Safety on the Trail

If you and some friends decide to use one of the many trails in this our Beloved America, be sure to purchase a topographical map or two and plan your venture using them, as a guide.

 Include a shock proof Compass and a GPS if you have one, incase you decide to take a side trip and become disoriented. 

If this is your very first venture, I’m including how to read terrain markings on a topographical map. 

  •  Blue. Water, including lake, rivers, streams, and swamps.
  •  Blue with cross hatched or dotted interior, an intermittent lake.
  •  Dotted blue line: an intermittent stream.
  •  Black: Features made by people, such as buildings, dams, etc.
  •  Green: Vegetation, including woods.
  •  Brown: Contour lines.
  •  Dark contour lines: Every fifth contour line is darker to help you keep track of elevation.
  •  Numbers with contour lines: Elevation.
  •  Red lines: Main roads.
  •  Broken red line: Secondary roads. 

Reading the Contours 

  •  Valleys: lines form a V or a U shape.
  •  Hill: Represented on a map as a series of concentric circles or ovals.
  •  Summit: Represented by the smallest loop inside concentric circles or ovals.
  •  Depression: Represented as the smallest loop inside other circles or ovals, with tick marks indicating low elevation.
  •  Gentle slopes: Represented by lines roughly parallel and far apart.
  •  Steep slopes: Lines roughly parallel and close together.
  •  Cliff: Contour lines merge; Tick marks may indicate fall-off side.
  •  Ridge: Look for long, thin ovals: sloping ridge bisects the ovals longitudinally.

Take good care of your maps, they’ll last longer if folded correctly and

Keep them in a moisture proof pack, like a zip-lock. You can purchase waterproof maps or have them sealed with water proof transparent coatings. 


  •  GPS Readout does not indicate changes in the terrain; cliff or ravine in line of travel; they will not show on your screen.
  •  GPS can help you follow a straight route, it will not tell you the easiest way.
  •  Study your map and look for good places to change your direction and enter the GPS coordinates.
  •  If your GPS fails, use your compass readings and dead reckoning.
  •  Avoid errors common to GPS navigation by aligning map and GPS to a common reference system, such as the World Geodetic System, WGS (1984)
  •  Use your GPS system with a compass, some of which now are designed to work with GPS receivers.

 Another way to check your direction: the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. If you started on this trek in which direction did you start out from? Do observe landmarks that were unique as you venture along your route. What did they look like as you see them from the opposite side, as you passed?  

  •  If in a group start out with a leader and let him/her make the final decision. If possible have at least one experienced hiker along.
  •  Please make sure you carry enough food and water to last an extra day or two, whistles, matches and a signal mirror plus a survival knife and First Aid kit and a Snake Bite kit also.

Be Safe. Be Alert. Have Fun






2 responses to “Safety on the Trail

  1. I was out on the trail this past weekend…the Appalachian Trail, to be precise. I had my GPS with me, too…

  2. Happy trails to you to Nick!

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