When deciding what kind of map to use for your next hike, you have a number of choices. Consider the ones given below.


USGS Quadrangles


Maps published by the USGS (U.S.  Geological Survey) have these advantages and disadvantages:




1. USGS maps are easy to obtain.


2. USGS maps are easy to follow.


3. Being topographic maps, they have indicators of elevation above sea level.  These take the form of contour lines, each line following the contour of the terrain at exactly the same elevation above sea level.  When you get the hang of reading these lines you can start seeing the third dimension, that is the vertical dimension, of the surrounding terrain.  For instance, when the lines are very close together they indicate a very steep slope.  The farther apart the lines are, the more gradual the slope is.


4. These maps cover the entire United States, every inch of it.  They cover quadrangles, or rectangular areas of the earth’s surface.


5. If you put two maps of adjacent territory together, they will line up perfectly.




1. They often provide only limited trail information.


2. Their information is not always up to date.


Commercial Maps



1. Commercial map companies offer topographic maps enhanced with highlighted features.

2. They may also offer custom maps covering popular areas with high visitation numbers.

3. They are updated quite regularly.


1. Their cost is usually higher.

2. They do not always cover some scenic areas that are worth seeing.

Local Maps



1. They may be obtained locally from national Parks, state Parks etc.


2. They will sometimes feature one particular trail.


3. It may cover a complete park or recreation area.


4. They often focus on such features as roads, trails and attractions.


5. Some of them are regularly updated.



1. They basically offer only two dimensional information, lacking the contour lines.


2. Usually they are small-scale with minimal detail.


Maps Produced from Software



1. You can customize your own maps to your specifications and scale.


2. You can insert notes, reminders and GPS coordinates.


3. You can print it on waterproof paper at home. 




1. The initial cost is usually higher.


2. You need to be fairly computer-savvy to produce them. 



So, for your next hike or backpacking trip you know you have more choices than just one. Choose wisely.