Route Making 101

Running in the wilderness can be intimidating for a variety of reasons. Knowing where you are, your route, and how to get to safety shouldn’t keep you out of the woods. I use a pretty simple setup to make sure I always have the maps, trails,and routes I’ll need on a run.

The tools I use are Caltopo and Backcountry Navigator Pro(Android).

Backcountry has a free trial, I believe, but it’s entirely worth the purchase. This app has allowed me to go places I’d never go before. Most importantly it’s saved my life a couple of times. Before beginning any adventure you should know how to use it. Get familiar with it before heading out.

Caltopo is an absolutely phenomenal tool and it’s free. I do pay for it but only because I’ve used it so much. They have a great knowledge base, here’s a link. I’d highly recommend going there.

First thing I do is head into Caltopo. My preferred maps are MapBuilder Topo, Thunderforest(Open Street Map) and the 2016 Forest Service map. I’ll also download aerial imagery for visual reference. Imagery is useful for finding clearings or knowing what kind of vegetation you’re heading into.

Once I’ve scouted the area using different maps I use the ‘Add Line’ tool which is located in ‘Add New Object’. Once you select the ‘Add Line’ tool there will be a small drop down in the top right corner of the map called Snap To. This is insanely useful. You can choose which map your line will snap to, or automatically follow. This makes creating routes along trails really easy. It saves so much time. The drop down lists OSM, USFS, Hydro, and Lines. I mainly use OSM and USFS because they’re what I need. Which one I use depends on the area and maps I’ll be using. They’re both accurate enough. Any yellow trails you can snap to.

The tools you’ll use while creating a basic route.

Once your route is all done you’ll need to label it. Labeling it will also end the route. You can change your line weight(thickness), color, and design. I tend to go with weight 4 and a color that stands out.

So you’ve made your route, labeled it, now you need to save it. You can save it by clicking ‘Save This Map’ under your login located in the upper left.

Save your route.

Your route and map are saved. Now you need to get your route onto your mobile device. The easiest way to do this is to export your route as a GPX file. You can find this option on the top menu bar located under ‘Export’. Most map apps will accept a GPX file.

Export a GPX file on desktop.

Now all you need to do is import your GPX file into your app. For me this is Backcountry Navigator. This app makes it as easy as opening the file because it’s the default handler for gpx files.

You’ll need to download your maps that your route goes through. For this I’m just going to link you to Backcountry’s tutorial on this. They explain it much better than I can. Click here to go there.

Now you have your route and maps downloaded. You can use these in airplane mode without issue. You should never get lost and you’ll always know where you are.

Have fun!