Maps: Old school paper or GPS?

axlesandantennas

Approved Vendor
Hi all. Here is a post that I made a few years back on my website about paper maps and their value even in a GPS tracked world. Wanted to share it here for you. I have edited a few things and noted it at that end. Thoughts and comments would be appreciated. Link to post here:

“Paper or plastic?” That's a question we used to hear quite a bit at the grocery checkout. Nowadays, not so much.

But what about “Paper or electronic?” In today's battery driven world, it's very easy to pick up an electronic replacement for anything historically paper, especially maps. Paper maps have quickly become supplanted by the ever present Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS is found in our smart phones, cars, boats, and an impossible number of other devices.

GPS is a marvelous technology. With GPS, you will almost instantly know your position anywhere on the Earth and calculate in a matter of seconds a route to your destination. I personally have had a long love affair with GPS and its many uses. My first introduction with GPS was in the early 90s when the technology was hugely-huge in size and eye-wateringly expensive. Neither of which are true any more.

Printed maps, on the other hand, seem to be pushed to the wayside more and more. They aren't as sexy as a GPS. Nor do they make sounds. Can't really swipe up and down either. Depending on scale, long distance route planning is not possible either without several maps laying across the hood of your car.

However, printed maps become part of your destination and experience. Printed maps are fun to hang on your wall and push “I've been here” pins in them. Often times they are spotted with dirt and mud that illustrates that you have indeed been there and done that. Notes and doodles scribbled across the paper help make decisions. All of which help not only tell your story, but illustrate it as well.

Romanticism aside, printed maps have abilities that are near impossible to find with GPS. They are always on and never need batteries. Printed maps are very lightweight too. Depending on type of paper, your map could be waterproof as well. A major down side of GPS is that the screens are commonly only a few inches wide. A paper map like a USGS 7.5 Minute Topo-quad is about 22 inches wide by 30 inches tall! Unlike a GPS, you can lay these maps across the hood of your vehicle and have several other members of your group look at your map with ease.

Paper maps also allow you to see everything all at once (depending on the type of map, that is). One of my biggest gripes with the mapping type of GPS is that map layers are typically visble according to scale. Zoom in too far, you lose features like boundaries. Zoom too far out, small roads and trails disappear. With a paper map, the features built into the map are always there. No hassle of zooming in or out.

An even bigger advantage of scale with a paper map over a GPS is your ability to observe your entire local area is visible. This sounds a little like the problem with zoom levels, but it's a little bit more nuanced than that. For instance, if you are wanting to hike or drive a trail, a GPS may show you that trail and the geography immediately surrounding that area. But a good paper map such as the USGS Topos present the type of geography that makes your decisions a bit more balanced.

When you plan your route on this type of map, you have the ability to make your plan accordingly. What if there is the potential for run off in a ravine several miles away? Is your proposed campsite influenced by topography? These are just some of the questions that a proper printed map can answer for you that perhaps could be missed by a GPS.

All of this being said, I still use GPS. I have high praises for the GAIA app on my iPhone and have a (Garmin) GPS unit in my Wrangler as well. When you are driving, it's nice to glance up and see your position on a moving screen. But when I need good info, the paper maps are going to be rolled out so that I can see what I need to see, unimpeded.

Post Script:

I will concede that when planning my outdoor activities, I will normally consult with Google Maps first. The ability to switch between aerial and satellite imagery, along with a really good, shaded relief topographic map set, is bar none a great tool.

Edited 2/5/2021 Changed Lowrance to Garmin GPS in Wrangler. Changed title.
 

m-l_johnny

New member
I absolutely detest using using standard gps guidance for directions. In city/ urban environments it always seems that the lag time makes me miss the turn. I much prefer to study a map (even if it's digital) beforehand to get an idea of where I need to go. That being said, I still use gps guidance occasionally, and it almost always greatly annoys me.
I love the Gaia app and use it extensively when out exploring and camping. Most often, I don't mark a route and follow it, but get a general idea of what roads/ trails I want to take with an occasional pin drop so I don't miss a turn on a road of interest.
As you've mentioned, the resolution on most gps gets lost as one zooms out, so by the time you can see the big picture of where you are, you really can't see where you are and vise versa for zooming in. I find that quite frustrating and annoying. It's particularly bad on the integrated system in my '16 Tacoma.
Give me a paper map (and my cheater glasses nowadays so I can read it!) any day.
 

Laps

Active member
My order of preference for off road planning and routing is that I will use Benchmark maps (for out West) and Delorme maps in conjunction with GAIA GPS, followed by in dash GPS as back up.
 

MTVR

Well-known member
I started my career as a cop using paper maps, but as I got older, I began to rely more and more on a Garmin GPS suction-cupped to the inside of my windshield.

The GPS reduced the stress of navigating, while doing all of the other things competing for my attention while driving (radio, MDT, cellular voice/text, traffic, pedestrians, getting my rifle out, etc.).

Even when I already knew where I was going, it reduced the possibility of missing a turn due to one of those distractions.

As the years went on, I began to need reading glasses, which made paper map use while driving almost impossible.

The GPS allows me to keep my head up, which is safer for everybody.

As an FTO (Field Training Officer), once a trainee officer proved to me that they could navigate with paper maps, I allowed them to use their choice of electronic resources.
 

JaSAn

Well-known member
My biggest ********** with GPS is people let it do the thinking for them. It amazes me the number of people I have hunted and backpacked with who cannot point to where they are on a paper map without GPS giving it to them. I was taught to always know where you are on a (paper) map. When I was taking kids into the BWCA it was always fun to let each of them be navigator for the day with only a paper map and compass; saw a lot of extra scenery that way.

There are two instances that I find GPS very helpful:
- navigating in an unfamiliar city in traffic, as MTVR said, "GPS allows me to keep my head up".
- finding my way back to camp using 'breadcrumbs' in near zero visibility.

For trip planning I start with Rand McNally and State highway maps, progress quickly to Delorme/Benchmark and National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Maps. Google Earth is used after I have a tentative route.
 

Jnich77

Director of Adventure Management Operations
Personally I prefer maps, but I use GPS too.

My logic is this: a map with a hole in it is still a map, a GPS with a hole in it is a really expensive paper weight.
 

Kolockum

Adventure Nut
There are two instances that I find GPS very helpful:
- navigating in an unfamiliar city in traffic, as MTVR said, "GPS allows me to keep my head up".
- finding my way back to camp using 'breadcrumbs' in near zero visibility.
I really like that function to. But you also have the skills to make it back if the GPS fails. I find that a lot of inexperienced people don't plan ahead and download maps, mark their vehicle/starting spot or turn on tracking until they realize they are lost. I have been part of several searches where this was the case including one where the GPS was in demo mode and was leading the party through every swampy spot in that whole valley. It made trying to find them an absolute pain since there was no rhyme or reason to their actions.

I am a big one for paper maps when traveling in the back county. Most of my maps have tons of notes, campsites and such handwritten on them. But something that I sometimes forget is you do need to buy new maps every few years. Dirt road systems change more than most people realize.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
My biggest ********** with GPS is people let it do the thinking for them. It amazes me the number of people I have hunted and backpacked with who cannot point to where they are on a paper map without GPS giving it to them. I was taught to always know where you are on a (paper) map.
That's a gripe of mine, too. I think it's people are following tracks, checking off "must do" things, getting their Instagram shot and moving to the next one. But uber popular trade routes isn't a new phenomenon. The number of people in the side- and backcountry lately is swelling so it seems crazier.

I view GPS receivers and map papers as complementary, that's how I was taught to use them and still do. But I also tend not to use my phone for anything other than calls so generally speaking I haven't embraced convergence anyway. I record tracks all the time, I do geek out with GIS reviewing and planning trips. I just prefer to try being in the moment rather than always knowing to the meter where I am on a map while actually doing them.
 

quickfarms

Adventurer
Both are in the vehicles

GPS can have issues. Several times over the last two weeks I have had issues with bad GPS data both at work and driving.

Yesterday morning I took a look at the data coming from the satellites, using my work GPS and consulting tech support, and it was discovered that GPS satellite 16 was transmitting more bad data than good data. After disabling GPS satellite 16 the data did get better but it has been poor since the inauguration.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
After disabling GPS satellite 16 the data did get better but it has been poor since the inauguration.
Have you reported it? There's no reported interference, issues or degradations with SVN-56/PRN-16.

https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?Do=constellationStatus

https://www.gps.gov/support/user/#civilian


But it is a block IIR in year 17 of its 10-year design life and probably about the 5th or 6th oldest in the constellation so maybe the magnetos need a crank. It had some issues last summer.

https://gps.afspc.af.mil/gpsoc/viewadvisories.aspx

07 Aug 2020
NOTICE ADVISORY TO NAVSTAR USERS (NANU) 2020038
SUBJ: SVN56 (PRN16) FORECAST OUTAGE SUMMARY JDAY 219/2137 - JDAY 220/0352
1. NANU TYPE: FCSTSUMM
NANU NUMBER: 2020038
NANU DTG: 070401Z AUG 2020
REFERENCE NANU: 2020037
REF NANU DTG: 311840Z JUL 2020
SVN: 56
PRN: 16
START JDAY: 219
START TIME ZULU: 2137
START CALENDAR DATE: 06 AUG 2020
STOP JDAY: 220
STOP TIME ZULU: 0352
STOP CALENDAR DATE: 07 AUG 2020

2. CONDITION: GPS SATELLITE SVN56 (PRN16) WAS UNUSABLE ON JDAY 219
(06 AUG 2020) BEGINNING 2137 ZULU UNTIL JDAY 220 (07 AUG 2020)
ENDING 0352 ZULU.

3. POC: CIVILIAN - NAVCEN AT 703-313-5900, HTTPS://WWW.NAVCEN.USCG.GOV
MILITARY - GPS OPERATIONS CENTER at HTTPS://GPS.AFSPC.AF.MIL/GPSOC, DSN 560-2541,
COMM 719-567-2541, gpsoperationscenter@us.af.mil, HTTPS://GPS.AFSPC.AF.MIL
MILITARY ALTERNATE - JOINT SPACE OPERATIONS CENTER, DSN 276-3526. COMM 805-606-3526.
JSPOCCOMBATOPS@US.AF.MIL

31 Jul 2020
NOTICE ADVISORY TO NAVSTAR USERS (NANU) 2020037
SUBJ: SVN56 (PRN16) FORECAST OUTAGE JDAY 219/2100 - JDAY 220/0900
1. NANU TYPE: FCSTDV
NANU NUMBER: 2020037
NANU DTG: 311840Z JUL 2020
REFERENCE NANU: N/A
REF NANU DTG: N/A
SVN: 56
PRN: 16
START JDAY: 219
START TIME ZULU: 2100
START CALENDAR DATE: 06 AUG 2020
STOP JDAY: 220
STOP TIME ZULU: 0900
STOP CALENDAR DATE: 07 AUG 2020

2. CONDITION: GPS SATELLITE SVN56 (PRN16) WILL BE UNUSABLE ON JDAY 219
(06 AUG 2020) BEGINNING 2100 ZULU UNTIL JDAY 220 (07 AUG 2020)
ENDING 0900 ZULU.

3. POC: CIVILIAN - NAVCEN AT 703-313-5900, HTTPS://WWW.NAVCEN.USCG.GOV
MILITARY - GPS OPERATIONS CENTER at HTTPS://GPS.AFSPC.AF.MIL/GPSOC, DSN 560-2541,
COMM 719-567-2541, gpsoperationscenter@us.af.mil, HTTPS://GPS.AFSPC.AF.MIL
MILITARY ALTERNATE - JOINT SPACE OPERATIONS CENTER, DSN 276-3526. COMM 805-606-3526.
JSPOCCOMBATOPS@US.AF.MIL
 
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axlesandantennas

Approved Vendor
Both are in the vehicles

GPS can have issues. Several times over the last two weeks I have had issues with bad GPS data both at work and driving.

Yesterday morning I took a look at the data coming from the satellites, using my work GPS and consulting tech support, and it was discovered that GPS satellite 16 was transmitting more bad data than good data. After disabling GPS satellite 16 the data did get better but it has been poor since the inauguration.
Which GPS are you using that you can ignore an individual satellite?
 

axlesandantennas

Approved Vendor
The thing I love most in this world is that we don’t have to accept “either or”. I can and do use both. As always, the right tool for the job at hand.
I agree. Typically what I do when out in NF land is use my Enhanced MVUM to keep track of my trip and to write notes and indicated campsites and such. I spot the points on the map via my Garmin GPSmap 78s. I do record tracks with my unit, but I keep up with where I am on paper. This allows me to reference both in case one becomes lost or destroyed.
 
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