Map Cases: Map at the Ready!

When I'm out hiking, I always carry a map of my location. And so should you! It's one of those no-brainer, don't leave-home-without-it, Ten Essentials items. But it's not nearly as helpful if you have to rummage through your pack any time you want to check something—you're much less likely to use it if you can't access it quickly and easily. So when I hike I always have a map at the ready so that I can quickly (and frequently) check my position/progress and identify surrounding features of the landscape.

If your map is plastic or Tyvek (always preferred), it will hold up to being repeatedly opened, closed, folded, and re-folded. It will also withstand getting wet. You can simply stick them in your pocket and pull them out whenever you need them. About the only concern with a plastic map is that you don't get DEET on it after applying DEET-laden bug dope. (DEET will eat into the plastic and smear the ink.)

If your map is paper, however, than you've got some more serious concerns about durability. Paper maps don't like being folded and re-folded; the folds (and particularly fold junctions) will start to wear out and tear. And of course paper maps don't like moisture, so busting one out in the rain is a problem. The easiest solution is to store your paper map in a heavy-duty Zip-Loc bag. I prefer Zip-Loc freezer bags, which are thicker and much more durable than regular storage bags. And rather than simply stashing the folded-up map in the bag, I fold it so that my hiking area is visible. I do this before I head out; once I'm hiking all I have to do is pull out the Zip-Loc to peruse my area. No messing around with unfolding the map if it's raining.

But there are a few drawbacks to using a Zip-Loc as a map case. There's no way to clip them onto your pack or belt loop. The plastic can quickly get smudgy and harder to see through. They're kind of crinkly in your pocket. And the amount of map you can have showing is somewhat limited (though gallon-size bags are much better than sandwich bags).

A solution to these problems is an actual map case. Map cases vary widely in size and design, though they all feature a clear window for looking at the map.

Some are nothing more than a heavy-duty plastic sheath with a Zip-Loc type seal and a small hole for attaching a lanyard, like the OmniSeal Map Case.

Others are designed with kayaking or canoeing in mind, where you'll strap the map case down in front of you on the boat, like the map cases produced by Granite Gear.


Some are designed to fold up, which makes them easy to slip in a pocket or pack, like the Osprey Map Wrap.


And still others are like miniature drybags, with a roll down top for complete waterproofness, like the map case from Sea to Summit.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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