In addition to this section, please also read the Navigation chapter in the Gear Guide (pages 122-133) and this post on my recommended map system.

We will have three types of maps with us:

1. Paper small-scale topographic maps

For five years my go-to platform for creating detailed maps has been CalTopo. It’s intuitive and powerful, and being improved all the time. The mapsets for all of my guides — including the Yosemite High Route and Pfiffner Traverse — were made with CalTopo.

At the trailhead I will give each of you color 11 x 17 maps for the route, with a gallon-sized freezer bag to protect them. When I print the maps, I follow these print specs.

If you’d like a sneak peak of the maps, view a sample. The annotations are borrowed from my guidebooks or based on first- or second-hand route information.


You have been given a free 6-month Basic subscription to CalTopo. In a follow-up section I will distribute redemption instructions and coupon codes (which are location-specific).

2. Paper large-scale recreation map

Normally I use a Trails Illustrated map, or similar. One of your guides will have one, like #257 for Gates, #206 for Yosemite, and #200 for Rocky. These are helpful for pre-trip planning, big picture mid-trip route discussions, and and identification of distant landmarks. 

If you are following only established trails, a large-scale map is often adequate. However, the topographic information is very compressed, making it difficult to translate the map to the field, and the field to the map.

3. Digital maps and imagery on my smartphone

This will be discussed at length in the next section