If you hike in England or Scotland, it’s pretty common to see hikers wearing a map case around their neck. But map cases are relatively rare in the United States. They can be quite useful however if you have a lot of maps that you have to manage or you need to check them frequently because you are bushwhacking or hiking cross country – not something most Americans do though. They’re also quite practical if you need to carry a GPS, compass, and notebook and want a convenient way to keep everything together.
I reckon you see fewer map cases in the US because most hikers here hike in areas with well-marked, blazed, or signed trail systems. Heck, some people even hike the Appalachian Trail without maps, although I still carry mine because I like taking detours to scenic viewpoints. But US hikers hike almost exclusively on public lands, in National, State, and City Parks and Forest, where trail systems are well managed and easy to follow, unlike the UK and Europe where hiking routes run through farmers’ fields, small villages, and vast private estates, and there’s no one central authority responsible for the entire trail system.
But a map case can be very handy if you hike in a location that has a lot of intersecting trails and dirt roads where it’s easy to take a wrong turn, where you’re unfamiliar with the landscape, or where many of the land features look alike, like parallel ridges and rounded hills. They’re also very handy in places where it rains all the time and where maps printed on waterproof paper are less available, which explains their popularity in England, Scotland, and many other countries of the world that still print maps on paper.
Most of the waterproof map cases you can buy in the United States are intended for coastal kayakers or long-distance cyclists, not hikers. You can tell because they have lashpoints designed to attach to kayak rigging or loops to attach to handlebars. What they’re missing is the all-essential strap to loop over your neck so you can hold your map case in front of you and refer to it frequently.
When choosing a hiking map case, there are a few attributes to consider:
- the size of your maps and whether they’ll fit without excessive folding
- whether the map case has a neck lanyard
- whether you can see through both sides – which is quite useful
- if the material is flexible in cold weather
If you do live in the US, there is one good waterproof map case worth checking out, the Sea-to-Summit Waterproof Map Case which comes with a lanyard, is transparent on both sides, and remains flexible in cold weather. After that, you have to go to Europe to buy a good map case. The best map cases are made by Silva and Ortlieb but are difficult to acquire unless you buy them in Europe.