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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Plot an Off-Trail Route

Try these 10 tips for cross-country travel.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan


Scout the Terrain

[[Letters correspond to map on page 1.]]
Sketch your route with the software's pencil tool. Use the terrain view (above, left) for big-picture scouting and the topo view (above, right) for more detailed planning. Below treeline, plan to hike on ridges, in wide valleys (A), and on slopes with little vegetation. Steer clear of creek bottoms, which can be thick with brush.

Above treeline, follow open ridges and avoid supersteep terrain (B). The best peak routes usually trace a gully to a pass (C) to a ridge (D) to the summit (E).

Avoid unnecessary roller-coaster hiking by plotting your route along a contour line–a longer distance, but much easier walking.

Find a "handrail," an easy-to-see feature parallel to your direction of travel. Cliffs, streams, or ridges help you navigate in the field; just remember, for example, that the ridge should always be on your left.

Mark any potentially sketchy areas that require on-the-ground scouting. Making a summit push? Look for and mark bailout routes in case of bad weather or emergency.



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