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Digital mapping

Digital mapping applications allow you to view maps on the screen and plot waymarks and routes on those maps. In most cases you can export the waymarks and routes to a GPS device, which saves you from having to enter the locations manually.

The most popular digital mapping applications, like Memory-Map, Anquet, TrackLogs, RouteBuddy and Quo, display 'proper' Ordnance Survey maps. Most are PC programs, though a few, such as RouteBuddy and Garmin's Basecamp software, can be installed on a Mac. There are also a handful of online route planning services, though to use these effectively you need a reasonably fast internet connection.

MemoryMaproute.jpgFrom a hill safety point of view planning your route on a digital mapping application can be very helpful. Most applications allow you to create a route by clicking on the map to build up a series of waypoints. The application will work out the total distance and the total height gain, along with an estimate of the time the route will take. You may want to experiment with the average speed settings so that it matches the time you do typically spend on a walk.

There are one or two points to be aware of. If you plot the route with a minimal number of waypoints the distance measured will be an underestimate, since it won't take into account the meanders on the actual pathway. The height gain, on the other hand, is likely to be an overestimate, as the straight line between waypoints may take you over contours when in reality you may be traversing around them. Even so, using a digital mapping application to make an estimate of the route length and height gain is likely to be more accurate than any other method, providing you make sensible adjustments for the above.

To avoid this issue altogether it is tempting to put in lots of waypoints but if you do this you should simplify the route before exporting it to a GPS. It is much better to have a small number of key waypoints in your GPS than a plethora of them along every step of the way. Doing this is likely to be a distraction from the map and compass work which should be your main method of navigation.

Mapping applications usually allow you to print out sections of map, with your route marked on it, onto standard A4 paper. You can even get waterproof paper onto which you can print with a normal inkjet printer. Such paper printouts are very handy as they can be folded up and kept in your pocket as you walk. However you should always carry a full paper map so that you can view a wider area should you need to - and also have a backup in case that little bit of paper gets soaked or blown away!

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