Old School vs New School: Why you need Traditional Maps

Reading a map is a good skill to have
Reading a map is a good skill to have

With all of the modern gadgets that we have these days, it is easy to forget how we used to do things not too long ago. Before, we relied on books and maps to tell us where we were and how to go places.

Now, many of us carry smartphones in our pockets, meaning we have portable GPS with us at all times, making it simple and easy to locate where we are and how to get where we want to go.

While technology has been a big bonus for us and certainly made finding information infinitely easier, do not go throwing away all paper maps just yet. Just as paper books still have a place in an ebook world, paper maps still have a place in the world of smartphones. Here is why:



GPS is imperfect

Have you ever been out in the woods or even in a city of high buildings and had the map app malfunction on your phone? That is because the reach of your phone is not infinite. GPS works well if there is a strong enough signal, but there is definitely not a strong enough signal everywhere to rely upon the digital technology everywhere you go.



Digital maps are not always right

Of course you could say that paper maps are also not perfect, but the issue here is that a digital map is guiding you on a specific route. If the route is wrong, you will find yourself traveling in circles, with constant route changes.

And where a paper map would just print out the drawn route, digital maps want to take it up a notch and allow for street views, as well as more specific data which is neat, but not always totally useful for figuring out where you are.



Batteries aren’t forever

Batteries aren’t forever: Maybe you are getting a good signal where you are at and winding your way through a hiking path, but there is still one problem with this plan: cell phone batteries do not last forever. Some phones especially have a short battery life with large screens.

The more you are actively using your phone, the quicker the battery will drain. If you have a backup pack, you can get some extra life and have a charge as long as you need, but you may also want to save your phone in case you need to call anyone, particularly if there’s an emergency or for the flashlight function.

With a paper map, the risk is more physical destruction through wetness or fire, but as long as it is kept somewhat dry, it will still work.



The big picture is harder to see

When you try to zoom out on your phone’s map to see more of where you are actually at and where you are headed, you lose the details of road names and other landmarks. If your phone tried to fit all of that on your screen it would be incredibly small and impossible to read. So the view of the terrain you get on a phone is very limited unless you want to know what is immediately near you.

While digital maps have given us a different experience with how we get around, they, like any technology, are not perfect.

Having a backup paper map, that you know how to read, will ensure that you will not get totally lost in the woods.

Likewise, having a real compass can help you know where you are, which is essential if you find yourself off trail and a little lost.

Wander in the wild, but do it smartly and always prepare.


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marion-fernandez is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival