So what is it to be when you go on a cycle tour? The good old paper map or a modern day GPS device (Garmin, smart phone, Bryton, etc..)?

Bicycle Tour Navigation Options 

Some people get a little hot under the collar about this subject.  They think you have to chose a path and stick with it. What if your battery runs out? What if your map isn't detailed enough or doesn't cover the whole area?  The usual ping pong points of view.  Who cares.  I don't.  I always use both paper maps and GPS. They both have their merits and downfalls,  but together they are a formidable force that get you where you want to go with little trouble.  Why struggle when you can have it all :-)  But I guess life would be so boring if we all agreed, and this is one topic that will never be put to bed.

This post is me getting my two pence worth in and talking you through all the tools I use and how/why they have helped me.  Lets get started...


The good old paper map...

According to a popular online encyclopedia, the first map was created about 4000 years ago.  Since then they have been the old faithful for navigation in most people's lives - motorway maps, town centres, explorer, etc...  Who doesn't still have a big country map in the side compartment of their car door?  They are pretty simple to use for most people, reliable, they get you where you need to be (eventually in some cases!), and they collect dust in your home becoming part of your memories.  Like scars, they have a story to tell.  The scribbles, circled areas, tears, smudged food, blood, unknown marks and general wear serve as a reminder of all your past travels.  Even that family trip when you got completely lost and it nearly ended in divorce is never forgotten!

Maps for Cycle Touring 

Like looking through the book shop, I find there is something special looking at maps, especially when they are brand new.  I love the smell, crisp feel and beauty of seeing all these places I could visit.  Opening it out inspires you to visit as many places as possible and you start to dream about all the possibilities.  You see the contours of the land and immediately get a feel for the area and how your poor old legs could feel!  They are inspiring, rewarding and despite my love of modern technology, they will always be part of my planning and adventures.  Taking a handful out of the cupboard to write this post has already brought back fond memories of my early cycle tours and mountain bike adventures.  The circles around places to visit, the worn out corners and the creases from when I had a moment and stuffed it into my pannier!  Some may be dated now, but I don't want to part with them.

Some of my first cycle tours were planned and cycled using paper maps.  Sitting down at the kitchen table with a couple of drinks working out where I could get to in a day and where possible camp sites were.  Making pencils marks around the places of interest.  Moments like this really let you dream and start to visualise your cycle tour.  I still think it is a great way to plan a tour.  You can picture yourself cycling through an area, stopping for lunch, struggling up a hill, looking across the fields, before arriving at your next destination.

Paper maps and cycle touring...

Using maps while cycle touring has been largely good for me.  I work out the rough direction I want to cycle in and stop every now and then to make sure I'm on track.  This method is fine for the open roads when you don't need to make too many decisions.  Throw in a city centre into the mix and that is when I find it slightly more challenging.  And I find this always happens at the most annoying time; when I want to get somewhere fast! Especially when it is getting dark, maybe raining, and I have another 20 miles to my camp site.  On the flip side it this happens and I'm under no time pressure, there could be a town, city or beautiful area to discover by getting completely lost.

Maps for Bicycle Touring Navigation 

There is something special about sitting by my tent at the end of the day; hot drink (or maybe stronger!) in hand, I always dig out the map and see where I have been and check out the rough route for the next day.  This is a great time to reflect on where you have been, before moving onto the anticipation of what the next day will bring.

Let me get this out there - maps can be frustrating too!  They can get exposed to the elements.  They don't tell you where you are when lost - there is no magic button to track you!  And with cycle touring, it is likely you will need multiple maps for all the areas, especially if you want good level of detail.  Maps covering large areas don't work for me when cycle touring - they are simply not detailed enough for the back roads I like to use.

If you plan to solely use maps for cycle touring, then do go with your eyes open.  You may hit issues. But then again, you might want to get lost and discover some new and exciting places.  It comes down to you as a person.  Do you go with the flow when it gets a little challenging or do you stress out and let it ruin your day?


That is the end of Part 1.  Next week I'll cover off GPS devices and talk you through some of the great tools I use pre and post cycle tour. I'll also run through how I like to navigate my cycle tours too.

Click here to read Part 2 Now.

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Thank you for reading.

Cheers Pete