Quick Tip: Ziplock bag map cover

When I started backpacking, I made some mistakes. But I learned along the way.

As my colorful mother would say, I started to know my ass from my elbow.

One lesson I learned along the way is to get a good set of maps.

People of a certain outdoor experience and vintage may remember the older-style Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide.

A short, thick book with very utilitarian [1] black and white text. And even more utilitarian black and white paper maps.

These maps were good enough for my initial forays into backpacking.

The maps were not robust.

They ripped easily, were not waterproof and would be an expensive purchase to replace on such a frequent basis.

But they had the information I needed.

And though I did not quite know my ass from my elbow with backpacking, I knew enough to photocopy the sections of the maps I needed  and to use those photocopied sections for hiking instead.

I could mark these map sections up, highlight my route and fold the maps.

They were still not waterproof or even resistant however.

The solution? An ever handy gallon sized Ziplock bag made a wonderful map case.

And still does today.


Seems a logical idea.

But I am sharing this tip because a fair amount of people have never heard of it before.

The ziplock is clear plastic, seals nicely, is light and keeps the maps dry. And easy to fold up, too.


Twenty years later, I still use this technique for maps I print out with CalTopo.

Instead of highlighting my route with a marker, I can trace the route electronically on the map itself. And make other notations as needed.

Similar to what I did in 1996.

Except my maps are now in color. And the writing on the maps are much neater than my chicken scratch the caused the nuns at my old Catholic school some agita.

But the paper maps still go in a Ziplock bag.

Oh, commercial recreational maps are highly water resistant, fold up nicely, are a  bit (?!) more updated than old quads in many cases. The types of maps have newer roads, trails and so on. And they make wonderful overview maps even for trips with off-trail travel planned.

But they do not have the level of detail I need many times for off-trail areas.  And commercial recreational hiking maps, the popular NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps being the obvious example, do not cover more obscure areas.

Different types of maps. Different types of purposes. Yes, those are the old-school Wolf guides.

Going off-trail and/or into a more obscure area? Print out those maps. And protect them with a simple Ziplock bag.  There are other commercial options for map covers.  But I’ve hiked a fair amount and never felt the need for anything different for what it is worth. ( Or maybe I am just frugal… )

As a side note, while electronics in the backcountry are popular, maps aren’t going away.  How we use them and procure them? Well, that’s an article for another day…

[1] Honest, I am not describing myself…

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7 years ago

Plus, the zippered plastic bag plus regular paper map is a lot lighter than those coated papers of so-called waterproof maps. I’ve found that the coating rapidly breaks down at the folds so that after a few uses the “waterproof” map is no longer waterproof and is developing holes!

With my printer/scanner, I can make plain paper copies of the expensive “waterproof” maps which are lighter and leave the expensive original unscathed for future use.