Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We have some amazing online tools at our disposal these days. We can use our phones to find our way around new neighborhoods, plan drive trips, and take the most scenic hiking routes. However, if the grid goes down, these maps go down with it.
If you can’t access the internet, how will you be able to plan an urban or wilderness escape route during a disaster? The answer is with a group of up-to-date printed maps and a compass.
Here is a list of paper maps every prepper should have.
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1. City Street Map
A detailed city map will help you locate streets, highways, bridges, and overpasses in and around your community. With a current city map, you can plot an emergency evacuation route from your home, school, or business. For example, when a fast-moving wildfire strikes, knowing an alternative way out can mean the difference between life and death.
2. State Highway Map
After escaping the traffic that accompanies a crisis in a city, you’ll need a broader perspective. A state highway map shows all the major roads leading out of your city. Rand McNally has a series of colorful, easy-to-fold road maps for each state.
3. National Atlas
A national atlas allows you to plan a cross-country route if necessary. These books of maps contain national, state, and enlarged local maps to help guide you to safety. Because of their size, these books are best suited for your vehicle, not your backpack.
4. Topographical Map
Once you reach an unpopulated area, a topographical map is essential for navigating the terrain. With contour lines, this type of map gives you a three-dimensional idea of the area so you can plan the best route through the wilderness, choose campsites and even work out how visible you would be from a specific location.
5. Forest Service Map
This type of map gives an overview of national forests and other public lands and shows fire and logging roads. You cannot rely on this kind of map since trails can become overgrown with vegetation or covered with snow. However, when you combine this type of detailed map with other regional maps, you can be prepared for an unexpected journey.
6. River Charts
7. Hunting Maps
State fish and wildlife departments publish these maps, which may help you find food during an emergency.
Sources of Printed and Printable Maps
You can purchase city and state maps as well as atlases online or at brick-and-mortar bookstores. You also can find helpful printed maps in phone directories, city welcome centers, and local tourism offices. Also, there are online resources you can visit to download printed maps.
Here are some websites to visit:
- The National Map Downloader
- The United States Geological Survey
- U.S. Forest Service Maps
- National Geographic Maps
- Earth Explorer
- Google Earth
- Rand McNally online maps
- All Trails
What To Do With These Maps
Whether you find free copies, purchase them, or download and print them out, your next step is to study them. Circle landmarks and mark the map with routes that will be helpful at a moment’s notice. Estimate how long different routes will take.
Next, make color copies of the maps for each family member, your vehicles, and your bug-out bags.
Your next step is to think of ways to protect your paper maps from the elements. One way to do this from the get-go is to print them on waterproof paper. If that is not an option, the next best thing is to laminate the map. You can laminate them at a copy shop or do it yourself with self-adhesive laminating sheets.
Another option is to store your paper maps in waterproof bags or, at the very least, in plastic zippered bags.
Finally, printing out maps is not a one-and-done survival step. Because roads and buildings can change, you’ll need to review your maps for accuracy and get updated versions as necessary. Also, keep in mind that severe weather can make some roads unpassable.
Here are the basic components every good map should have:
- Legend – The legend gives a guide to what the map symbols mean.
- Scale – The map’s scale is the ratio of enlarging or reducing the map’s size. For example, the scale of a map might be one inch equals 100 yards on the actual landscape.
- Compass Rose – The compass rose is a large arrow that demonstrates which part of the map orients toward the North.
- Altitude and depression markings – These markings (usually seen as circular lines) denote the height or depression of the actual landscape. The closer together the lines, the steeper the ascent or descent. The more distant the lines, the less steep the terrain.
It’s never too late to learn how to use a map and a compass and other navigation skills. You can find numerous online and in-person courses, videos, webinars, and articles on the subject.
For example, REI offers an Introduction to Map & Compass Navigation Class in their retail stores across the country. The course description says the course “will help you understand the information provided on your map, the proper use of your compass, and how to put the two together.”
Backpacker and the Colorado Outward Bound School also offer a navigation course for beginners. If reading is more your thing, here are a few books and articles to check out.
Here are some other resources:
- Be Expert with Map and Compass by Björn Kjellström
- The Essential Wilderness Navigator: How to Find Your Way in the Great Outdoors by David Seidman
- Wilderness Navigation: Finding Your Way Using Map, Compass, Altimeter & GPS by Bob Burns
- Navigation 101: Understanding Your Compass, an article in Backpacker Magazine
Technology is great when it comes to maps and mapping. Enjoy your Google Maps and GPS when you can. But having an “old school” paper backup plan should be an integral part of your emergency preparations.
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