3 Maps That Should Be In Your Survival Gear

Everyone says you have to have maps of your area in your gear. That’s true, but how much time did you spend deciding exactly what kind of maps to take. If you just stuck a state road map in your Bug Out Bag, then you should reconsider and take the 3 types of maps that should be in your survival gear.

Also, make sure you actually know how to read a map as well before SHTF. It’s a crucial skill.

Types of Maps That Are a Must

1. Detailed Local Map

Local Street MapYou need the most detailed local street map you can possibly get. By local I mean just your town, or if you are in a large city, your neighborhood and the areas you frequent. Here many people might say, “oh I know my way around my town like the back of my hand, I don’t need a map for that.” We’ll maybe you do.

In an urban survival regional emergency, like a flood, hurricane, or other man made disaster any number of things could happen that will be much easier navigated with a super-local map. Maybe a couple of the roads you usually take are blocked or flooded. Maybe you need to get out of town in a direction you don’t usually go. (One of these should also be in your Get Home Bag)

2. Regional Topo

Regional Topographic MapIf you think of the maps you need in an expanding circle, after your detailed local map you are going to need a regional topographic map. In the event of a serious regional problem or a total collapse scenario you are going to need to head towards important natural areas like a water source.

Whether walking or driving there will certainly be chaos on the major roads and the smart people will be cutting across country. You need to be able to plan around mountains and rivers.

3. Extended Area

State Road MapWherever you might be going, it’s almost certain that once you get outside of your local area you don’t know all of the roads. Taking an extended area road map, like your state road map that I mentioned earlier, and the surrounding states if applicable, just makes sense. This can be an important tool, not only for roads to follow, but for noticing cities and roads to purposely avoid.

More?

Amazon has a decent selection of topographic and state road maps (just search for your state), but you will probably have to get your super local maps at the city information city.

More ideas?  A good compass or an all in one GPS/Radio – The Garmin Rino (in a class by itself).

Do you pack any other types of maps? If so tell us about them, and why you think they will be useful.

photos by: flickmor and backgarage


Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of SurvivalCache.com. After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

56 thoughts on “3 Maps That Should Be In Your Survival Gear”

  1. Great article – be sure to get laminated maps or have them laminated at a copy or office supply shop. You could use ziploc bags, map & chart bags or even ALOKSAKs, but they will eventually get moist/wet and fall apart.

    A trick we learned in the military is to take a map and cut it along the fold lines – you can then piece it back together with small gaps like laying tile – about 1/8" should be fine – this gives you a relief crease to fold a laminated map that would otherwise only be too stiff. You could also "book" your laminated map by creating indices on the edges to indicate what page to go to – some travel atlas books use such a scheme.

    Ideally, a map should be fold-able to fit in to a cargo pocket . Experience dictates that if you can't readily get to it you won't refer to it enough to use it effectively.

    Reply
    • Excellent suggestions Dustin.

      The only thing I would mention is be sure to label your map pieces if you are going to cut them up. You don't want to be wasting time trying to put the thing back together like a puzzle during an emergency.

      I definitely like the idea of laminating and marking up your maps. If laminated, you could use dry erase or permanent markers to draw out some of your routes. I might have to do another map article on these suggestions.

      Reply
      • Another old military trick I used to teach was if you can’t get it laminated use clear packing tape to laminate/water proof maps and “cheat sheets”. Learn to read a typographical map, if you don’t know how there are books at your local high end sporting goods, military training manuals at surplus stores and online .

        On any map I have be it an original, copy or hand drawn I always draw a modified arrow and an “N” below it pointing north.

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  2. latest photomap. The most recent one, if you can. it will show you the Earh as is and posably somthing missed on another map.or perhaps if that water source has dried up. Some photo maps are hybrids that have information that a regular map has. It won't have the topo information it isn't always easy to read, but you can see what you need to for you route recon.

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    • Jerry,

      That's a good idea. However, the only easily accessible satellite images that are available for most everyone and with good zoom are Google Satellite Maps, and there's really no good way to tell when they were last updated.

      Do you have a good source besides Google?

      Reply
  3. If you have one of those hand crank flashlights that have USB, the GPS out of your car would work great. In times of catastrophe, the power may be down but satellites will be in space for years and most car GPS's can be loaded up with topo maps as well as SD cards for e-books, pictures of documents and other pertinent information.

    Reply
    • Aaron,

      Thanks for the ideas. I've had a hand crank flashlight before but I was not impressed. I have never heard of one that had a USB slot, but that is awesome and I will definitely have to look into that.

      Reply
      • Both the ETON FR 600 and the Kaito Voyager KA 600 have USB ports but neither really does a great job of charging things like cell phones without a lot of cranking. However if one short call is enough to save your life, then who cares how mu have cranking it takes. The reviews on both these newest versions of these radios were all over the place so read lots of them before you go shopping.

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    • REI sells several ones of various sizes and we bought one that is multifunctional with USB port,flashlight, 7 NOAA stations, AM/FM, handcrank or solar powered etc..and I love it.

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  4. Great post. I ordered the detailed local map and extended area (state) map from Auto Club. I just found out it is free for members of roadside assistance. Now I just need to get those topographical maps.

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  5. If you can't find one with a usb charger (i never have) you can make one. a good guide is from usb hand crank
    http://usbhandcrankflashlight.blogspot.com/

    it's a simple guide and will help you give power to any usb device (usb is 5v most flashlights cranks do anywhere from 4v-6) if it can be charged by usb it will most likely work with this.

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  6. be sure to add a county map to your go pack. they are awesome for finding your way around in the rural areas where city and state maps are no help

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  7. Apartmentprepper makes a really good point. I have traveled quite a bit and would also add. that many hotels and hostels in bigger cities often have some of the very best local maps. These maps usually have a number of really nice features that a lot of maps dont have. they are generally pretty easy to read, have pedestrian travel in mind and generally have a larger number of landmarks labeled. I have noticed that one of the biggest problems with some maps is the amount of detail actually prevents ease of use. If you are stressed, in a rush, or have low light can you read your map? is it so big you draw attention to yourself? The best map is the map you can read. you can have all the detail on the planet but if you can't figure out where you are it is useless. They look cheap and often arn't insanely detailed, but time after time I am amazed how dead on give away tourist maps at hotels and hostels can be, especially in areas like rome that are notorious for baffling map makers. also they are free which is a plus if you are broke.

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  8. i found this article to be refreshing too. only one suggestion: included detailed local maps for any destination you mostly would be heading to. this is important if for instance the nearest hospital is in a town you rarely travel in.

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  9. If you are a Triple A member you can get local and state maps for free. All you have to do is call them or stop by a local store.

    Reply
  10. I am way too new at this. But I am a fast learner. I have a suggestion for the pens/wax pencils:
    as a teacher I use Vis a Vis pens on the overhead projector and it doesn't come off with out water, soo I thought they would be great. permenant markers are very unforgiving.

    Another suggestion is to try anything you mark your mark with in a place where it wont matter to see how it preforms, then decide which or combination of which to use.

    Reply
  11. Download Goggle Earth and make and print your own. In any format. I recommend WGS 84 in Universe Mercator. All based on the metric system of measurement. Figure out where you want to go, download the maps, print and set your coarse. If your printing something too big. Down load to a usb drive, take to a local print shop and have them print them on a pen plotter. Then laminate. Your all set to go.

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  12. One thing I haven't seen and one thing for those who prefer extreme low key travels, do NOT rely on GPS. These will let you find your way, when working, but will also allow others to find you. Think of the smart phones and "family locator" feature. If things go really bad and the raiders or other enemies have access to this technology; you will pinpoint your exact location for them and make their times easier and your harder.

    Reply
    • You are correct that the cell and gps can be used against you but it's not just smart phones. If the battery is in your cell, even if it's turned off, it can be turned back on remotely and be used as a listening device and if it has a camera that can be used also. Remember also that in WWII road signs were changed to confuse the enemy (non locals). The same can be done to gps maps with some internet warfare or the system could be destroyed as a military target.

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      • Changing road signs is a definite tactic. The Yugoslavs used it against the Russians I believe in the 1990's during one of the heat ups with the wall coming down. This is one reason why the military(s) are relying more on tactical markers (stickers of various colors) used on different road side items to fnd their way; i.e., blue leads to food warehouses, green to power plants, yellow to rail yards, etc. I made the colors and destinations up just to give an idea to the theory.

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  13. I have Forest Service maps for my county and the surrounding counties. They are water proof and fold nicely. The towns where I live are so small that if you get lost in them you deserve it. I probably should have a road map for colorado springs and pueblo if I happen to get caught there in a SHTF moment.

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  14. I also carry an "aviation" map…they are wonderful to use because it also shows many of the landmarks such as high tension power lines, radio towers, railroads, bodies of water (creeks, river, lakes and some ponds), both private and public airstrips etc. Some even include various radio frequencies to call for help or monitor communication. These maps can usually be found at the smaller county airports or anywhere that flight schools are taught. I got mine free from being a helicopter crewman, however I believe they can be had for about $20.

    Reply
    • It would be important to note that he is refering to VFR maps, as IFR maps would do you no good since they only show airports and jetroutes

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  15. There are highly detailed forest ranger maps with back roads not on regular maps. Also these maps show stations with first aid and supplies.

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  16. I'm new to your site, signed up last week. I must say I've enjoy the articles, I spend part of this past weekend reading over some of thing. ( A lot of them. ) A thought concerning maps to consider: If you are bugging out by vehicle, map your routes with whichever electronic source you want, including alternates and several miles on either side of your primary route. Down load this information to your laptop and a thumb drive as a back up. That way even if the net and or GPS system goes down, you will have electronic versions preset into your PC. Don't forget the car charger for the laptop.

    Reply
    • I like that idea but to add one thing about premapping out your buggout route or to your BOL, you should have at least 3 different egress routes to any or one of your destinations in case SHTF scenario is post earthquake (and maybe normal bridges are down/collapsed) or floods and impassible. My plan is to drive out my 3 egress routes to my bug out location after deciding on map which ways are the best and see if whats on the map is actually what is true to go. Then once my 3 egress routes are established and run via car, I will print off a master map for each 2 person group (mostly my family spread out) so they know what 3 routers I have and then plant one map and notepad at my home somewhere where only they know where it is so if I have to bug out before they get here, they will know where I have gone and will have the info to try any of the 3 routes. Always have a backup plan to your backup plan to your primary as I was taught in the Army.

      Reply
  17. All three maps can be condensed into one: DeLorme publishes state specific gazeteers that are topographic and give most roads. ymmv, but you might need to supplement with a more detailed road map in metro areas. Also, you’d probably want to write in road names.

    Reply
  18. Maps of railroad track routes might be useful too. In everything around you is going to hell the roads may not be safe to travel on. Trains run to and from large and moderate sized cities and could provide a safer, more stealthy alternative if you find yourself on foot. It also allows you to bypass checkpoints and road closures. My state DOT website offers them for download at no cost.

    Reply
  19. Look for a "gazetteer" of your state. These usually include elevations, topographical info, back roads, landmarks and streams. Mine was 11 x 15, which I reduced on a color copier to 5 x 7. I only copied the part of the state I needed, added an index to each edge, booked front to back, laminated and spiral bound. Cost me about $100 by the time I was done, but now I have a petite, waterproof, DETAILED map of both of my projected bug-out routes.

    Reply
  20. My map suggestions:
    (1) Jeppensen Low Level VFR Flight Maps
    (2) Any good three county area topo/hybrid of where you could be if/when SHTF
    (3) Most detailed secondary road maps you can find including those that have marked Wildlife Management Areas

    Plan routes from your work to a meeting place with your family. Insure they have maps as well and know how to use them to get to the rendezvous point. Don’t use major roads and avoid crossroads. FORGET GPS – it will be down. Use your compass which will work unless EMP/HEMP attacks have occurred. Then, and always, practice dead-reckoning often.

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  21. Hell of an article, thank u guys 4 continuing to put out so much imfo about things that are so usefull , only being a member 4 a couple wks, I'm constantly impressed with your web site, & so glad I found you'all. I've been workin const. over 30 yrs from WA state to Carolina's now, havin my home in Nashville with my wife & kids there, away from home 2-3wks @ a time & runnin 6-8hrs 2 get there, I've started lookin @ things differtly now, even after loggin over 500 thousand miles on the road in 9yrs u guys helped me put together a BOB & w/C&C I feel beter than I ever have, THANK YOU ALL @ Survival Cache, & now my oldest son is a follower, & he has his own arm load of guns also, we also learn so much from ur other members that's it's just ausom! Cant say enoughf, but I already have.Thank ya'll again. ( u can take the boy's out of the country, but u cant take the country out of the boy's ) Keepin AMERICA safe, Lock & Load people!

    Reply
  22. Does anybody carry watershed maps? You can generally find them online by state with a little searching and in most cases the PDF's can be printed for free. Granted a pdf is not the most detailed map but paired with a good topo they can point you in the direction of water. I personally have maps for Utah, Nevada, and norther Arizona because of my proximity to these states.

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  23. Personally I will not trust my life on a mapping system that takes batterries. The reason why, "if it takes batteries then your life is that battery." I do think the local,regiional, and state maps are really good ideas. The more info the map can give you the better, and less need to rely missinformation from others.

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  24. You all have overlooked the best maps out there. Thomas guides have a very detailed map of every large metro area in the USA. I live in the Pacific NW and even have a topo map that they make of Wa Or and Id and northern California, all in one map with a detailed index. These are always in EVERY vechicle that I own. They also show every fire and logging road on all BLM and state and federal forest land. Along with every county, state, and federal campground, wether it is an improved or primitive campsite. Some primitive ones are just a wide spot in the road with grass. I have topo maps from the forest service in all BOBs and in the trailer ( I have a modified teardrop trailer) that can go off road. Don’t get me wrong, Internet and free maps work good too, but being brought up before the Internet (45) learned how to read maps and orintation before I could hunt. Have never been without one since. Also a good truckers atlas from any truckstop, has every road in every state. That are also big enough to read when driving. Something else that is in every vechicle.
    One tip, if you can’t read a map or use a compass, go to your local Boy Scout troop and have them teach you. My sons troop had a 4 night class as a fundraiser. At the end of 4 nights you could be blindfolded and dipped off in the woods or country, and in a matter of minutes you could find your way out.

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  25. One thing i did was do a search for water supply's in my area on Google with pix so i could get a idea of where water would be . remember water is the most important thing you can find. And i found maps with creeks and rivers for all the areas near by .then i put it in a cloud and on a micro memory chip that fits in a phone. that chip is in my bob. and it also has a lot of survival info that i mostly found on this sight.o yea i also keep a copy on my smart phone.and i have a sun charger in my bob.the one thing i still need is a guide for edible plants and plants that could be used for meds.if you can help please send it to me at [email protected] all good info welcome and thanks a bunch..when my survival guide is complete i will post a link to my cloude so all could access.send me good info i will send you access to my cloude. god bless us all.

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  26. Here is something that may be of value depending on where you live .
    Get on ebay or go to antique stores and get your states map starting somewhere in the 1930s and then get another one in the early 1950s , then compare them with the modern map . What this will tell you is the location of ghost towns or structures that can be remade habitable and definitely off the beaten path . A lot of places will no longer be on the modern map , not only that the roadside structures that serviced the early motorists may still be intact but long abandoned ………………and forgotten . Everything was rerouted when the interstates came into play . A lot of places dried up and died ….. but the structures may still be there .

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  27. Ola amigos este site SURVIVAL CACHE esta cada dia melhor, leio todos artigos é muito importante meus parabens amigos Norte Americanos sucesso a todos…

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  28. i gota say im not a preper but i do beleive in preparedness im not saying the world as we know it is gonna end but its good to be prepared to survive on your own incase of natural disaster or even just enemployment your gonna go nuts if you spend all your time worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong but its important to reconise the things that happen every year to thousands of people and prepare acordingly have seeds of a variety of plants that you would want to eat that would also provide the protein and other things required by our diet also have enough food for a month after the time it takes for said food to grow thats what we call sane prepping

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  29. Awesome article! I trully agree with having the three types of maps, the only thing I have to say is ordered a custom Topo military map from My Topo Maps. Came fast and just what Iwas wanting. Sme readers might want to check that company out!

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  30. simply circle your location on your maps.draw more circles as to the range of fuel on hand.example firgure how far you can drive drive on 1/4 tank of gas then the next circle would tell how you far you can drive with 1/2 tank- repeat for 3/4 and full tank.all family members would then know the range of each vehicle in case of shtf.good radios on board will turn all members in to responce vehicles for the out of fuel family member.just saying-regards,reece

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  31. im not sure exactly where you would find such a thing, but a friend of mine has an old leather bound map book his dad left him. it contains all manner of old maps for the area i live in in northern california. there are maps for old roads that dont exist anymore, logging and skid trails that are little or never used and the most valuable maps are the hydro maps. they show all known water sources in my county from rivers and streams to lakes and ponds. they also show hundreds of springs, some developed, some not. i imagine the county records office would have these.

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  32. It might be a good idea to get large scale surrounding state maps as well, as well as a topo state map, along with the closer scaled maps.

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  33. Sorry I haven’t read all the comments, but you can go to mytopo.com and build a map of an area that you need for about 15-20 bucks. They build MGRS and lat long.

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  34. Just read this article and I have ta agree that maps of areas are important. While in the Military I learned how ta use a compass and I've passed this on ta others by holding map reading courses. the courses are simple and easy ta pass. I use my compass from the Military (I'm used ta this one) and the others use a compass of their choice.
    The course is laid out and then I give each one a piece of a map so they can link-up with another and then they find their way back. A lot of missions I was on we were given a piece of a map and that's where our mission was. Then we found our extraction point and went home. Some never made it out, but that's the way it was back then.
    I still keep a Military Compass in my truck as well as one that I can lay my paws on in a hurry. So, the article is great and has a lot of good common sense. the Topo also is one that better for overland travel. I like the idea of three maps for I try ta do things in three.

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  35. I may have missed this option in the discussion about laminating maps. As a teacher, maps were too big to go through the laminater so I’d fold it in half then run it through the laminater then I’d cut the lamination seal not on the fold so I could open it up, fold it the other way then laminate the other side then cut it open again. There, both sides are laminated. You just need scissors and a sharp hobby knife, and maybe a ruler for ensuring straight cuts. Hope this helps you. Be well.

    Reply

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