Maps & map cases – Do you need them?

With the technology available to us like smartphones, the good old GPS, smartwatches etc you don’t really need a map, do you?

Someone once said two is one, one is none. I think this very much could be the case if you for example only rely on your phone as your map. On a short hike it’s probably not going to be a problem, but if you’re going out over a weekend or a longer period of time then you most likely need something as a backup.

The good old map still works when your battery died or you dropped your phone and smashed the screen on a rock…

Map cases comes in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on what your intended use is. If you buy a map it usually comes in a plastic sleeve, it’s not waterproof in anyway but it’s better than nothing. Especially when you just shove in down in a pocket or on the side of your pack.

Sometimes it’s just more convenient to print out a A3 or A4 size map and laminate it. This is something I’ve done on numerous occasions over the years. The downside to this is that it adds bulk and it’s not too easy to fold over and put in your pocket. It’ll want to open up and expand to full size as there’s no give in the laminate.

If you’re like me, I believe in what the map manufacturers say when it’s written on the package that the map itself is waterproof. They’re usually made out of Pretex, Tyvek or similar material. They sure are waterproof but what they can’t handle is being shoved down a pocket, folded over and then repeated multiple times. They’ll tear and break up.

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8 days of use without a map case

Map cases

I decided not too long ago to get a map case for myself. Specifically for the maps I print. I wanted to be able to carry several map sheets of A4- and folded A3 maps. The map case should also be fairly lightweight and be able to roll up for easy storage.

I started asking around and many recommended the Ortlieb Document Bag. This one wasn’t available to me as I wanted to buy it locally. The ones I found were from Sea to Summit and Silva.

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After going to the store and trying them out with an actual map that I’ll be using on the TGO Challenge, I bought the Sea to Summit Guide TPU Map Case in size medium. At first I started looking at the size small but it was a very tight fit with A4 size maps. The medium however has some extra space that could accommodate several sheets of paper stacked on top of each other and also have the maps vertically and horizontally* inside the map case.

Getting the maps inside the case is really easy. The closure opens up really wide, this was not as good with the Silva Map Case. The see-through plastic was way stiffer on the Silva and it was quite difficult to get the map sheets inside. My maps are also printed in a thicker paper than your standard printer paper, so I guess with the standard paper it would be even harder to get it inside the Silva map case.

The closure is quite hard to open and close but then that’s a good thing because it’ll make sure that the map case is both water- and dustproof.

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A4 size map inside the map case.

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*To run a A4 size map horizontally inside the map case you need to remove about 2cm worth of material.

The Sea to Summit map case also comes with velcro on the back so that you can fold the case in half and doesn’t flap around when carrying it. This is not making it harder to roll it up, quite the opposite actually.

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The medium size map case weighs in at 72 grams. 78 grams if you’re using the included neck strap.

So do you need a map case?

I’d say yes, especially if you’re going to reuse your maps.

Without a map case your maps will be taking a beating and will start to fall apart quite fast. The good thing with a map case is that you can have it for a long time, if you get a high quality one, and you don’t have to laminate a bunch of papers.

Laminating maps will probably have a higher total cost over time when you include material and laminator machine.

Tips and tricks for your smartphone
To save battery when you use your phone as a GPS and a backup map, do the following:

  • Run your phone in flight mode, that way no other signals than satellite for the GPS comes through.
  • Close down all the apps that you don’t need apart from the map-app.
  • Put your phone in battery save mode. This will remove most and all of your phones fancy animations and thus minimizing CPU usage.
  • Download offline maps
  • If you have a newer iPhone remove the option to ‘Raise to wake’. Then your screen won’t light up when you lift up your phone. You find this option under Settings – Display and brightness.
  • Carry a power bank

This way your phone will probably last for 5-6 days depending on temperatures and how often you actually use the map-app.

Apps

I can recommend Viewranger if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to a GPS unit.
If you’re in the UK then OS Maps is a great alternative. If you buy their paper maps you also get the option to use it digitally within the app.

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