View Full Version : Maps & Packs

Matt Pincham
09-14-2003, 14:25
Hello All,

I intend to thru-hike in Feb/Mar 2004 and have a question about maps.
Are they really necessary? I have read up that it is quite difficult to get lost on the trail so I was thinking of going without (or perhaps buying GA maps then deciding if I needed them for the rest of the trail).
Is it sensible to go without maps or could this be dangerous? I do not intend to leave the trail except for town stops.

Also, anyone know of any cheap websites for Backpacks? Ideally I want an Osprey Crecent 90 (or Aether 90) but they're incredibly expensive. Any suggestions for a decent thru-hikers pack (Lowe Alpine seem a good choice) bearing in mind I'm from the UK and not all hiking sites will be willing to ship to me. One last thing...what size would you recommend for a pack?

Any replies would be greatly appreciated.


09-14-2003, 14:34
Matt, I recommend checking out eBay. Do some basic searches for the backpacks of interest. It is incredible how often you can find what you are looking for at a good price. Just be sure to check the seller's history so that you are comfortable making the purchase from the vendor.

09-14-2003, 15:58
many hikers, even plenty of alumni thru-hikers will tell you you dont need maps and that they made it fine the whole way without them. I think thats just plain dumb.
Not likely, but if something were to happen i.e. injury, sickness, emergency etc..you can use them to navigate a quicket route down to a road or town. The AT is definately not always the easiest/quickest way down.
The maps are expensive, but shop around, you have time. I bought them used from someone for 45 bucks online with books included.
The profiles are good to have as well. I always had maps on me and it became incredibly annoying when 8 or 10 people kept asking to see the profile throughout the day.
I would say don't leave home without em.
A-Train GAME03

09-14-2003, 16:41
Yes, the AT is well blazed and it is possible to hike the trail with out them. Some do, but it's irresponsible. You need to be able to figure out for yourself how you can get off the trail in an emergency situation and to know what your options are.

Look for the ATC map sale in December.

09-14-2003, 17:22
You can buy the Maptech set for the AT on Ebay for about $40. Same thing the ATC sells for $100. Nation Geographic sells "Adventure Paper" for printing maps on your ink jet printer.

09-14-2003, 17:23
I also agree maps are very valuable!! When you buy them from ATC there are bundle options for both maps and trail guides. The guides are really NOT needed on the trail. Maybe they are good reading at home but they contain WAY too much detail for everyday use on the AT. They are also HEAVY.

Maps and the "Companion" are the perfect combination.

Saluki Dave
09-14-2003, 18:16
I recently set out to do the Newfound Gap - Davenport Gap section in the Smokies. The morning of the second day I found myself standing in a hemlock grove wiping my glasses when they flat came apart. My maps told me I could bail out on the Snake Den Ridge trail to the Cosby campground. Although I didn't need them to follow the AT, they defintely saved me some grief that day.

Another consideration; with a map, compass and some basic skills, you can learn to identify landmarks at overlooks. Instead a being just mountains, they become specific pieces of geography. Lends some scale and appreciation to the experience.

Cedar Tree
09-14-2003, 19:15
Matt, I completed my thruhike without maps. They are definitely not NEEDED. Just get the Databook and Companion (or that other Guy's book) and you will be fine. Irresponsible? I strongly disagree. As for pack, I think a big mistake lots of hikers make is getting a pack that is way too big. 3000 to 3500 cubic inches is all you need. I would recommend you check out the packs by Glen Van Peski (www.gvpgear.com). He sometimes has closeout packs for much less than $100.

09-15-2003, 09:26
You do not need the maps to hike the AT in the south. You also don't need a medical kit. If I were to do a hike on the cheap, maps would be about midway down on the list of things to skimp on.

As far as packs go, if you have a light load the GVP should work well for you. But, since you are looking for a 90 liter pack, you are probably planning on hauling a lot of stuff. Don't get the GVP unless you can get your base load (everything except food, water, and fuel) down to 20 lbs. 15 is better. The GoLite Gust is a big pack like you want, with a hipbelt (of sorts) and costs less than $100. It doesn't have a frame and you'd need to get your base weight down as well. For inexpensive, large capacity packs, check out www.sierratradingpost.com. You never know what they'll have, but you should be able to get a Kelty for not too much. You can also try www.northernmountain.com, which has Dana packs on sale frequently.

I would encourage you, however, to try to get your weight down and take a smaller (like 40-60 liters) pack. You are not going to like carrying 50 lbs across Georgia.

09-15-2003, 10:48
You hit on a big issue here with maps. It sure is safer to have them. However, I didn't carry them on our first attempt (1/2 way) and won't be carrying them on our second attempt. I have the profile. It always made me angry whenever I looked at one. Either the climb it said was SOOOOO big wasn't, or one that it didn't even have on there kicked my butt...

Anyway, I will be carrying BOTH guide books. We found WF's and the companion had different things in different towns. It was nice to have the cross reference. Oh, and the data book as well. WF's doesn't have all the water sources. THe data book pretty much does.

Gravity Man

Matt Pincham
09-15-2003, 11:33
So apart from maps the best books would be the 'Thru Hikers Companion' and which others...

09-15-2003, 11:38
As for cheap (at least, cheaper) web-site for Backpacks have a look at"

1. Nortthern Mountain Supply at http://killerdeals.com/

2. Sierra Trading Post at http://www.sierratradingpost.com/Default.asp?wc=true

3. Outdoor Outlet at http://www.outdooroutlet.com/

4. REI Outlet at http://www.outdooroutlet.com/

hope this helps...

max patch
09-15-2003, 12:02
The best book is The Thru-Hiker's Handbook authored by Dan Bruce. An alternative to this is the Companion.

You also need the Data Book. The Data Book was included in this years Handbook. If you use the Companion you will need to purchase it separately.

Regarding maps; you many never need or use them but it is incredibly stupid to plan on spending 5-6 months in the woods and not know where you are. Pick up the maps at the ATC annual sale from around Thanksgiving to just before Christmas.

09-15-2003, 12:14
The maps and companion are what I would take. The data book may be useful for you. On the PCT, the data book was fairly essential, but mostly for figuring out where I was and where the water was. Water isn't much of an issue on the AT, though.

09-15-2003, 12:49
Okay, there are three books that I would carry (or at least the pages of the section that I am hiking).

1)Thru-hiker's Handbook. Published by Wingfoot. Here's the link. http://www.trailplace.com/books/handbook_2003.html

2)Thru-Hiker's Companion published by the ALDHA. Here's the on-line version, and a link to order a hard copy. http://www.aldha.org/comp_pdf.htm

3)The Applachian Trail Data Book published by the ALDHA. Here's a link to their store http://www.atctrailstore.org/catalog/itemlist.cfm?catid=43&compid=1&pcatid=120

The data book is not "included" with anything, especially the Handbook since they are written by seperate people. Maybe max patch ordered it bundled through Amazon or something.

On note, if you want the current year's book (let's say you are hiking in 2004, you will want the book for 2004) it isn't always published in time. Especially true of the Handbook in years past. Maybe it has gotten better. The companion wasn't available until Feb. 20th. We hiked with the pervious year's version. I think we picked up the companion at Neel's Gap. I think they have all three books, but I am not 100% on that.

Have fun!

Gravity Man

09-15-2003, 13:03
You never know for sure when you will need a map... but when you need one you NEED one. There are too many reasons for me to list all of them. Anytime where you might have to go or want to go where the guidebooks don't take you a map will come in handy. Like heavy rains and impassable streams/creeks/rivers. An injury/illness and you need to get help. Oh, and then there is the case if you lose the trail. Of course you could always take the attitude to just not have any of the situations where you would need a map, some people make it just fine that way.


09-15-2003, 14:00
okay so not everyone wears shoes when hiking but I do make sure I don't leave home without a map and compass. Invaluable. And you look smart when locate yourself mapwise. Chicks dig a dude who can orient a map.

max patch
09-15-2003, 14:25
Originally posted by gravityman

The data book is not "included" with anything, especially the Handbook since they are written by seperate people. Maybe max patch ordered it bundled through Amazon or something.

Dan included the Data Book info in his 2003 Handbook. As a matter of fact, the Data Book section (pgs 3 thru 90) of his Handbook was actually more accurate than the separate Data Book as he was able to include a small relo in his handbook that was opened after the separate Data Book had gone to press.

09-15-2003, 14:45
That's new, and nice to know. But I didn't think Dan has been publishing a data book. I know he stopped some time around 2000. I guess he started back up? Nothing mentioned in trailplace about this either...

Gravity Man

09-15-2003, 15:50
Originally posted by gravityman
That's new, and nice to know. But I didn't think Dan has been publishing a data book. I know he stopped some time around 2000. I guess he started back up? Nothing mentioned in trailplace about this either...

Gravity Man

What he did was to include the detailed trail information in the first part of his "Thru-Hiker's Handbook". It is NOT a seperate publication. So, his 2003 Handbook is roughly equivalent to the "Thru-Hikers Companion" & the "AT Databook".


09-15-2003, 16:57
Is the "data book" material in the Handbook as good as the Data Book? Same exact info as the Data book, or is it just a condenced version of his Handbook, which does not list all the water sources?


Gravity man

09-15-2003, 18:58

When everything goes well, you don't need much on a hike. I mean, if the weather is nice, you don't need a tent or sleeping bag, and if the water is clean, you don't need water purification. And if you plan your trip legs properly, you can carry minimal food and take advantage of road crossings for meals and resupply. Also, you don't need raingear if the weather is good, or first aid equipment so long as your remain healthy and uninjured.

However, things rarely go that perfectly. It rains, gets cold, the water runs thin and you have to drink from stagnant beaver ponds, and the trail gets overgrown and you get lost or off track. Half of learning to pack for a field exercise (whether it is a military exercise or a casual weekend out at the national forest, is balancing the needs under ideal conditions and under poor conditions. Obviously it is impossible to be prepared for everything. If you tried you'd need a pretty serious logistics train and some strong legs to account for all possibilities. Instead you carry what you need plus some stuff to deal with the most likely problems. For a responsible person that includes a flexible first aid kit, maps, a workable compass, a useable knife, a flashjlight or headlamp, shelter, clothing, water, raingear, etc.

SOme complain about the weight of maps...that's a B.S. excuse. The weight of a section's worth of maps is essentially negligible. Cost can be an issue, but there are ways around that such as borrowing or buying last years maps from a thru-hiker who doesn't need them anymore.

Others complain about the maps not properly relating the trail conditions. That's also B.S. In twenty years of reading maps and using them to navigate through woods and mountains, I can tell you one thing for certain...those that complain that the maps don't tell them what they need to know, don't know how to read maps. The profiles are a severely compressed data-set. THe normal compression ratio is 1:7 or so, So inclines and declines on the profiles are exagerrated by a factor of 7 times or so (it's always listed).

Every up and down cannot be represented either on the topo maps or the profiles. An incline or decline that is less than the map's contour interval, is invisible on the map and profile, there is no way to accurately represent it. Also, relos can and will be missed in the maps from time to time. Those limitations are no reason to discard the maps.

Maps add immeasurably to your ability to understand your surroundings, the trail you face ahead on a given day, your weather exposure risks, etc. It also provides you with good information about escape routes from bad weather, alternate routes in case of illness or injury, etc. Can you live without them? If things go reasonably well, yes, you can get by on dumb luck, but you shouldn't.

Some folks say, "Well, the trail is pretty busy, if I ever feel I need a map, I can always borrow one from someone else." That fails to pass the sniff test. If you are lost, chances are there isn't going to be anyone else nearby to ask...you are probably no longer on the AT with all it's traffic and its astounding esprit de corps. You are on your own. Likewise if you take a tumble off the trail and get injured or disoriented...who is with you? If someone is with you, probably they made a similar decision to yours and opted not to carry maps.

One of the things about backpacking is being able to rely on yourself. So be responsible for your own safety and welfare.

Lecture over.

Like others have said, when you need them, you can't do without them.

09-16-2003, 02:48
aether 60, no maps...

in the beginning the A-60 was too small; after i got rid of the "gear" that i though i needed it was a tad bigger than needed. an ultra-lighter like "the walking man" (ga>me03) used something equivalent(smaller) to an A-35, and "nastyman"(ga>me02) had an osprey 'something' 35. the A-90 is too big for the AT, it is more for heavy gear loads.

i hiked 200 mi w/ maps and 1900 mi w/o maps, and took many a verbal lashings by those who thought they were the wiser. i would not suggest starting without a map, but they will soon loose their value. it's funny to hear someone complain about having to show someone their map. i often found the few that had maps were always hovering over them and trying to show everybody else what was ahead. most people just accept the trail and learn tricks of the trade. sometimes i kept an image of what was ahead, read journal entries, or listened to what others had to say. without a map you will find other ways to achieve the information you need.

i make these statements about maps in reguard to peak season.
*be weary of the Whites or any part north at any time of year!
*ditto for the entire AT during 4-season conditions
*and be sure you have some experience at hiking for multiple days w/o resupply.

gl in 04


09-16-2003, 11:43
I don't wish to open a can of worms here or start any fights, but telling people they don't need maps is plain irresponsible. Maybe you never needed them or used them, but that doesn't mean someone else may not. I'm sure someone down the line will be pleased with the info they recieved from this site when they need to get down in an emergency or find their way and have no means to do so, because a couple of thru-hikers told them that there was no need for stupid maps.
If you are seriously considering a thru-hike or even a section, go get the maps. Even if you never get lost, its a good feeling to be able to know where you are and to locate whats around you i.e. towns, mountain ranges, valleys etc.
As far as someone telling me that it wasn't annoying to have 10 people asking you to see their maps, well i find that hard to believe from someone who wasn't in the presence of other folks for most of their hike. Its all a matter of opinion...
A-Train 03

09-16-2003, 12:22
Originally posted by magic_game03
aether 60, no maps...

i would not suggest starting without a map, but they will soon loose their value.

Um, A-Train, I don't think magic was suggesting people not carry maps. Just, start with them and then evaluate how much you need them after you get used to life on the trail. Personally, I like maps. If I hike the rest of the AT sometime, I'll probably carry them. But, I might also just use the Companion. Road crossings are frequent, some are listed in the companion (more in the data book), and I feel comfortable in being able to get out to one quickly. Weight isn't much of an issue for the AT, but cost might be for some hikers.

09-16-2003, 13:55
I find it really difficult to understand people who go into the woods without a map. Yes, odds are that during a thru-hike on the AT that you will never be in a situtation where you will "NEED" a map. However, if you get injured, or run out of food, or run out of water, or get caught in a snow storm.... Well, do you "need" a map, no, not really. But that means that you are going to be spending the night in your tent with that injury, or in that snow storm, or with no water.

It can be invaluable to know where the trail is heading, where the site trails go and which road to take to get to town the fastest. Heading into the woods without this information is irresponsible, but in the end it is your choice. If you don't bring maps on your hike, thats fine, but be prepared for the consequences. By that, I mean spending some really uncomfortable nights in a tent with an injury or in a nasty storm, or without food and water.

As for Magic's comment, I found just the opposite. I carried maps for my entire hike and I was constantly getting asked what the climb looked like, how many climbs before the shelter, is there a quick way into town, etc... Don't be that guy - if you choose not to carry maps than don't mooch info off the person that spent the money and is carrying the weight.


oh, and the weight is not "insignificent" for sure, some of those weatherproof maps can be weightly. However, its well worth the weight.

09-16-2003, 17:53
chomp, how many go out with maps but without compass / knowledge of using said compass??

most people dont want to navigate, they just want to hike...

ive never seen it mentioned that you should take a compass on the AT like people say you should take a map...

09-16-2003, 18:13
You probably won't have to do any real navigation on the AT, which makes the compass less useful. Indeed, if you try to walk off trail in the south, you will be in a world of hurt. Navigation, once spring arrives, will be very tough.

The main safety argument for bringing a map is, "I need to get out fast. I see there is a trail ahead which leads down to a forest service campsite. I'll go there."

09-17-2003, 00:18
In dense fog with little wind, it is possible to become completely disoriented. It has happened to me more than once. Spooky experience. So there is some use for a compass. Then again, having such an experience is useful too.

Recently I've been reading about celestial navigation. Ever wonder how people found their way before the compass was around?

Rain Man
09-17-2003, 00:51
In just my little short section hike, I found that a map and a compass were wonderful on scenic overlooks, for figuring out which mountains we had just hiked over to get to where we were, etc.

Then again, I'm a map lover.

Rain Man

09-17-2003, 09:58
Most people on the AT never carried a compass. For me, I like to know where I am, and if I get off trail I like to know that pretty quickly. With only the barest of skills and a cheap compass (I carried a little keychain one) you can figure out if you are generally heading in the right direction or not.

Again - can you hike the whole trail without a map and compass? Sure. You can also hike the whole trail without a tent or tarp, but you are going to get caught in the rain at least a few times. Or you are going to have to rely on people with tents to let you have space in a shelter.

Don't rely on other people for things that they choose to hump up and down mountains that you chose not to carry. And has been mentioned earlier, if you do get lost, there typically won't be anyone around to help you out anyway. Hike safely and hike self-sufficiently.

Tn Bandit
02-13-2004, 16:50
I agree with I wasn't going to use a map just profile for what was ahead but in case you need to head off trail for an emergency they're a must.

03-08-2004, 13:28

SOme complain about the weight of maps...that's a B.S. excuse. The weight of a section's worth of maps is essentially negligible. QUOTE]

I guess it depends on what you understand by weight. The maps covering i.e. Pearisburg to Harpers Ferry way combined app 500 gram. When reducing wheight wherever possible finding to have to carry maps weighing more than a pound makes you at least wonder.

Can anyone explain to me why PATC print only on one side, have plenty of not needed information on it etc. These maps could be weighing far less.

But still I don't want to go without maps. Not only for an emergency but also to get to know more about the area around you.