Mindless Mapping in the Backcountry

I’m sure we can all agree that at one point or another, we’ve fallen victim to the convenience of relying on our smartphones for navigation. Took a wrong turn while driving? No need to fret, just open google maps! The hiking trail forks unexpectedly, and you don’t know which turn to make? No problem, just whip out Gaia GPS (or other application) and you’ll be back on trail in no time! But what happens when your beloved smartphone has a sudden and tragic death? Or you forgot your battery pack? How will you know where to go, and were you prepared for this to happen? Do you have a backup navigation plan like a paper map and compass at the ready, and equally important, do you know how to use them?  

Digital mapping applications are truly incredible and are without a doubt a useful and valuable resource. They are easy to use, you can download maps for your out-of-cell-service adventures, they can provide you with your location, even without cell service and you can get multiple layers of mapping data including satellite, topographic, backcountry road information and all sorts of wild and useful data sets. 

The issue of “mindless mapping” has increased exponentially in the past few years. With the rise of various fancy GPS apps and modern technology to assist us in navigation needs, the use of good ol’ paper maps and compasses combined with mapping brain power has simmered out. 

Digital and paper mapping have different advantages and disadvantages which may direct the user to value one over the other, such as cost, learning curve, reliability, bulk and user efficiency. Paper maps and compasses no doubt have their limitations, as for example they can be considered bulky, they are harder to keep waterproof, they may fly away with the wind or get lost in the river, and the user must commit to practicing and reviewing their skills to become proficient. That being said, they never run out of batteries.

All in all, it seems that both tools and associated skillsets hold complimentary value. For those who travel beyond the roads and into the backcountry, what do you think? Do you have a favourite well-used digital mapping application? And, are you up for a good old fashioned navigation challenge should the digital navigation tools fail you?

Depending on how you answered, the next time your great aunt tells you to “get off your phone and go experience the world with your own two eyes!” perhaps take her request into consideration.