LATITUDE 40° Trail Map Series
BY BOB DORENFELD
July 15, 2013
Salida, Colorado, USA
5' 6" (1.68 m)
142 lb (64.40 kg)
I'm an active hiker, snowshoer, skier (Nordic & alpine), backpacker. I live at 7000 ft (2134 m) in the Southern Colorado Rockies where I hike between 7000 ft (2134 m) and 14000 ft (4200 m). I'll do from 4 to 12 miles (6 to 20 km) in a day, ranging as much as 5000 ft (1500 m) of elevation change. I carry up to 20 lb (9 kg) on day hikes, about 45 lb (20 kg) on backpacks. Overnights are usually from one to three nights. Often I hike off-trail on challenging talus, snowfields, or willow brakes, with occasional bouldering.
I love maps, so when I find one that's not only useful and accurate, but beautiful to look at, I want everyone to know. For navigation I hike only with printed maps - no GPS for me, no "smart phone", indeed no navigational electronics at all. (One concession is my electronic multi-function watch which contains an altimeter and barometer.) I get excited by the challenge of route-finding by reading the landscape and matching it to the map's contours and geographic features. Printed maps fold out and are easy to read, plus the batteries never run out! Read on for my review of a very useful topographic and trail information map that I bring with me on every hike I take in its coverage area.
Manufacturer: Latitude 40°, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2010-2012
Manufacturer's Website: Latitude 40, Inc.
MSRP: US$9.75 - 11.95
Number of maps currently available (as of July 2013): 21
Coverage area: Colorado, USA (17) Utah, USA (4)
Map Coverage: varies by individual map
Size: slightly varies by map - most are 38 in x 25 in (97 cm x 64 cm) flat; 8.25 in x 4.25 in (21 cm x 11 cm) folded
Construction: tear-resistant plastic
Scale: varies by map
Contour Interval: varies by map, but all include shaded relief base
All maps include UTM & latitude/longitude grid
Trails for mountain biking, hiking, fishing, OHV
Map reviewed here: Salida Buena Vista Trails
|Front of Map
Map Name: Salida & Buena Vista Trails - Recreation Topo Map
Map Coverage: all or part of 44 USGS 1:24,000 7.5-minute topographic maps
Map boundaries are -
North: Twin Lakes
East: Badger Creek
West: Taylor Park
Size: 38 in x 25 in (97 cm x 64 cm) flat
8.25 in x 4.25 in (21 cm x 11 cm) folded
Scale: 1:75,000; 1 in = 1.2 mi (2.5 cm = 2 km)
Contour Interval: 80 ft (24.4 m) with shaded relief base
Latest Edition: 1st (2nd edition is scheduled for later in 2013, see below in Field Use)
Latitude 40, Inc.'s own description says that they want their maps to be for everyone: "Hikers, bikers, ATVers, climbers, backpackers, no matter who you are, if you need a good map of the trails where you’re going, check us out." They claim that they extensively research each map that they design and sell, incorporating ground-proofing, local land agencies consultation, as well as talking to map users (like myself, see below in Customer Service). They use 7.5-minute data from the U.S. Geological Survey for the physical features shown on their maps. Latitude 40 says that they intend to update each map every two years to keep up with all the changes in roads, trails, and land accessibility.
All of the available maps are printed on what the company calls "waterproof, tear-resistant plastic", and they claim that they can withstand wear and tear while being used on the trail, and in snow and rain storms (see below in Field Use for my notes on durability). I found the surface of the map to be slick, but I could still write on it easily with either pencil or pen.
The maps fold out in standard fashion, with a vertical triple fold first, then with nine horizontal accordion folds (for the map that I tested). On the first vertical fold below the front is the small 4 in (10 cm) square index map covering the same area as the detailed map, but showing the 7.5 minute USGS quads used as the map base, and colored shaded-relief overlay with major features like towns, rivers, and county boundaries. Compass rose, distance scale (in feet and meters, with handy conversion formulae), and small locator map within the state are all here on the index page.
Back of the map with index:
|Back of Map
The other vertical fold above the map front is the legend showing all of the symbols used on the map, elevation color bands (in feet), trail difficulty ratings, company contact information, and a legal disclaimer on use of the provided map data.
On one of the inside folds is a feature that really sets this map series apart from many others - a brief description (in fine print, but still quite readable) of many of the roads and trails found on the map, complete with difficulty ratings, names of start and stop points, elevation change, map location, trail type (bicycle, foot, etc), a sentence or two about what makes this trail or road distinctive, plus route recommendations and warnings, if any.
|Trail Brief Descriptions
Unfolding the map to its full extent reveals all the details of shaded relief, contour lines, natural features and their labels, trails and roads, land ownership boundaries (National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, National Park, and other Federal and State lands). Also present is information that Latitude 40 provides but not usually found on outdoor maps:
- Trail and road difficulty ratings, from Easy to Most Difficult (in five steps)
- Trail and road mileages between intersections and landmarks
|Sample of Map Detail
Other data found on these maps includes all road and trail numbers, where trails are motorized (cars, OHVs or Off Highway Vehicles, motorbikes, or motorbikes only), mechanized (bicycles), or foot only (hikers, horses). All map borders include latitude/longitude markings and the UTM grid.
Each side of the unfolded map will include either the North/South or East/West of the areas covered, as appropriate.
The map I'm reviewing in the publisher's series is the Salida & Buena Vista Trails 1st Edition, the latest available as of this writing. This is my second summer season using this map extensively, but I also use it in all four seasons. This map handles easily, folding out and back in without much trouble. Eventually all of my maps will show wear and tear on the creases and corners as they get stressed during use, especially when folding them back on a crease to make a convenient size for carrying while also reading the area of interest. This map is no exception, but I am impressed with how well it's held up - I haven't had to tape any tears or fold-corners yet. The map has gotten slightly wet on several occasions but each time it was easy to wipe the water off and store the map in my pack.
First I'll make some general comments that apply to all of the maps in the series. I found the map visuals to be quite beautiful, it's really great to look at. Map designers need to assemble an incredible variety of visual information, most of it competing for your brain's attention all at the same time. Line widths, colors, and symbols should be designed so that I can pick out only what I want to see and ignore the rest, and I found this to be the case here.
The legend is perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Latitude 40 series of maps. As usual, when I get a new map I skip the legend and just plunge into the map details: can I read the contours OK? Can I separate the roads from the water courses? Can I distinguish mountains from valleys? Can I easily tell apart the types of roads from the trails? I was at first disconcerted by the mapmakers' choice of symbols for roads and trails - black lines (solid and dashed) are roads, red lines are four-wheel-drive roads, red dashed lines are mechanized (mountain bike) trails, and red dashed lines with yellow overlay are hiker-only trails. There are several additional road/trail variations found in the legend. However, once I used the map for several weeks running I learned these symbols and now I like them because I find them easy to quickly distinguish on the map. I prefer to hike trails not open to any motorized vehicles and really appreciate having this bit of information on the map. Sometimes I'll hike trails open to mountain bikes, but only if it's not a popular bike trail: the trail descriptions often state if they're heavily used by mountain bikes.
One small quibble: The mileage scale is not on the Legend fold of the map, but rather on the Index fold. Most maps do put the mileage scale with the rest of the legend, so it took me a couple of uses to remember where to look for the distance scale.
Since I am not a GPS user I cannot comment on the accuracy of the UTM grid. I do occasionally use my magnetic compass, and the indicated declination and latitude and longitude markings appear the be accurate as far as I can tell. I prefer to navigate by attention to topography, the sun, ecological setting, and of course my paper maps, so map accuracy is very important.
Public/private land boundaries are not shown on the map, as the general map description states. However, the mapmakers have taken pains to highlight only those roads and trails that are on public land, or that are open to the public. While I like to see all road and trails shown on a map if only for orientation purposes (and some of these are shown but not highlighted), I appreciate the effort taken by the designers to guide users towards legal access for trails.
Now, some more specific comments for the particular map under review. I have hiked close to 50% of the foot trails depicted on the map reviewed here, and of the ones I hiked, I can say that almost all of these trails are very accurately depicted for distance, location, and type of trail. For example, the Pass Ck Trail west of Salida is labeled 3.15 mi (5 km) long, which accords with my own on-the-ground estimate and is much more accurate than the U.S. Forest Service's own trailhead-posted length of 4 mi (6.5 km). The trail's creek crossings and changes in direction also match up well to my experience of having hiked this particular trail six times. The trail brief description says "Scenic high alpine lake. Trail is difficult in places. 4WD necessary to get to Pass Creek TH....Low to moderate use." All quite accurate! Although for some other trails I found that perhaps the mapmakers' "difficult" is my "moderate", or that 4WD is not really necessary to access the trailhead, these are judgment calls, and of course "your mileage may vary". But based on my experience hiking these trails it's obvious to me that extensive field checking and consultation were achieved in writing these trail descriptions.
Since no map is perfect, I am always on the lookout for inaccuracies - and indeed I found one error where a section of trail was not shown ascending a ridge in the right location, and some other mapped trails for which I could not see any tread or trail junction. See the below section "Customer Contact" to read how I was able to successfully deal with this issue.
I am happy with the coverage of this map: it's a large area (approximately 30 by 46 mi, or 48 by 74 km), which means I normally only need to grab one map for a selected hike. However, the trade-off is less detail for the land contours and the trail and road placements (for example, switchbacks are eliminated or generalized). But this problem is easily solved by my carrying the relevant map from another publisher at a larger scale, and printing out sections of USGS 7.5 quads which contain the best contour detail. (Maps are small, lightweight, and easy to stash, so I often carry two or three on hikes, since besides contour detail they often include other different data that can be useful in the field.)
While I haven't checked all or even most of the road mileages, the ones I have checked (Forest Service access roads to the trailheads) are within 0.2 mi (0.3 km) of the mileages indicated on the map (which are in tenths of miles).
I use Public Lands primarily as a hiker and Nordic skier, and do not mountain bike or drive motorized vehicles except for using my car to gain trailhead access. Therefore, I could verify the accuracy of the trail brief descriptions with respect only to my preferred mode of travel, by foot. I found the descriptions useful for hiking and for road access to the trailheads. But as mentioned above, they're also useful for me to decide which trails I'd rather not attempt given the possibility of bicycle or OHV users.
We have several long-distance trails in our area of the state, and both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail are nicely highlighted on the map.
So what can go wrong with a map? Well, I had an opportunity to use the Latitude 40 customer contact form on their web site because I found an error where a short section of the Kroenke Lake Trail was mislocated as going directly up a ridge instead of switchbacking. I also found several other mapped trails (in the alpine basin of Frenchman Creek, west of Buena Vista) that had no trace of a tread or cairns on the ground, nor any sign of the indicated trail junction. Latitude 40's website contact form was easy to use and, to my pleasant surprise, the company owners responded within one day and said that they'd checked and confirmed my observation of the Kroenke Trail, adding that they'd make the correction for the next edition. As it happens they are just getting ready to go to press for the 2nd edition of the Salida & Buena Vista Trails map, so my timing couldn't have been better. As for my other trail ground observations they are investigating whether those trails should even be shown on the map as Forest Service numbered trails, and where they should be located, if at all.
I am impressed with the mapmakers' responsiveness and attention to detail!
Overall I am very enthusiastic about this Latitude 40 series map covering the mountain range near my home in Salida, CO. The map I reviewed here, Salida Buena Vista Trails: Recreation Topo Map is now my constant companion whenever I hike in the mountains covered by it. I'll even consult it just for the road directions and ratings if I'm driving in an area but not hiking. The map folds out and back very well, and has proven to be very durable without tearing or ripping despite lots of use in the field. Despite a moderate learning curve for the trail and road symbols I found the map data to be easy to read and understand with minimal effort, and a pleasure to look at just for the big geographic picture. No map is perfect, and I am impressed with how the mapmakers dealt with my reporting on one trail location error and a couple of other possible trail numbering or location issues. Although they did not quite meet their deadline of publishing the next edition within two years of the first, publishing deadlines tend to be flexible, and I'm looking forward to the next edition of this fine map which should be available soon.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
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