I am a serious, hard-core map and compass geek. There is just no way around that. Because of that, when I got offered the opportunity to test Maxpedition’s new Tear Away Waterproof Map Case with GPS/Compass/Strobe Pouch, I jumped at the opportunity. In fact, I was beyond excited to get to play with this product. I tested this product in two ways. First, I spent a week hiking and canoeing in the Adirondack’s. I had this map case setup on my belt every day, and used it quite extensively–much more than I thought I would, in fact. Second, I teach Land Navigation in my local outdoor club. The club itself is over 400 members and the class size for land navigation usually ranges between 10 and 16 students, so I ended up using and testing the map pouch there as well.
The class consists of two classroom sessions and an entire Saturday and Sunday in the woods. I took this case along for the weekend to teach that class. I will get to these two real life experiences with this product. But first, I would like to review some of its details. Let’s cover the easy stuff first. Aside the map case is a pouch intended to hold whatever you want. It would seem most likely to house your compass. Being that there are several ways to use this case, it could also be used to hold your GPS, phone, radio, etc. In my mind, the pouch has two really key features.
First, are these little loops inside. I have no idea what their original intention was, but I find that I love using them in tethering my compass to the pouch. This let me pull my compass in and out frequently with less fear of dropping or loss. I usually tether my compass to something anyway, so this was nice. Second, is the ability to get the flap the heck out of the way. As all people should, I consult the compass frequently. It is a serious pain to have to undo a buckle, rip off Velcro, just to get to your compass. If you have to go through that, you won’t be using your compass! The flap pulled out of the way (pictures below), allowed me to drop the compass in, pull it out quickly, and since it is tethered, I still was not afraid to lose it. Looking at the back of this thing just tells you that you can attach this to yourself, or almost any piece of gear you can imagine–especially with a couple of Maxpedition’s TacTie’s.
On to the most important aspect of the case; the map holder. The map holder is approximately 12” x 12”. The back is Maxpedition’s typical 1000-denier ballistic nylon fabric with Dupont Teflon fabric protector, and is triple polyurethane coated for water resistance. I am unsure of the material used for the clear front of the map case. Being that the map case itself has a zipper, I assume that it was very difficult to make sure that it would absolutely water tight. So, included with the case is a 12”x12” Aloksak dry bag. Think of it as a ziplock bag on steroids. The map case itself folds up from its 12”x12” dimension to about 5”x5” by 1” thick. The entire case size is approximately 7” wide, 4” high and 1.5” thick. The map case itself can be used attached to the larger unit, or can be removed all together and used separately. Hence the “tear away” in the product name.
It is attached/reattached using very substantial sized Velcro pads. Of course, the map case can easily be used attached to the main body. This is quite neat, actually. If you put your map in the case properly and have it mounted on your belt somewhere, you can actually unfold the map, and leave it attached. It is large enough you can just hold it up, look at, do what you need to do, then fold it up and put it away all rather quickly. Very nice!
When I first got this thing, I envisioned possibly using it in three different ways. Before I get into that, I want to first give a brief description of how I use a map and compass. I of course like to have my compass in an extremely handy location. If it is too much work to get at it, I will be less prone to use it. The more convenient the better. I also like to have a “working” map that I consult often. This one is going to get wrote on, folded, abused, and even possibly lost. I like to have at least one set of backup maps. Generally they are buried in the pack, and extra precaution is taken to protect them from the elements. A “just in case” set.
With that, my three scenarios I envisioned for using the setup are:
Method 1: Keep my compass in the pouch, and my “working” map in the case. I would continually open/close and fold the map section over and over again.
Method 2: Keep my compass in the pouch, have my “working” map in my hand or pocket, and use the actual map case for “back up” set of maps. This seemed like a great idea as the map case seems very protected, and is more in sight, rather than being in the pack somewhere.
Method 3: Keep my compass elsewhere, and just stick this whole thing somewhere else on my pack. I could use it for my “back up” map, and use the pouch to house my GPS. I am not a huge fan of GPS navigation, but do like it to gather trail data at times. I could stick my GPS in the pouch, let it log data, have a place to carry it, and still have my back up maps all in one spot. It’s a pretty neat idea, and I would like to use it that way, although, I never did on my outings.
I will also say that this was “theory” before my actual outings. They sounded good and I did use a combination of methods 1 and 2 often. However, I also did come up with another method that I had not considered. While in the Adirondacks, much of the hikes during the day were in the trees, looking at terrain features closer to you. For that type of stuff, I like the 1:24000 or 1:25000 scale maps. They give you good detail of local terrain, and are a good scale for foot travel. However, if you came to a clearing where you can see for miles, the stuff you were seeing was off the map. The same thing occurred while on a summit. Those conditions are less frequent, but it still cool to pinpoint yourself. For that, I liked the 1:62,500 map. I ended up keeping that map in my map case the entire time. That is the way I most enjoyed using this map in that type of terrain.
I had the 1:25000 scale working map in my hand, with a spare set in my pack. When I needed to consult a smaller scale map, I whipped opened the map case to check the surroundings. It was very nice! It was also extremely easy to throw the compass on the map (while keeping the whole thing attached to your body) and orient to my surroundings. I really liked using this thing!
Next, I used this case to conduct the weekend practical for the land navigation class that I teach. Basically, the practical is spending a weekend in the woods practicing the techniques. For this case, I continually had to show my own maps to students and tried a combination of methods. All worked very well. In fact, the first day out, we had bits of scattered rain, and having the case was a nice addition. Finally, I would like to go on and state some of the things that I learned while using this case–good and bad.
I have already commented on the fact that I am really happy that Maxpedition came up with a way to keep the compass pouch flap out of the way. It makes getting your compass in and out super convenient–meaning you will use it! However, there is still one small thing I don’t like. I have been looking for my “ideal” compass pouch for some time, and have not been able to find one. I have sent my idea through Maxpedition, but have not had any feedback on it. So, for now, I have been using an iPod case.
For me, I just want a simple pouch with Velcro, but no buckle closure. While I appreciate the extra security, I do not think it is necessary for non-military applications. In fact, I took the setup through some very difficult scrambles, with no issue. Second, I already mentioned how I tether my compass for extra security. I just do not feel the extra security is warranted here, that the Velcro does fine by itself, although the buckle does look cool. While using the flap tacked back, the buckled dangled in free space, and kept tangling up with my compass cord. The buckle also adds extra thickness to that part of the pouch, and I don’t think it is necessary. If it had not been there, this thing would be ideal. If this product were mine to keep, I would cut off the strap and buckle, and figure out a way to remove the plastic buckle from the lid.
Next, is just a learning curve in using the map case. The first thing I did was put my map in the Aloksak, stick that in the map case, and try to fold it up. I quickly realized that it was like trying to fold up an air mattress, but it was no biggie. You just have to be diligent in making sure you get all the air of the Aloksak before completely sealing it. It sounds easy, but can be a bit tricky.
Finally, is an issue I encountered with the map cover itself. During day two of use, I climbed to the top of Noonmark Mountain. Up there (at that time of year) the temperature was right around 40 F. I unfolded the map case to consult the 1:62,500 scale map, and noticed that the cover had cracked in the corners. I noted the temperature, because I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. Now, I have to admit that I am not the easiest person on gear. I am guessing that if I would take extreme care in where I folded the case, and how I did it, I could have got a little more time out of it before it cracked. But, I think even being super careful that this problem is going to come up. Still, I think my use was as real world as it gets.
One other design consideration for this case is the size. The map case seems an odd dimension to me. A larger map can be folded smaller to make it fit just fine. For me, most of my maps these days are coming off of computer software, and printed on 8.5” x 11” pieces of paper. I would LOVE to have a case tailored to those dimensions. It would make the overall setup lighter and more compact (along with the compass case buckle removal!)
However, after checking out the website for the producer of the Aloksak, it appears that they are not made in a size to accommodate that. In fact, they make quite a few odd sizes. It appears that the 12” x 12” dimension was the most suitable for this application, and I am guessing that the case was designed around those parameters. But, if you are going to put something on a “wishlist” it would be a case sized for 8.5” x 11” paper for me.
I am guessing that because of the Aloksak below, that this does not hugely effect the functionality of the case, as I did continue to use it for a bit. In fact, since the zipper on the case is never going to be sealed, I wondered if the case itself should contain a drain hole. The way it is designed, the Aloksak is the real protection against water. The rest will be great for abrasion and such. Still, it would be nice to have a material that could handle the repeated folding, but it does seem like a lot of stress in those folds. If it is temperature related, I have to say that I would indeed take this setup winter camping. So, it would also be nice to have it function at very low temperatures.
One final note is that if you are going to use this product regularly, I would stock up on the appropriate size Aloksaks. These things are like ziplock bags on steroids, but they are not going to last forever. You can see, mine started showing wear in the areas that the map case cracked. I would regularly test, inspect and replace them as necessary.
Overall, I really enjoyed this product and don’t want to be without one. However, like everything, I seem to be able to find stuff to nit pick at. Maybe it is justified, and maybe it is just me. Try one out and see what you think!