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By Lucy Higgins • March 17, 2023

Long gone are the days of getting unintentionally lost or off-track while on the trail. Thanks to satellite phones and GIS mapping, communication and navigation are more advanced than ever. While leaps made in technology have undoubtedly made it easier to find—and remain on—the proper trails, there are many ways to create and utilize a good map.

Take Bill Dart’s approach. An avid moto rider, Dart resides in Idaho and creates motorcycle-oriented trail maps for the southern part of the state. Each map begins with a USGS topographical map, before Dart adds roads and trails “color coded for route type, Single Track Motorcycle Trail, ATV Trail, Jeep Road, Main Road, and Non-Motorized Trail,” he explains on his website. Within those routes, he also denotes their difficulty with his rating of: “easiest,” “more difficult,” “most difficult,” and “gnarly trail,” and is quick to warn that this scale is based on Idaho terrain, stating, “what I label are “more difficult” may be what is called “most difficult” in other areas.”

Photo of a Bill Dart Map from

Dart currently focuses on roads accessing single track, he’s beginning to branch out to include “jeep road suitable for dual sports, adventure bikes, ATVs and side by sides.” Having such specific delineation in maps may seem like overkill, but in a region where there are hundreds of miles of single-track trails and what feels like as many user groups, it’s paramount to know not only where to go, but where not to. Having a map that clearly outlines the routes that are safe to access and are designed to support you and your equipment can make the difference between a great day in the outdoors and a potentially dangerous situation.

And just as important as what the map outlines is how the map is constructed. Considering these maps will be tucked into packs and pockets, trekked across miles and, ideally, used for years, they need to be as durable as possible. For Dart, he creates his maps on foldable and weather-resistant map paper, and makes sure that each map is double sided so that the flip side has an adjacent area outlined, should you wander a little farther than intended. 

Annie Spratt / Unsplash

The logistics of a well-constructed and designed map are crucial to a day on the trails, but, of course, they mean nothing without the proper education in how to read them. Before venturing to the trailhead, take the time to understand the map’s key and how to read the topography you’ll be venturing into. As you delve into the route you plan to take, be sure to check out the intersecting and nearby routes. Are there alternative routes, should you run into a trail closure or an unexpected wildlife encounter? How up to date is the map that you’re using, and have you cross referenced it with a more modern one? If the map you’re consulting is a hard copy, consider checking in with online forums to make sure that there haven’t been significant changes in between when your map was produced and when you will be heading out. 

The best map in the world can’t inherently decrease risk on the trail, but, with the right knowledge, it can be a resource to help you navigate your environment. Knowing which trails are intended for your user group and the difficulty of the terrain you’re heading into are basic safety measures. And as Bill Dart is proving with his motorized-use maps, weather-proof, up-to-date map that you can easily reference are a must-pack on a day out.