A Little TLC
First, though, let's take a minute for a reality check. If you're inclined to lump paper maps with other ephemera, to be used on a single trip and then thrown away, what do you suppose the odds are that my Garmin GPS, good as it is, will be putting me on the map in 30 years' time? (This assumes that I'll still be knocking about the backcountry in 30 years, but let's give me the benefit of the doubt.) I'm betting it won't. Yet I'm confident that many of my paper maps will still be going strong. I have much older quads in my collection already.
So let's agree that paper has a future as well as a past, shall we? OK. Just how do I safeguard my maps? Well, good mapkeeping begins at home. Since even those quads in my collection that see the most use probably spend 30 days in a filing cabinet for every day they spend in my pack, protected storage is important. And with the help of In the Same Boat reader Peter Bickford, I compared a number of home storage options in an earlier column. Protection in the field is a whole 'nother story, however. Some specialty maps, like the excellent Adirondack Paddler's Map, are printed on waterproofed paper. This helps. My copy of the Paddler's Map dates back to 2004, and it's still as good as new. That said, I never rely on the paper to protect the map. I protect the paper, instead. In short, I use a map case.
There are other approaches, however. You can coat paper maps with proprietary waterproofing compounds, for example, or laminate them to plastic sheets. Art Denney, an experienced paddler whose good ideas have often found their way into this column, recently drew my attention to yet another alternative:
I haven't tried this, yet, but the article "Print Waterproof Plastic Maps" at Instructables looks promising.
I agree. The author — he goes by the name hpstoutharrow — demonstrates how to print maps directly onto plastic sheets cut from trash bags. I haven't tried this (yet), and I'm not sure that thin, stretchy plastic is the ideal material for a quad, but I'm not prepared to discount the idea out of hand, either. It certainly deserves consideration.
For the time being, though, I'm sticking with my old standby: the map case. Which isn't to say it can't be improved on. Peter Bickford, whose contribution to "Winning the Paper Chase" I've already noted, also described his chosen method of protecting maps and charts while on the water:
For kayaking I am using an enhanced version of your ziplock bag technique [see "The Case for Maps" – Tamia]. I take the gallon bag, run a short piece of ⅛-inch nylon cord along each side so both stick out the top and bottom a few inches. I then duct tape the cord to the sides and tie snap clips at the four corners. I am a belt-and-suspenders type of person and do not trust the deck lashings to hold the map case when I capsize. With the snap clips the bag is under the lashings AND clipped in place.
I have also found that both the case and maps hold up better with a custom-cut piece of cardboard under the maps in the bag. The thin type of cardboard used for the backing on legal pads works well. [Foamboard, sold in art supply shops, would work equally well, and provide a little flotation, too. – Tamia] If you use pieces from the pads you will have to tape two pieces together to fill the bag. I try to find larger pieces from artist's pads or other packaging.
With something like 10,000 maps to his name, Peter has certainly learned a thing or two about their care, and I like the elegant simplicity of his improvised map case. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to an improvisation of my own, one that I've been using for some years now. In honor of the first‑to‑publish principle, however, let's call it …
And here's how to make one. It's not hard. The bill of materials (below) is short, and you can carry extras along on a trip to fashion replacements under way, if needed:
- A one‑gallon heavy‑duty freezer bag with a ziplock closure
- 2 strips of duct tape, cut a little longer than the long sides of the freezer bag (if you use a gallon bag, each will measure about 12½ inches)
- A strip of duct tape just as long as the bottom of the freezer bag is wide
- Parachute cord (if you want a lanyard, that is)
And that's it. The tape is folded over the sides and bottom of the freezer bag, reinforcing the edges and forming a three‑sided frame around the transparent bag. The tape can also be used to anchor one or more lanyards if desired. The schematic drawing below shows how it's done.