Nowadays, travelers are more likely to type their destination into Google Maps than pull out the paper alternative. But even in today’s wired-in world, there are still wild places. Places that wifi can’t reach, where satellite signals dissipate and phone chargers might as well be rocks. Also, GPS, for all its convenience and simplicity, relies on sophisticated technology to function. And digital tech is notorious for breaking, crashing; malfunctioning: problems which–as Murphy’s Law dictates–occur more frequently the farther you are from an easy fix.
Whether you’re adventuring deep in the wilderness, or simply avoiding the possibility of a GPS glitch, knowing how to read a traditional paper map is undeniably useful. Cartography doesn’t require wires, wifi, or electronics of any kind, but beyond that, there are several advantages unique to navigating with a map.
A Wider Perspective
Google maps is only about 15 years old. Before that, opening a map meant expanding your reach, and learning about far away places. In addition, opening up a map means freedom from the tunnel vision of the GPS navigation arrow. Instead of staring down a singular path, map readers can better grasp context, and view the entirety of a geographic space. Nearby natural features, interesting side trips, and more: all of this is missed when focusing purely on an “efficient” path directed by GPS.
The unexpected is always possible when venturing off the well-trod path, even for those equipped with satellite navigation. Putting your safety in the hands of a gadget could prove perilous in certain situations; for example, a path you were following disappears under heavy snowfall, or a sudden downpour drenches your device. Maps can survive water, and they let you know where you are without forcing you down a specific trajectory. This allows for flexibility when facing unforeseen circumstances.
Maps don’t just provide your location, they orient you in relation to surroundings. From elevation levels to the location of every nearby trail (as well as everywhere those trails lead) maps offer a complete snapshot of the land, and all of its features. Map reading may take a bit more spatial awareness than simply obeying the nav arrow, but for hikers, adventurers, and anyone slightly curious about what lies beyond sight, the payoff is more than worth it.
Many years ago as a graduate student, I was faced with a predicament. I was studying the natural and political history of the Florida Keys, but very little information about the area from the 15th through the 18th century seemed to be available. An extensive search at the General
Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain confirmed that here was little written by contemporary writers and explorers. In addition, as I sought documentation of indigenous records, I learned that a large percentage had been destroyed in the course of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica. What to do? It turned out that the best sources of historical information were contemporary maps – artistic, fascinating maps – some drawn by passing navigators or by explorers, but all providing a wealth of detail about the contemporary, evolving understanding of at least the areas geography. And these maps could be found and studied in the extraordinary map collection of the Library of Congress.
An Enjoyable Hobby
There is a beauty in the precision with which each line of a map is crafted; each detail devised and laid to create one of the most successful vehicles for information ever invented. For millennia, maps have carried us beyond the borders of immediate perception. Old maps feature remarkable artistry and imagination; one of my favorites, and perhaps the most striking example of imaginative art in a map, is the “Leo Belgicus”: a 17th century motif in which many similar maps of Europe’s Low Countries were drawn within the frame of a massive lion.
Leo Belgicus, and many other maps of the period, can be a pleasure peruse, and offer a glimpse into how mediaeval and renaissance thinkers interpreted the world around them. And though lacking modern knowledge, they still managed to inject a sense of certainty into a world overflowing with mystery.
Few things bring us closer to nature than hiking through the wild. Whether you’re following a trail, or venturing deep into unknown reaches, one thing is certain: you’ll need to prepare. Packing for an outdoor excursion means balancing comfort with minimalism. Supplies are sparse once you’ve left civilization, so you’ll have to bring (at least) the bare necessities, while keeping total carry weight as light as possible.
As a rule of thumb, the net poundage of a full pack shouldn’t exceed 20% of its bearer’s bodyweight (10% for day packs), although those with good endurance and hiking experience may be able to handle more. For new hikers, staying on the lighter side is best; you’ll be surprised how heavy a 20-pound pack can feel after trekking for a few miles.
Below is a list of necessities that no wilderness explorer should start a trip without.
- Pack – Adjustable, framed backpacks with a carrying capacity between 50 and 65 liters are ideal.
- Shelter – Lightweight and quick to set up, tents are a typical form of wilderness shelter. Some tents can be bulky even when stored, however, so you may want to conserve space and select another option. Those looking for comfort in wooded areas may prefer a hammock.
- Sleeping Bag – Sleeping bags made specifically for backpacking are designed to compress into small, easily transportable packages. Synthetic bags are an affordable option. For those aiming to pack less weight, ultralight down sleeping bags may be a prime choice. Bags also come rated for sleeping in certain temperatures; 20-degree bags are great for spring and fall, while 40-degree bags are suited for summer.
- Clothes/Dry Bag – Bring a few layers of synthetic clothes including a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, shorts, yoga pants/long johns, 2-3 pairs of socks, a light rain jacket, and, depending on location and time of year, a heavier coat. (avoid cotton or denim, as they are slow to dry and take up weight when waterlogged). Store them in a waterproof bag, and you can use the bundle as a pillow.
- Footwear – Go with footwear optimized for long treks, such as hiking shoes, hiking boots or trail running shoes. You might also want to pack a pair of sandals, flip flops, or crocs to wear off the trail.
- Hygiene/Medical Supplies – Use a small, ziploc-style bag to store toiletries: toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and feminine products if needed. General first aid supplies might include ibuprofen for altitude headaches, benadryl to counter allergic reactions, as well as disinfectant wipes and bandaids.
- Portable Stove/Cooking Pot – Many camp stoves get their heat from disposable gas containers, but makeshift stoves can also be fashioned out of empty soda cans and denatured alcohol. Of course the age-old option for cooking in the wild is simply to light a campfire.
- Water Bottle – Be sure to take along containers capable of storing two to three liters of water. Those traversing desert terrain or other dry areas, or traveling in hot weather should consider packing even more if places to refill won’t be readily available.
- Food Bag – It’s a good idea to store food separately and in a closeable bag, as you’ll have to hang it up at night if you plan on camping in bear territory (bring a thin cord, around 30 feet long if this is the case). Keep in mind that each person will consume around two pounds of food per day when hiking. Also be sure to avoid perishables (they won’t last) and canned goods (unnecessary weight). Many veteran hikers prefer to pack dehydrated meals.
Honorable mentions include a flashlight or headlamp, pocket knife, pepper spray, and a guide map. Equip yourself with these essentials along with a sense of curiosity and adventure, and you’ll be properly outfitted to conquer the trip of a lifetime.
Finding the perfect travel gift can be a challenge, especially when you’re buying for veteran voyagers used to journeying with minimal baggage. Here are a few ideas for sustainable presents that can help travel enthusiasts preserve the beauty of nature, support local economies, or connect with foreign cultures. From birthdays to Christmas, the following gifts are ideal for those looking to avoid wasteful practices and maximise their travel experience.
Reusable Travel Bags
Affordable and versatile, travel bags are a staple for explorers aiming to stay organized. Luckily, the internet offers numerous green alternatives to ziploc for storing small objects. One option is Flip and Tumble’s zip top travel pouches, made from 100% recycled plastic. They are machine washable and come in packs of five, with each pouch sized differently to fit shoes, clothes, toiletries and electronics.
Whether you’re diving off cliff, taking a dip in the ocean, or simply showering after a long day, an all-purpose towel will come in handy. The best travel towels are extra-absorbent and quick-drying, and take up minimal space during storage and transport. Having a good multipurpose towel can also cut down on unnecessary water costs from frequent washing and dying. Packtown’s ultralight microfiber towel is a good accessory for the minimalist who enjoys venturing off the path for a swim.
Adventuring across the globe can’t be done without a steady source of hydration, but typical water bottles can be cumbersome. The reusable “Anti-Bottle” by Vapur solves the problem of transportability; it’s made of a flexible, BPA-free material, and can be folded and flattened to fit nearly anywhere. For those traveling to areas where clean water may be scarce, there’s the Lifestraw: a bottle with a built-in filter that eliminates waterborne contaminants. Lifestraw also matches the purchase of every bottle by providing a child in need with clean drinking water for one school year.
Maintaining hygiene on the road can be done without buying items full of ingredients that harm local ecosystems. Those planning on spending time under the sun might prefer Sunscreen Butter from All Good, formulated with organic materials that won’t damage reefs or other aquatic life. Do remember, however, that where possible, sunscreens only complement clothing; do wear a wide brimmed hat and cover up with a sun protective shirt. For cleaning tasks, Dr. Bronners offers an all-in-one product that serves as every type of soap imaginable, from shampoo and body wash to laundry/dishwasher detergent. Dr. Bronner’s product is 100% percent eco-friendly: the soap bottle is made from recycled plastic, and the soap itself contains only organic and certified fair trade ingredients.
Donating to a Cause
If you’d like to give a gift that goes beyond material consumption, consider donating to an organization or an objective that a loved one is passionate about, such as preserving endangered species, or funding small businesses in developing economies. Frequent travelers might also book with Responsible Travel; for every journey booked, their Trip For a Trip program buys a day trip for an underprivileged child.
About Peter Jutro
Peter Jutro has a passion for travel and exploration, as well as cartography and the history of maps. Having traveled extensively over the past 50 years, Peter has had the opportunity to learn a great deal about people and the world as a whole. He is a firm believer in his wife Ellen’s adage that “the more you travel, the bigger the world gets.”
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, Peter Jutro is always excited about the opportunities that a new place and culture have to offer. Some of his fondest memories include his honeymoon in Switzerland, a country that has felt like a second home to his family, as well as a research trip to Central Siberia where he had the exciting opportunity to work with the Russians on environmental issues.
An intently curious individual, Peter Jutro is continually looking to explore what exists around the world. While he may be learning about a culture’s history, studying its environmental concerns, or he and his wife might be hiking and scuba diving in one of a number of countries for pleasure, Peter always appreciates how travel serves as a catalyst for education, personal growth, and developing friendships.
Biodiversity In The Florida Keys
Peter Jutro is currently in the process of writing a book about Lignumvitae Key, an island in the Florida Keys. He has been involved in research and in the preservation of this area since the early 1970’s. Dr. Jutro finds it an incredibly fascinating place for historical, political, and biological reasons. The Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve encompasses 7,000 acres of seagrass meadows, deep water channels, hard bottom communities, and mangrove wetlands. The island itself includes the last pristine lowland tropical forest remaining in the United States.
Berlin: A Family Connection
Of German-Jewish descent, Peter Jutro has an extremely personal connection to Berlin, the city from which his family emigrated to the United States. Just prior to World War II, his late father spent several months as a concentration camp prisoner in a Berlin suburb. Recently, Peter was excited to find a journal among his family’s historical documents; This journal had been written in by his father in 1939, and detailed life in the concentration camp. This inside look at the concentration camp, as well as the close personal connection with the author, makes this find a unique historical document. Peter is currently in the process of transcribing and translating the manuscript into English so that his father’s experiences can be broadly shared.
Peter Jutro dedicated more than 35 years to Federal service, serving in a variety of positions involved with Environmental Policy and National Security. Most recently, Dr. Jutro was Acting Associate EPA Administrator for Homeland Security. Before that, he was Deputy Director for Science and Policy and Director of the Washington office of EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. This group is responsible for the research needed to provide the science and technology behind the EPA’s disaster mandates, which fall primarily in the areas of decontamination, water protection, risk assessment, and resilience. His earlier work in academia, on Congressional Staff, and with Federal Agencies, dealt largely with risk assessment, global climate change and biological diversity.