4 Fundamental Steps for Learning To Draw Accurate Maps

Objectively, situational and location awareness is among the essential tools in a survivalist mental toolbox. Knowing where you are and perceiving potential hazards or threats allows you to calculate accurate responses to ensure your continued safety and perseverance. However, keeping a physical representation of landmarks and potential environmental dangers is better than relying on memory alone. 

Mapmaking or cartography has been used for centuries to identify landmarks and ensure accurate and safe travel. Learning to draw your own maps can prevent disorientation when fighting to survive in the wilderness or other confusing landscapes. While mapmaking might sound complex, the fundamentals are straightforward and easy enough to grasp in four steps.

1. Take Accurate Measurements

When in a survival situation, accuracy is critical. Whenever possible, you should use tools for accuracy to determine distance; however, in a true emergency, using what you have is acceptable, as long as the tool can provide consistent results. 

One tool or appendage that can provide somewhat reliable measurements is your shoe or foot. To gather accurate measurements, you cannot rely on average steps. Instead, you want to proceed using a heel-to-toe system. Place one foot directly in front of the other, like walking a balancing beam, touching the heel of one foot to the toe of the other. Count how many “feet” from one landmark to another.

Depending on your experience with the outdoors, you might be able to create a relatively accurate estimation from point A to point B. However, accuracy can be vital to survival, so consistency is key to the mapmaking process.

2. Research the Area

Before you travel anywhere, you should research the area. Websites about wild territories or hiking locations can provide valuable insight into the location, wildlife, water sources, acreage, vegetation, and so much more. Understanding these elements can help mapmaking by providing insight into possible terrain, weather patterns, and landscape.

While it is true that no amount of research will prepare you for the physical experience, knowing these elements before your journey can prepare you for specific survival situations. It can also provide a greater overview of the area so you can perceive landscape features when creating your map, allowing you to estimate distances to potential landmarks and gain your bearings.

3. Identify Landmarks

Even if you research an area, an emergency can alter your perception, making it hard to focus and grasp your approximate position in the larger area. In these rare instances, take the time to identify landmarks in the immediate area. You want to slowly establish a more detailed and expanded map by working your way out from the elements you know and understand. Eventually, as you work your way out, designing a more in-depth map, you will likely stumble across something familiar or connected to your research, allowing you to identify where you are in the larger area.

4. Use Aerial References and Tools of Permanence

Whenever possible, draw a map of the area you are planning to travel to ahead of time. You want to use aerial photos to make the process easier. Aerial views will allow you to identify specific sites, like clearings and waterways, before making your way to the area.

While it is fine to sketch out your map using a pencil, you always want to finish it with a pen or permanent ink. For ultimate protection against the elements, laminate your map, ensuring it will be in pristine condition throughout your trip.

As a survivalist and a prepper, do you have any other mapmaking tips? Leave a comment below.