Anyone who has spent any time in either the Marine Corps or Army, has probably used trusty map board with your map pens for land nav. I used them while at The Basic School (TBS) in the Marine corps and found them handy, especially if you are not paying extra money to have your map laminated.
If you follow my blog at all, you may have seen my recent post about planning my backpacking trip through the High Sierra up to the top of Mount Whitney. This trip will take a bit more “active” navigation then my Grand Canyon backpacking trip, because in the Grand Canyon, once we got to the Colorado River, we pretty much just had to follow it. I really didn’t need my map out a lot other than the first day, and toward the end of the Grand Canyon trip.
Since I will not just be following a massive river for most of my trip through the High Sierra trail, I wanted a way to keep my map out but without destroying it through all the elements.
In my initial laziness, I decided to do a Google search and try and find a “fancy” map board that would be awesome. I didn’t really find any map boards for sale online, and since I don’t live in Virginia anymore the Gypsy was not an option (TBS marines know this store all to well).
In my Google search I did find a blog called Carrying the Gun. I found a post about how to build your own Plexiglas map board. This looked exactly like the ones I used while in TBS and worked well, helping me get through land nav fairly easily.
From my experience using map boards and binder clips, my one gripe was with bigger maps the edges are puffing out of the edges, and non laminated maps can get pretty wet.
I wanted a somewhat scaleable map board which could take a small map just printed on an 8″ x 11″ piece of paper or a gigantic 36″ x 48″ map, like the one I just received for my High Sierra to Mount Whitney hike.
So I decided to tweak the design of the one from Carrying the Gun, and build my own. Before I move into the instructions, here is a picture of my finished product.
A few initial things to point out, with my above design are, each of the 4 sides are covered, and not part of this large map are sticking out. This is by no means 100% waterproof, but it seems like it offers some great all around protection to the map. I just built, this so I haven’t gotten to test it yet 😉
To give you an idea of how big the map is inside, here is a side view and a picture of the map unfolded completely next to the map board.
Instructions for Building
Now that we discussed the map board and qualities a little bit, lets go over how to build it. I went to my Lowes don the street to pick up supplies, you can pick up the items below at any big hardware store.
- Gorilla Tape
- Scissors / Sharp Knife
- 2 x Lexan (Poly carbonate Sheet)
- Industrial Strength Velcro
Gorilla tap is some of my favorite tape, its strong, sticky and waterproof. I have used this in the field in pouring rain and was able to reseal MREs even when the tape and MRE bag were soaking wet. I highly recommend Gorilla tape, but You can use what ever your favorite industrial tape is.
I bought one pack of Industrial Strength Velcro for each of the four sides. I used all of the fuzzy side velcro pieces, but I cut the hard parts down to smaller sizes.
For the Poly carbonate Lexan, you obviously want two of the same size. These will be the back and front map protectors. I chose two 8″ by 10″ , it was all they had pre-cut at Lowes when I went. I am on the fence, on if I want a slightly bigger Lexan next time. I would like it to be maybe a few inches bigger, but at the same time, I like the size for hold in one hand while navigating. This works well for my first iteration, I will have more comments to its size once I take it out into the wilderness for testing. Here are pictures of the supplies I purchased:
Step 1: Making the Hing
For step one we will take a look at the Hinge. The part on the left side that will be flexing each time we open and close our map board. You can pick any side of your map board to be the hinge side. I chose one of the short ends on the left side, so my map board would open like a book in portrait.
First measure out a length of Gorilla tape for which ever edge you pick to me your hinge. For this entire process, I always made each initial piece of tape long, and trimmed it once I had it on my glass.
I then placed the cut piece of Gorilla tape flat on my counter and attached the first piece of glass. I will get to the piece down the center after the image.
After attaching the first piece of Lexan to the roughly bottom third of the tape, I cut another length of Gorilla tape. I then cut a third off this piece of tape to run down the center of the spine.
I wanted this map board to be able to hold big maps that would be pretty thick when folding them up. This is why I did not just place the Lexan to the center of the tape. I wanted a gap so the spine had some size. I cut a piece of Gorilla tape to place down the center so that when we attached the other piece of Lexan to the top third there would not be a sticky center. I plan on using this map board a lot, and do not want the entire inside of the hinge to be covered in dirt, sand or what ever else I encounter in the wilderness. AS I said earlier, I wanted a “High Quality” map board… that is if you can call two pieces of Lexan and bunch of Gorilla tape slapped together high quality.
Once the center piece of tape was applied, I attached the second piece of Lexan.
Step 2: Top and bottom Covers
The top and bottom covers are what start to make this map board unique. These edge covers are what allow you to place thin or thick folded maps into this map board and help protect the map from weather.
First cut two equal lengths of Gorilla tape that are a tad bit longer then the length of your Lexan.
Once you have these two pieces cut, lay them flat on a table side by side. We are then going to cut a third piece of equal length and cut it and half. This piece will be used to attach the first two pieces of tape, making one wide piece of Gorilla tape. We will then attach it to the top piece of Lexan. This is very similar to making the spine/hing but we are making it twice as wide.
As you can see my middle piece of tape attaching the first two was not exactly cut long enough…. like I said “High Quality”. So I did a little patch work in order to not waste tape. Gorilla tape is not the cheapest, but you get what you pay for so its worth the price. The bottom cover I was able to make much better. In the final product my small mistake is not noticeable.
Next we cut another two pieces of equal length tape. These pieces will be used to cover the stickiness just like we did when constructing the spine. Both these pieces will also overlap the piece down the middle which is holding to the bottom pieces together.
When Applying the first piece line it up and directly bring it up to the edge of the Lexan.
Applying the second piece is a little bit more challenging and takes some steady hands. You do not have the edge of the Lexan to line it up perfectly, you have to line it up with your eyes and steady hands. Be careful, because it ifs not straight, you cant simply unstuck two pieces of Gorilla tape attached at their sticky ends. Once applied, it should look like this with no stickiness showing on the top cover.
Next we are going to attach the soft pieces of Velcro for the top cover. Fold over the back piece of Lexan and lay flat. Pull the top cover we just made over the back piece of Lexan. Pull the top cover tight and mark on the Lexan where the edge comes down to. This is going to be the bottom end of the soft Velcro. Once marked apply the soft Velcro to to the back piece of Lexan.
The second half of the Vecro, which I call the hard part, came at the same size as the soft velcro pieces. I cut mine into smaller pieces. I did this because I wanted to be able to attach to either the top or bottom part of the soft Velcro. This is what allows you to have different thicknesses of folded maps in this map board.
For example, if you have a thin piece of paper with a small printed out map, you would pull the covers over tightly, and they hard Velcro would attach to the farther end of the soft Velcro. If you have a bigger map that folds thicker, you would need the sides to be thicker and thus would attach to the near end of the soft Velcro.
Next, trim up the excess Gorilla tape from the ends, and that completes the top cover. For the bottom cover, just repeat every step we just did for the top cover and just attach it to the bottom of the Lexan.
When both the bottom and top covers are complete, this is what it will look like fully open, and with the back Lexan closed.
Step 3: Right Side Cover
Building the right side cover is essentially the same as building the top and bottom covers, except you will use less Velcro. Follow the same steps of making the wide Gorilla tape,
Once complete, trip up the right side cover, and you are now complete with your “High Quality” map board! Here are two pictures of the complete Map Board with no map inside, fully opened and closed.
Now that we are done, lets talk about placing your map inside! To place your map inside, place your map board face down and open all the Velcro covered openings.
Fold your map to roughly the same size of your map board and place on top of the front piece of Lexan with part of the map you want to see facing down.
Next fold over your back piece of Lexan:
Next close the top and bottom covers, and secure their Velcro.
Lastly fold over the right hand cover and attach the Velcro:
Once all the covers are closed and secured, you can now flip over and use your map board to navigate the back country wilderness! Once I get out on my next backpacking trip, I will report back afterward on how well it handled the ruggedness and the elements.
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