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A Map, A Map, My Kingdom For A Map

Great post from Big Country on the need for **physical** maps should the SHTF: Map And Area Studies: You Need to Read This. Sez BCE:

Everybody, and I mean everybody… every swinging Richard out there has gotten faaaaar too comfortable with their Phone and iGizmos and whatnot in regards to navigation and such things. The reliance on the Google Map feature for LandNav means ‘regular good ole fashion LandNav’ has fallen by the wayside.

All of the cloud based stuff is awesome as long as it works but when you really need it, by definition that stuff won’t be working. Then what?

As is my pattern, a little nostalgia for ya. Back in my early married years we were always members of AAA, partly for the roadside assistance back before that became standard for auto insurance policies, but also for their “TripTiks”. If you were going somewhere you could go to your local AAA office, tell them your plans and they would draw out the best route for you, provide you with roads maps and other goodies. Even later on when GPS became ubiquitous we liked having maps, there is a stack of half a dozen Delorme Atlas/Gazetteers right next to me covering nearby states. My wife has always been my navigator, I drive and she checks the map.

Of course having a map and being able to actually read it are two different things. One of my favorite scenes from Band of Brothers is when Captain Sobel gets lost, again, because he can’t read a map and Luz pretends to be the major and gets him to cut a fence, letting the cattle loose.

“Why is there a fence here? There should be no fence here.” It is pretty clear that if Sobel had gone on the jump with Easy, someone would have shot him in the back of the head as soon as they hit the ground.

There is some great discussion going on in the comment section of Big Country’s post, you should check it out and ask yourself if you could navigate in your area of operation if the lights went out and the satellites stopped sending data. There are lots of free resources out there like topoView maps from the USGS, take advantage of them now while you can. Get yourself some paper maps, I just ordered a new Delorme Atlas & Gazetteer for Indiana and most state tourism bureaus will send you a free roadmap if you request a vacation guide. I already have maps for Montana and Oregon for our planned trip out West, still waiting on Washington and Idaho.

Depending on your situation, you should also be doing some basic AO (area of operations) work. For me this is pretty easy, we are out in the country and I drive for a living so I know all of the roads and can get home from just about anywhere I might find myself on a normal day. We don’t have a lot of sketchy areas around here but we still have some people who are on /theotherside/ and some generic malcontents. I wrote about this last year in this post I recommend you read: Proactive Pest Removal

Without getting into specifics, there are definitely people who live in my area of operation that I will work with and provide protection to. Then again there are also, without getting into specifics, people I have already identified in my mind that are going to be immediately problematic.

For example, even out where we live there are a handful of sex offenders on the registry and several of them are listed as “violent sex offenders”. These aren’t guys who are flashers, they are rapists of some sort. My general policy is that while some criminals can be reformed, violent sex offenders almost never can be. These guys have likely been eyeballing young girls and children for months or years, waiting for an opportunity. What do you think a convicted rapist is going to do as soon as the fear of being sent back to jail disappears? 

Sex offenders are obvious. There are others, and I assume most people have them as well no matter where they live. The sketchy people, the guys you suspect of minor crimes like petty theft and vandalism but no one has caught them. There are a few of them around here, guys you wouldn’t trust any farther than you could throw them under ideal circumstances, but under WROL circumstances? They would turn in a hurry. 

Out in rural America there are unfortunately a fair number of people who are addicted to opioids or meth. When they can’t get their high easily, it is unlikely they will just say “oh well” and turn to painting or something. They will be far more prone to start hitting house after house looking for medicine cabinets with opioids. When they have broken into your home and are already inside, it is getting pretty late to do something. 

I think it is a pretty good post and it got lots of good comments.

Those who live in more urban settings have a whole different set of problems, like how to get out if everything goes tits up. If things go bad, they will go bad fast. Last night I was watching World War Z, not a great movie, and in the beginning of the zombie outbreak Brad Pitt and his family are stuck in traffic in a large city (Philadelphia?) and somehow commandeer a shitty old RV and next thing you know they are in the country. Magic!

In the real world, unless you really know your way around the city, the vehicle you are in might quickly become your coffin. People get super angry in mild traffic but if the wheels are coming off, angry people will get desperate and violent in a hurry, especially in vibrant diverse neighborhoods. You need to know how to get out of town, taking back alleys and less common roads, before things go bad. Or better yet, follow my advice from 2019 and Bug Out Now. Having the coolest bug-out bag and an awesome every-day-carry set-up won’t mean shit if some gangbanger shoots you in the back while you are trying to escape an urban hellhole.

There is more, a lot more, to being prepared than having the most tacticool AR-15 and pallets of ammo. Knowing how to get around your area of operations is near the top of that list and having maps that don’t rely on electricity and satellites is a must-have.


  1. Bean Dip Tray

    Use your sailfoam (cellphone) so they will never know what you are looking at and where you are going.
    Darr, derp.
    The old ways are the only way to survive the back to the primitive of burning it all down in North Venezuela.

  2. mike fink

    I am enjoying the commentary over at BCE too. He is dead on about the technology, and it seems the extent of the over-dependence on it might be even worse then we all imagined.

    I had some thoughts on the subject that might feed the conversation.

    Beyond understanding map reading, azimuths, and declination conversions, the full military grid system may be of questionable utility to small groups and particularly individuals. The whole point of that system is to enable remote parties of any size to communicate the specific location of something to other friendlies. If you are by yourself, as long as YOU know where you are, and your physical presence agrees with the map, there is no need to know what the 8 digit grid co-ordinates are. Even with a small group, where sending location information from one group to another may be required, (such as a patrol reporting something to a basecamp), there is a risk assumed in using the military system if your communications can be intercepted and interpreted by an enemy. Fire support is not a realistic partisan/survivalist asset, so the need for 50 meter pinpoint accuracy in fixing something’s location is also questionable. If the opposition is using that system and they are broadcasting raw grid co-ordinates in the clear, then it makes sense that you should be able to plot them on a map in your TOC, but that would be an OPSEC failure on their part and such traffic would likely be encrypted or masked with coded references, (Ie; We have reached phase line Bob). It takes a considerable amount of time beyond simple map reading and landnav to build up familiarization with the military grid system and institutionalize it in an organization. It might make more sense to use the basics of that system and draw up you own grid in your AO with random grid designators that only your group is privy to and selectively hand out the matching maps. Just a thought. I would be curious to see what others think of this subject

  3. Scot Irish

    Not everyone should know how to land navigate with a compass. This would be when the “dindu” actually “dindunuffins”.

    That said, thank you for the information. Most appreciated!

  4. realwesterner

    AAAs TripTiks were pretty handy. My wife usually co-pilots from the passenger seat with her smart phone. We keep an atlas behind the seat just in case. Having the discipline to “pre study” the map always pays dividends. Manifesting that discipline when you’re road weary is about as easy as pushing round bales through three feet of snow. It can be done, but it always seems like a monumental chore. We do not and will not ever again fly.

  5. Greg

    I still have my E6-B and know how to use it. My map and compass training started in Boy Scouts sixty something years ago, and my pilot training was long before the computer/GPS era. Aviation sectional charts are fascinating, with an incredible amount of information on them. Down at the other end of the scale are topo maps. With a UTM grid overlay, you can locate to within a 100 yards or so.
    What BCE is focusing on is very local AO maneuvering, and plastic laminated to boot. He can operate at night, in the rain if necessary. Prepping ahead, he can plot out plans b, c, d, etc. for alternatives at any point.
    When my daughter and her husband were visiting us here in the Oregon Outback a few years ago and were planning a cross country adventure, I asked if she had maps. “No, we’ll just google it up if we need to.” “No, you won’t I said.” Much of this country here is ‘no service available’, otherwise known as ‘radio free Oregon’. I gave her my atlas, and made sure that she could at least read it for highways and distances.
    We made an RV trip a while back from Oregon to Arkansas and back. I spent hours beforehand with GoogleMaps, zooming in and out, and printed out a couple hundred pages into a three ring binder with dividers by state. I knew well in advance for every fuel, meal, and rest stops, as well as alternatives for the entire route. Pulling a trailer, I wanted to know that I could get back on the highway without getting jacked around trying to maneuver the thing. It worked well for me.

  6. Gryphon

    That was an Excellent Article by BCE, his stuff is always Practical, as opposed to a lot of the ex-mil Tacticool Ruck-Humpers’ Nonsense. Knowing your immediate AO and how to ‘get around’ in it, if any given Route is Blocked, or too Dangerous, is the most basic ‘Land Navigation’ requirement. Having Printed Maps is ESSENTIAL, as is NOT relying on that .gov Spy Device, the ‘sail fone’. (Seriously, why Anybody uses one of them escapes Me)

    The only ‘Electronic’ device I would use is a GPS-Only receiver (NO two-way Links to Anything) and then, you still need Maps to Orient yourself to the Area.


    Maps are a GREAT prep item. If the shizzy hits the nizzy, local and regional maps will be most helpful. Great post sir!

  8. MN Steel

    If you don’t know how to work a map and compass, find a forester, but not an “office forester” that crunches numbers or sits in meetings all day, a real field forester that doesn’t like people but will talk to those he meets along the way.

    The forester should be at least just-shy of 50 years old, as that forester would have been trained in the old ways and actually used those ways in the field.

    GPS was indeed a thing in the mid-to-late 90s, but what you received from the satellites was scrambled and you had to FTP your results to the nearest base station (Upper Midwest was the USCG station in Duluth) and get back corrected results, so it wasn’t useful in the field except setting property corners.

    If the forester is an Eagle Scout, graduated before 2000 with industry field experience while in school, and possible military experience, he probably knows how to use a compass and map.

    Almost all the recent graduates use electronics exclusively, very few have a Plan B other than “guess we go back when the GPS works” when they run out of batteries.

  9. Linda S Fox

    Get to know the guys who run your local high school’s JROTC program. They DO teach the old-fashioned ways of getting around, and the kids that get out of those programs can be a valuable resource.
    In fact, network with the local vets who have field experience. You could learn a lot. Look for the guys who are still functional, and perhaps volunteer locally.

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