New Appalachian Trail Maps – A review

NatgeoATmapsWe all know about the quality of National Geographic maps. Here in Western North Carolina, hikers depend on NatGeo maps for Pisgah National Forests and Great Smoky Mountains National Park trails.

Now comes a 13-map set, which covers the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail. As befitting the quality of NatGeo products, these maps are on rugged waterproof, tear-resistant paper. You can buy individual map booklets for the section you’re going to hike. Each map retails for $14.95.

However, here’s the best part about these maps. Most conventional maps are printed on one large, unwieldy sheet of paper. I find it difficult to manage these map in the wind or rain – and then I have to fold it up and it’s a mess.

image_preview2Instead these new maps have been organized into a small book. When folded, the guide is similar in size to most NatGeo Trail Maps: 4.25″ x 9.25″.

Not only is this a much easier format to handle on the trail, it also allows hikers to know exactly what page to look for their next piece of trail. The map set is complete, even though NatGeo also produces a conventional map of the Smokies and Shenandoah National Park.

I looked carefully at the Carolina Mountain Club (and Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club) section: Davenport Gap to Damascus. Most of the front part of the booklet is repeated throughout the other maps, including information about the visionary Benton MacKaye, Rules and Regulations, Leave No Trace principles, and the role of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Lenny weedwacking
Lenny weedwacking

But before the hiker is tempted to just tear out those pages to save weight, she should look more carefully. First, and this is the part I love. They give credit to CMC and TEHCC. It says:

Volunteers of the Carolina Mountain Club and the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club provide trail and shelter maintenance and management between the Virginia-Tennessee border and Davenport Gap.

Camping options are listed along with their capacity and map pages for each booklet. There’s a small map of the principal towns, in this case, Hot Springs and Damascus.

Then comes the actual map sections. Any hiker familiar with NatGeo maps of any park or forest will recognize the trail markings and mileage between sections. An extra bonus is the elevation profile at the bottom of each page. Like any other profile, the hiker/reader needs to note the scale. In the first few pages, the altitude range goes from 2,000 to 7,000 feet. Toward the end of the map section, it’s 2,000 to 5,000.

Some room for improvement, if I may.

* I couldn’t find any mention or acknowledgement that the A.T. is a national park unit, specifically, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

* Though the front of the booklets talk about the “unique partnership” between the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, A.T.C., it is the land manager of the section you’re walking on that decides the rules. As a corollary, in the section which includes the Smokies, the “no dogs on the trail” rule should have been highlighted.

* The map section has page numbers, the booklet could also use page numbers for text.

All in all, a major improvement on the old A.T. maps and a great purchase for both long-distance and day-hikers.

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