Refolding topographic maps to make them easier to use

One of the few pieces of gear that is absolutely necessary on a trip is a topographic map. For many easy trips you won’t even need it, but in an emergency — where circumstances force a change of route — you’ll be thankful that it’s in your pack. Of course you still need to know how to use it, and that’s a whole other topic, but this post is about a handy way to refold your new maps — which are large and unwieldy — to make life easier when you use them in the bush.

I always shake my head when I see people using a map still folded in a store-bought manner, having to pull the whole thing apart every time we walk off one edge. In good conditions you can get away with it, but when it is raining or the wind is howling you very quickly end up destroying one of the most important pieces of kit you carry.

The video below runs through the simple process — which takes less than a minute — of making your map easier to work with.

The first thing to do is open the map up completely and lay it out on a clean, flat surface. Have the topographic side facing down.

Next you need to fold it in half, along the horizontal axis. From here you move to one end (my preference is the panel with the map name on it, which I place face down), then simply fold each panel in alternate directions along the entire length of the map. Make sure you press down on all the folds at the end so the map holds its new shape.

It is now finished and ready to use. Once you’re in the bush it makes it much simpler to use as you walk off the edge of the map. It also makes it a perfect size for most map cases, so you can keep it clean and dry when you are walking.

– Tim Vollmer (video by Dyson Vollmer)

One thought on “Refolding topographic maps to make them easier to use

  1. Like you I never liked the way topo maps were bought folded. I got around this by buying unfolded maps from the Lands Department office at Bridge Street. I had my own method for folding which I called “back folding”. You lay the map face down and fold it in half vertically, then unfold and bring the left and right edges to meet at the vertical centre crease. Then fold in half by back folding along the line of the centre crease. Now fold the column in half so that top and bottom edges meet. Unfold and bring top and bottom edges to meet at the horizontal centre crease. Then fold in half by back folding along the centre crease. By folding the map this way you get larger panels with better connectivity between, although I think your method is superior with regard to handling and connectivity. A few years ago I went to the office at Barracks Square to see if I could still buy unfolded topos. I was told they didn’t have any, but when pressed they said they kept unfolded stock down at the old Bridge Street office, and if I wanted they would order them up for me. I didn’t take up the offer, but there you go, it looks like you can still get them unfolded. I still have a stack of old Blue Mountains topos that I never got around to folding. When you are contemplating a trip, particularly a longer one, there is nothing better than sizing it up on a clean sheet without any folds or creases in it.

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