions. In this article, learn some general approaches to orienting your upcoming trek.
Tips & Warnings
The route you set by topographic map ahead of getting out on the ground will necessarily require adjustment. The landscape may have changed since the map was last updated---due to such things as landslides, human development and flooding---and there will be plenty of unmapped obstacles to negotiate, like deadfall and thickets. Keep an open mind.
Realize when estimating travel time that more difficult terrain can add hours.
The USGS maps available on Trails.com can be cross-referenced with aerial photographs by selecting the desired setting on the map viewer.
Take the standard precautions for wilderness travel when you put your route-mapping exercises to practice. If you're taking the time to closely analyze a potential course on a large-scale map, you can be specific as to your probable whereabouts to family and friends prior to setting off.
Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay
Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.