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Thread: Traditional maps/guidebooks obsolete?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2016

    Traditional maps/guidebooks obsolete?

    Growing up in New England, I had access to trail info and maps for almost any locale in the entire six-state region. The printed guidebooks and maps were easy to find and wonderfully informative.

    Then I retired and moved to China. I was astonished and dismayed by the overall lack of trail info and maps. To be sure, there are a few exceptions, e.g., Gary McCue’s “Trekking Tibet” (latest edition now ten years old), or the most popular treks which are well documented on the internet, e.g., Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yubeng Village.

    But for the many places I wanted to explore in Yunnan Province, pretty much nothing. Nada! So, I decided to hit the ground, walk about, and share what I learned on the internet. So far, I have published several articles about hiking in Yunnan, some of them with maps and detailed hiking info. These are available for free on a website catering to expatriates and English-speaking readers.

    Now here’s the thing. My approach arises out of a lifetime using printed maps and guidebooks, like the AMC White Mountain Guide. The difference of course is that my articles are published on the internet instead of on paper.

    Reading some of the threads here at VFTT, leads me to ponder whether my approach will be all that helpful to a generation of hikers that values cell phones and GPS tracks. A recent thread discussed the Guthook guides, how on some long-distance trails most hikers are navigating exclusively by phone app.

    So, I am left wondering whether my articles are a colossal waste of my time. Perhaps the actual audience for them approaches the vanishing point. Perhaps they will be ignored by those who I thought would benefit.

    I do find making the maps and writing up the hikes immensely fulfilling. I could see myself continuing for years to come, as long as I am able to continue walking and exploring (I am closer to seventy than to sixty).

    To date most of my articles have been limited to day hikes. I am now working on trekking areas with potential for multi-day hikes.

    I don’t use GPS, although I may learn how in the future. In one case I did use GPS tracks to trace hiking routes onto my map. The situation in China is clouded because of stories that individuals have been deported for using GPS “for mapping”, whatever that means.

    As a matter of interest, there is a Chinese hiking app that allows sharing of GPS tracks for all regions of China. I have looked at their website and it includes tracks for local areas of interest to me. The website appears to be legit, that is, they appear to have a proper Chinese business license which is mentioned on the “About” page. But I am still wary. I won’t spell out their URL other than to say it consists of six of the letter “o” with an “f” in front and a “t” at the end, dot com. As is customary with Chinese web sites, you have to *turn off* your VPN to load the website.

    Who hikes in Yunnan? Who is the audience for my articles? There are relatively few Chinese hikers and backpackers, nothing percentage wise as in USA. Reportedly the number is growing, however. Many will probably pass over an article written in English as mine are. (However, I do make the maps bilingual.) My impression is that most who hike here, whether Chinese or foreign, hire a guide service. This makes sense for convenience sake, and for the foreigners, eliminates the language barrier. But it all comes at a high price. Finally, there would be people who trek independently without guides, a rather small group. Outside of the most popular trekking areas, I have only met one other foreigner deep in the outback.

    For myself I do hire a local guide for multi-day trips, for safety and to handle the mule to carry my gear—at my age carrying a light pack is a joy. Hiring guides who speak only Chinese is a big money saver. I typically do day hikes solo.

    Another potential focus for mapping/guidebooking is the many parks and recreation areas that have been developed in China. These are often exploited to the max by the Chinese government to bring in mobs of visitors in order to maximize the collection of entrance fees. Many have gondola rides to bring visitors up a mountain or deeper into the park. At one park I visited, our group waited in line 5 hours to hop on the gondola up the mountain. Coming back down we waited two hours in line, in the rain.

    These parks typically provide a miniscule map on the back of the entrance ticket. So small you need a magnifying glass to decipher it. Sometimes the map shows walking routes, sometimes they just want to herd you onto the gondola ride and if you try to hike outside of the approved zone, you get told firmly “No walking here”.

    What would be helpful is a larger map, in English, showing the walking paths that you can use to avoid the gondola. And telling when to visit in order to avoid the crowds. That would mean, for example, avoiding the National Holiday first week of October, and the Spring Festival time in January-February.

    Back to the main point of the post. What will serve the needs of hikers in terms of maps and info, in an area currently lacking such? Should I move away from traditional map and written info, whether on paper or static internet? Should I move in the direction of GPS and interactive cell phone app?

    At this point I don’t know. I’m open to hearing different perspectives from folks on these forums.
    散步 Sanbu

  2. #2
    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Bloomville, New York Avatar: Dress for success!
    I hope they are not obsolete, I am updating the "Catskill Trails" guide, published by the ADK.
    Tom Rankin
    Volunteer Balsam Lake Mountain
    Past President Catskill 3500 Club

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Ipswich, MA
    I was under the impression that in China you had to get special gov't permission to make maps and that they weren't exactly liberal with allowing it. And what is out there is wildly inaccurate by mandate. Are these just old tales?

  4. #4
    Senior Member Barkingcat's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Верхоянский хребет
    Printed maps are not obsolete, and won't be anytime soon (at least until affordable, foldable screens are available).

    They are far higher resolution than those one views on a small screen, and pack in so much more information into a compact, efficient, fold-able space.

    (This point has been argued for a number of years by a variety of people, in particular by the statistician Edward Tufte of Yale University.)

    I'd definitely stick with a printed/printable map as part of your approach.

  5. #5
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Right. Printed maps also don't need batteries.

    Many areas are seeing a swing to putting lots of stuff on screens. But I think over another decade you will see this pendulum swing back a bit.

    The process has gone like this:

    Top Manager: "I see lots of idiots everywhere hypnotized by their smart phones. Can I make money off of this?"
    Marketing Guy: "Yes! Let's try to make everything look like a smart phone!"
    Top Manager: "OK. That's our strategy."

    But now you are beginning to see analyses showing how much touch screens in cars increase distracted driving; many expensive rescues from people relying on phones in the woods; etc.. My Subaru has a touch screen for the radio. (I was not able to get a new Subaru without that; I tried.) But it constantly displays warnings about all the times when you shouldn't try to use it, which is comical. It's like they knew it was a bad idea, but they put it in the car because some marketing guy told them to.

    So I think this pendulum will swing back a bit eventually.

  6. #6
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Near the Adirondack Blue Line
    SUNY Press thinks my new guidebook, out next spring will be a popular title. I agree.
    "The fact that going off the deep end appears
    to be a requisite to doing anything of consequence
    in this life has not escaped me." Jim Harrison

  7. #7
    Member JToll's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Rhode Island
    I think traditional maps and guidebooks will eventually be obsolete. The market for traditional maps and guide books will continue to shrink as the population ages. At some point, it will not make commercial sense to continue. I cannot remember the last time I used a paper map in my car. I just set the GPS and go. Personally I will always carry a paper map.

  8. #8
    Senior Member iAmKrzys's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    New Jersey
    I love maps and over the years I have built up a nice collection, but like JToll, I no longer use paper maps for driving. I still carry hiking paper maps with me but I find that I use them less and less for planning.

    "Obsolete" is a strong word, but I have a feeling that paper maps and publications will become a niche category, perhaps expensive in order to recover fixed publishing cost.

    Here are some observations based on a small data set consisting of my hiking friends:
    * most of my friends use AllTrails for hike planning
    * some of my friends are premium AllTrails subscribers which gives them ability to download maps for off-line use
    * some of my friends use Avenza for NYNJTC-published maps
    * I have not heard any of my friends mention Guthook, but then none of them attempted any thru-hikes
    * my friend who likes backpacking tends to do route planning in Caltopo and shares the routes with me and other friends via web links
    * personally, for hike planning I use a combination of relevant local web sites, blogs, AllTrails, and for some areas I use guidebooks.

    Based on this small sample it seems like AllTrails is quite popular for day hiking - Google playstore claims over 5 million downloads and shows 29k reviews. I guess the secret to their success lies in what I would call an "Amazon experience": decent trail descriptions and maps, user ratings with comments, lots of user-uploaded pictures, links that are easy to share with friends. If you pay the premium you get the perks.

    Barring any mishaps this is all that 95% of hikers need in terms of route planning and staying on trail. Clearly, a large paper map is better for identifying nearby peaks, but I suspect most casual hikers don't care about it enough to get paper maps.

    While many of us grew up on paper maps there are more and more hikers who had a smartphone for baby-sitter and consequently they trust their smartphone for maps. The fact that this smartphone could fail, run out of juice, or just fall into a stream does not seem to be of much concern. Convenience outweighs safety concerns.

    As to the OP's question I think many publishers try different venues for their content, however, in many cases only a few of these venues will emerge as dominant over time, and it may be hard to reach users outside of winning platforms. Living in regulated world obviously may limit what can or cannot be done.

  9. #9
    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    New Hampshire
    I use caltopo and Guthook. I see a lot of gaia use on trail as well.

    I do carry a map and compass but hardly ever use them. I do find the compass handy for following a bearing when off trail but the phone or gps is absolutely more convenient for me.


  10. #10
    Senior Member TJsName's Avatar
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    Mar 2013
    'Springtime' on the Carters (Tamworth, NH)
    It all comes down to data. Maps and GPS display and convey a lot of the same data, but can be accessed through difference means. There are other tools that can provide supplemental data (altimeters, weather forecasts, etc.) that one can take advantage of too. I've loved look at maps since I was a kid, and I still do, but on a hike, the map pretty much stays in the bag the whole time as a back-up because I have a more convenient way to access the same information. I don't bemoan people that prefer paper maps, just like I don't put down people that prefer to read the paper, watch broadcast TV, or use a travel agent.

    What it comes down to is I value my time and my experiences, and will use technology that improves my experiences and lets me use my time as I see fit. If someone prefers to do something 'the old fashioned way', that's their prerogative.
    Last edited by TJsName; 07-14-2019 at 11:39 PM.
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  11. #11
    Senior Member Puma concolor's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    North of Albany, NY
    Lots of interesting comments and without getting into details I will say that I’m mostly a hybrid edition of old-school map/guidebook/compass navigation and new-school internet research.

    But as to the core question of whether the old way of doing things will eventually become obsolete, I think it is at least partially measurable by looking at some numbers. When I first started peakbagging as an aspiring 46R in the early 90s, there was only one option. You simply had to buy the High Peaks guidebook and map. The information contained within spoke to you as if uttered by God him/herself. You relied on it, read it, studied it. The book became a friend. You bought a second map to hang on the wall or keep in a favored place.

    So anyway, during the three years I pursued the 46Rs in 1993, 1994 and 1995, there were 184, 193 and 274 new 46Rs to officially register. The number of finishers continued in the mid-100s to mid-200s all the way up to 2010. And then “something” happened. There was a huge spike in the numbers. The last three years where numbers are available are 2015, 2016 and 2017 when 605, 712 and 735 new 46Rs were recognized.

    To me, the key question is what have Adirondack High Peaks guidebook sales have been like during this time frame (since 2010)? If a majority of hikers continue to cling to old school map and guidebook travel, then one would expect that sales of the High Peaks guidebook have been through the roof. Would be interesting if Mr. Tony Goodwin could chime in with sales numbers if he is aware of them. My suspicion is that guidebook sales have been steady or perhaps even dropped since the early 90s through today as there are now many other ways of obtaining trail/route information. And maps can be found online digitally and then stored on personal devices ... which quite frankly is much less awkward than busting out a map in a windstorm and then watching it fly into the great beyond (actually happened to me once).

    Anyway, interesting discussion.
    Last edited by Puma concolor; 07-13-2019 at 12:22 PM.

  12. #12
    Senior Member sierra's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    New hampshire
    I have never used a GPS unit or a hiking app. Even out west, its map and guidebook. I know, I'm a dinosaur.

  13. #13
    Senior Member KV's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
    South of the notches
    Map and guidebook for me for hiking. I use (electronic) technology to check weather/radar and sometimes most recent trs (though most these days are not trs at all).
    Life is a trip. Pack Accordingly.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Quote Originally Posted by JoshandBaron View Post
    I was under the impression that in China you had to get special gov't permission to make maps and that they weren't exactly liberal with allowing it. And what is out there is wildly inaccurate by mandate. Are these just old tales?
    My understanding: the state supposedly requires permission, the question is to what extent it is enforced. Laws are often written with wriggle room, but in any event are subject to interpretation. What is allowed in one place can be verboten in another. The site I write for is located within the realm, another requirement supposedly.

    The existence of a licensed, and therefore approved by someone, website with GPS tracks points to the possibility of things changing. Of course, the site and app and an individual's contributions might very well be under scrutiny by the powers.

    In an attempt to operate under the radar, the stuff I create is not as useful as it could be. Notably, no contour lines on my creations. For now.

    Various mapping websites are available and approved within the realm. The rest accessible with Vee Pee En.

    As you're probably aware, social medial is blocked in these parts. Curiously, the English language CGTN has a presence on standard (blocked) social media for communicating and for feedback. They advertize it at the end of some broadcasts. There's even a segment on one show that talks about what's trending on social media (so long as not negative toward the realm).

    CGTN = China Global Television Network, available in half a dozen different languages. I used to get the English language channel at home via cable. Then they dropped it and I wasn't willing to pay an extra 25rmb ($3.50) per month to have it restored to the lineup.
    Last edited by Sanbu; 07-14-2019 at 08:27 AM.
    散步 Sanbu

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2016
    The longer I live the expatriate life the more I live outside the loop, or at least one of so many loops.

    gaia? trs?
    散步 Sanbu

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