If this is the first time you are joining the Map Reading series, you should start from the first post.
Planning a route is a tool that is used prior to actually going outdoors and helps you be better prepared so you know what to expect. You can look at route planning as setting expectations for your day outdoors and it is important to try and keep those expectations realistic.
What do we need to set a realistic and clear route?
2. Find a starting point – you will need to find a parking spot or a point where public transport can drop you. If you are not sure what to look for, check the map’s legend for the right symbols.
3. Decide what resources you will need – water, food (or somewhere to buy some), shelter or a camping spot etc. will influence what route you should take. If you want to add extra points of interest, you can again check the legend for the right symbols for all of the above.
4. Know your pace – this is a tricky thing to do. If you are not sure, go outside (you can come back to read the rest afterwards) and go for an hour’s walk in a place you know the distance of – your neighborhood, a familiar trail etc. Using this you can asses your ability: If you walked on a flat pavement just now, your pace outdoors will be about 60% of the speed, and even slower when climbing. If you were walking up hill, you might be at 70% of that speed when outdoors. There will be other factors to influence your speed such as bogs or swamps, river crossings and just plain old mud and sand.
5. Pick a finishing point – at some point you will need to get off of the trail (or back “into” civilization) so a finish point is inevitable. If you have picked a set path, this process will help you determine how long it will take. If you are bound by time, this process will help you finalize the finish point and find your way back to civilization in another way.
6. Pick a walking rhythm – plan for a clear walk/break rhythm so you can estimate what distance you will actually cover in a day. When I’m by myself I use a two hour walk and 30 minute break routine, with my wife it is 90 minutes walking and 30 minute break (ish), with my child it is 20 minutes walk and 40 minutes break (maybe). Make it realistic; if you are out of shape it is better to have more frequent breaks to prevent injuries.
7. Start following the route – as you start tracing a potential route, check the terrain using the contour lines and see if there might be obstacles or demanding areas like big inclines or cliffs. Search for clear terrain features that will aid your navigation later and mark them. Continue tracing the trail checking the distance covered and marking potential stopping points based on your pace and rhythm. Did you mange to get to the point you were aiming for? Is it realistic? Probably not – scale down to about 3/4 to make it real, since we all over estimate how much we can cover (my biggest sin outdoors).
8. Notify someone of your planned route – if you are going out, let a trusted person know where you are and how long you will be there. Leave the coordinates of your daily start and finish points in case of an emergency.
9. Go outdoors, have fun and learn – try and check how you “measured” relative to your planning so you can learn how to be more accurate next time you plan a route, especially when it comes to distance covering. Was there anything that slowed you down? Can you spot those “slowing” sections in the map to plan for them in the future?
10. Practice – the best way to be good at route planning is to plan a route, go outdoors to cover the distance, do the learning and repeat. Over time the skill becomes easier and you can just look at the map and know roughly where you will be at any point of the day (and than scale it down because you over estimated…).
This is the end of the Map Reading series and from now on we will get into compasses and how to use them with a map. The series will no longer be published on Mondays but will join the regular posting on the site.