The Humble Map and Compass

Whispering to myself, “Red in the shed and follow Fred,” I’m standing in a narrow strip of woods as a middle school student trying to master the art and science of using a compass. I remember thinking 1. This is impossible and 2. What will I possibly use this for? Turns out that as an outdoor educator, a search and rescue volunteer, and as a backcountry recreationalist, it has both come in handy and proved to not be impossible. Although in the age of technology, there are countless apps, GPS devices, and software meant to make navigation, route finding, and campsite selection easier, for me there’s something about using a map and compass. It feels more authentic or maybe more appropriate to the feeling of self sufficiency and adventure that I’m looking for when I spend time outside. There’s no chance of them running out of battery, not getting a signal, or having a screen cracked. Beyond the practical considerations of using a map and compass, there’s the poetic. The lines tell a story and there’s beauty in tracing a ridge with your finger on paper and seeing the expanse in front of you.

Despite my middle school lesson and much more practice since then, I have certainly had my map reading mishaps. A possible campsite missed and having to hike several uphill miles to the next possibility. A trail not marked on the map and significant time spent at an intersection to determine which way to go. A longer route taken than was strictly necessary because it afforded more natural landmarks to compare to the map. All of these probably could have been avoided with the use of a GPS, but would the adventure have been as ingrained in my memory? Likely not–I’ll take the humble map and compass any day.

Tori Baker-White

Program Director

Tori grew up in North Carolina hiking and camping with her family, but not really considering herself “outdoorsy” until attending a semester school in Maine during high school. After that, she had plenty of opportunities on personal and professional trips to practice her navigation (and other) skills. She began working for the Gulch in the summer of 2013 and now lives in Albuquerque with Matt (our other Program Director) as well as their son, dog, cat, and 10 chickens.