Best source for paper maps?

Posted by: Phaedrus

Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 01:36 AM

Pretty simple question I guess but what is your go-to source for good quality, 1:24000 maps? I've mostly bought maps at the local sporting goods places but I find the selection really lacking. The decent topo maps I have are not as large as I'd prefer nor as fine a scale.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 03:14 AM

I should speak up here since I opened my big fat mouth about the value of traditional topo maps.

What I have actually used for the last few years (at least twelve) are the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topographic Maps (Revised Regularly. Waterproof. Tear-Resistant). I find the coverage is quite good for my local area - Channel islands National park and Los Padres National Forest.

I buy mine at the local REI store, but the entire inventory I believe is available by on line order.

Nt'l Geo takes the USGS maps, updates them for roads, trails, and cultural features, reducing the size and putting several old style topo maps in a folded format which is fairly handy. On some at least, shaded relief is added, although contour lines are thereby hard to see. This is better in some ways, not so good in others.

I understand the entire USGS inventory is available at:

Most of my USGS maps were purchased (70 cents each) years ago. I still keep them around, referring to them from time to time.

The biggest drawback to the traditional uSGS toposis that frequently cultural features are out of date. This is not too much of a big deal in parks and wilderness areas, but maps of more urban situations can be rather out dated.

I frequently also carried Forest Service maps that showed recent cultural features, but did not usually show the topography. Together with the topo maps you had a workable system. Aerial photos are often useful in this manner as supplements.

For areas where I am walking intensively, I liked to waterproof the uSGS sheets, cut them to squares that would fit in my shirt pocket and join them with map cloth, giving me a map that could be folded an infinite number of times. These served me well for years.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 06:14 AM

I suspected you would know a good source! grin I'll peruse those online options. Sadly the REI in town is closed due to the pandemic; hopefully they'll reopen but it sounds like the chain is in trouble.

Thanks for the tips!
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 12:13 PM

You can order the maps online from REI - shipping is free whatever the amount and their entire inventory is available.
Posted by: AKSAR

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 07:04 PM

Regarding National Geo Trails Illustrated maps, I find that for some areas they are great as a primary map. For other areas, they are great for overview and planning, but a bit too small scale for routine use in the field. They often try to cram a whole park onto one sheet, which is handy in some ways, but sometimes makes things a bit too small for actual navigation. In those cases I also like to carry a topo map at a larger scale.

I have mixed feelings about the shaded relief on Nat Geo's maps. Some times it is helpful. However, sometimes it is actually a hinderance. The usual convention for shaded relief is the light source is from the upper left, or North West. That works well if you are looking at the map in the usual orientation of North up. However, awhile back I was standing on top of a mountain in Denali National Park, looking south, trying to orient the map to some very complicated terrain. Viewing the map from the North side looking South, the relief was exactly backwards! It made it more difficult to relate map to terrain.

Another good source for printed maps (at least for the far west) is Green Trails Maps. They are available from REI. Note that while REI stores are currently closed due to COVID19, their mail order business is going strong.

More and more I'm printing my own maps at home, using CALTOPO. The basic version is free. They generally have good terrain coverage, and their cultural info (roads, trails, etc) is typically more up to date than USGS topos. You can design your own map of an area, at the scale you want, then print it out at home. Very useful, in my experience.

Also note that if you use Gaia on your smart phone, a premium subscription will let you download Nat Geo Trails Illustrated maps to your phone. This does however, require a paid subscription. Also, not all Trails Illustrated maps are currently available for Gaia, but they seem to be adding more all the time. While I still carry printed maps, I find I'm using Gaia more and more. It is a great app!
Posted by: DaveL

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 08:22 PM

May I ask what is map tape and waterproof. Thanks Dave
Posted by: KenK

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 09:44 PM

My preference is .

The maps can be ordered as paper or waterproof writeable plastic, prefolded or flat (rolled), with custom titles (I add my name), selectable areas (not limited to USGS map locations), several gridline options (I add UTM grids). I think several size options are available.

Great company. Easy to use online selection and ordering.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 11:25 PM

It's beena long time and I can'trecall specific brands, but I think there are various waterproofing compounds that will work on paper. These days follow kenK's post and just order your map on waterproof paper.

I did a cursory search for the map tape I used and came up empty. But it was a sturdy tape that could be folded indefinitely (my maps lasted for more than fifteen years with a lot of use).

The thing is that if you simply fold a paper map, eventually the paper will wear through, obliterating some of the info on the printed surface. There is some natural law that decrees that you will need to look at the spot now worn through. Cutting the paper cleanly and inserting a hinge solves the problem.

This is worth the effort if you are going to use the maps a lot.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/01/20 11:27 PM

Thanks, everyone! Lots of options there.
Posted by: KenK

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/02/20 01:54 PM

I have this odd problem folding a beautiful new map for the first time. I just hate "scratching" this work of art. As silly as it is I think that is why I order the maps prefolded

I also order reconditioned tools and used cars for the same reason ... and a few others (lower price).

On a side note, if you haven't gone to , I highly recommend their grid tools and their UTM tutorial.
Posted by: DaveL

Re: Best source for paper maps? - 05/02/20 08:17 PM

Thanks Hikermor