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  • Writer's picturebalzaccom

Are a map and compass still essential equipment?

Over at an ultralight community, the question was asked why anyone should take a map and compass if they had a good GPS system. And while I am old and don't own a GPS unit, and always take map and compass, I loved this answer from David Thomas, who is a very smart and practical man--his answers always shed light on any topic. .

"Why always carry map & compass with you? Because some people are old, or very old, and won’t ever change. Somehow, those folks can crank up their hypocrisy enough to claim you ALWAYS need map and compass and yet they drive their car into the wilderness with *only* a computer-controlled fuel-injection system that is reliant on a processor chip and continued electrical power rather than the field-repairable, completely non-electrical carburetor they grew up with. A single EMP pulse from a North Korean nuke could obviously leave them stranded by the roadside, and yet they take the massive risk <sarcasm> of relying on modern electronics.

"I’m only old, not very old, so I acknowledge that times have changed. A modern GPS unit/app gives you vastly more functionality than a map & compass. And back-ups (batteries, watch, phone, etc.) are always an option.

"Could you have a failure? Sure. With any system. On the PCT? Jeez!, just ask the next person along “Where am I?”* and to call Uber for you and place your Walmart and pizza

orders for you in town.

"* Or, instead, just keep walking north.

"Sarcasm aside, I’d suggest considering each morning, mid-day and evening, “If my GPS app quit, what does my next day’s travel look like?” Understand your surroundings, the trail junctions ahead and the mileage in front of you. That kind of active engagement with the route locks details into my head far better than an app telling me to turn left or right at each trail junction."

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