How to Read a Map

Know How To Read A Map
And You May Stay Alive
 By Tread Trainer Tom Severin

Photo by Audrius Meskauskas

It’s easy these days to rely entirely on a GPS receiver to direct you during a trip. Just program in your destination, and let the friendly voice and digital map guide you along the way. But like any electronic gadget, a GPS unit has its limitations, and you can end up in trouble if you’re not careful. Plus, they can lose power or break, leaving you stranded if you don’t have a back up.

GPS units are of limited use when you’re driving off road. The maps and other data they provide tell you how to get from Point A to Point B, but they say nothing about the quality of the roads. This became painfully clear to a group that was traveling in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in early August. Instead of a leisurely ride, these folks found themselves being led down the wrong roads, many of which were barely passable, and way off course. They ended up at the edge of a cliff, where they spent the night before being rescued.
The GPS system offered what appeared to be the most obvious route, which normally is the most direct, but it could not account for the quality of the roads. Their vehicles got stuck in sand, and in their attempt to backtrack they ran low on gas. But they were lucky: they got out alive.
Driving off road requires more than just a command of a 4WD vehicle. You need a good topographical map to help you navigate that difficult terrain. Available from numerous retailers, a topographical map shows various features such as hills, streams, and gullies, and provides a better idea of the paths and roads you’ll encounter. If you don’t know how to read a topographical map, I suggest you find someone who can teach you.
One of the best topographical maps is the 7-1/2 minute series published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). This is a very detailed map at a scale of 1:24,000. Most GPS mapping software is based on the work of the USGS.
If you are used to using latitude/longitude formats with your GPS in degree, minutes, and seconds, you should become familiar with the UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) system. It makes pin pointing your location on a map (or vice versa) much easier.
The 7-1/2 minute maps also show UTM grid lines, which help you calculate the coordinates of your position. The UTM system divides up the entire planet into a series of grids six degrees wide by eight degrees tall. Each grid is referenced by a two-digit number representing the east-west direction and a letter that designates north-south direction. (For example, most of southern California is in UTM sector 11S.) Every location in the grid is measured north in meters from the equator and east in meters from a point west of the grid.
It might take awhile to grasp the entire concept, but fortunately you don’t need to in order to use UTM. You’ll notice tick marks along the edges of your map. These divide up the map into section 1,000 meters on a side. By overlaying a more detailed grid pattern, available through various stores, you can create subsections that are a mere 100 meters on a side.
A careful reading of the values of the east-west and north-south grid lines will give you the approximate coordinates for your location. Close enough, anyway, to lead rescuers to you and your family.
GPS receivers are extremely helpful for most trips. Heck I rely on the one in my vehicle to get me around the state and even out east to see my kids. But you shouldn’t rely entirely on one when you’re off road. Learning how to read a topographical map and calculate a location–which aren’t hard to do–can literally be a life saver, and bring a lot of peace of mind to your next off-road adventure.

Tom Severin is a volunteer Tread Lightly! Master Tread Trainer.  He is also a 4×4 Coach and teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit to develop or improve your driving skill.  Copyright 2015, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.

Can I Recreate in “Wilderness” Areas?


Area Designated As WildernessWilderness is a legal designation designed to provide long-term protection and conservation of Federal public lands. Wilderness is defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964 as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…”


Wilderness Areas support a wide variety of recreation uses that are consistent with protection of wilderness characteristics. Recreational uses in wilderness include activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, nature study, photography, and climbing. Bicycles and other forms of mechanical transport are not allowed in Wilderness Areas, since they are prohibited by the Wilderness Act.


No. The Wilderness Act generally prohibits the use of motor vehicles in wilderness. The law contains special provisions for motor vehicle use when required in emergencies or as necessary for the administration of the area. Motor vehicles may also be permitted for special uses such as access to a private inholding, to support grazing, or to exercise valid existing rights.

List of Wilderness areas in the United States

How to minimize impact when camping in Wilderness

More information about the 1964 Wilderness Act

Tread Lightly! Announces New Website Launch

Tread Lightly!, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and enhancing recreation opportunities through education and stewardship, announced today the launch of their newly revamped website at

This new website will feature an event calendar, quick tips, program information, new recreation tips, including the responsible use of drones on public land, and an easy-to-navigate interface to engage users in a more effective way.

“We are excited about our new website launch and the information it provides for recreationists, land managers, partners and media to better understand how to minimize their impact on public land,” said Brian Higgins, Tread Lightly!’s Marketing Manager. now features state-specific information to help recreationists find information relative to their local trails. The mobile-friendly site will help on-the-trail users be able to access responsible recreation tips and maps easily.

Tread Lightly!’s site will be updated regularly with new featured articles, videos and more. For more information on Tread Lightly!’s mission visit:

About Tread Lightly!

Tread Lightly! is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible recreation through ethics education and stewardship programs. Tread Lightly!’s educational message, along with its unique training and restoration initiatives are strategically designed to instill an ethic of responsibility in outdoor enthusiasts and the industries that serve them.  The program is long-term in scope with a goal to balance the needs of the people who enjoy outdoor recreation with our need to maintain a healthy environment.  Tread Lightly!’s award-winning materials, programs and services are solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing recreation issues. Individuals and businesses can commit to Tread Lightly! and protect outdoor access by becoming a member at

Safe Winter Wheeling

Smart Four Wheeling in the Snow
By Tom Severin, 4×4 Coach and Tread Lightly! Master Tread Trainer

With the snow we’ve been getting in the mountains lately, a lot of four-wheelers are itching to fire up their vehicles and go plowing through the white stuff. Whether over Cajon Pass, through Big Bear area, or just to Grandma’s house, driving off road in snow is a lot of fun. Winter driving offers its own set of challenges; the following tips will help ensure your trip is a pleasant one.


First off, be sure the road or trail you have in mind is open.  Contact the appropriate land management agency if you aren’t sure.

As with all four-wheeling, remember the buddy system. That is, always go out with at least one other vehicle. It’s fairly easy to get stuck in snow, and the cold just compounds any difficulties you may experience. More on that later.

Make sure you pack survival gear along with food and water. Remember that it gets dark early this time of year, and storms can hit in a hurry. Check the forecast before leaving. You don’t want to get caught in the mountains during a blizzard. Also, cold weather reduces the output of your battery. Replace it if it’s more than five years old. Consider installing a dual battery system as well. That way you’ll have a back-up, as well as a source of power in case you need to use the winch.

Pack your vehicle accordingly. The basics include a snow shovel, air jack and tire chains, if you have them. Brightly colored equipment is really useful in a snowy environment. An ice scraper/window brush and recovery equipment are a must, also. You’ll want some communications equipment, as well. Pack ham radio gear if you have it. If not, consider getting licensed. The exam isn’t that difficult and gear is reasonably priced. If you don’t care to go that route, look into a satellite phone. Cell phones rarely work in the outback, so don’t count on one.

Make sure your headlights, tail lights, fog lamps, and license plate are clear of snow. As the old saying goes, you want to see and be seen.

Upon Arrival

Upon arriving, spend a few moments surveying the trail and surrounding terrain. One of the biggest problems with snow is that it covers ruts, ditches, and rocks. If you’ve driven the trail before, try to recall where the rough spots are, and avoid them. Don’t try to drive over them, as you risk getting stuck or damaging your vehicle.

Chains are great for driving in snow. They give you better traction and braking all around, and better steering up front. If you have just  one set, place them on the back. Chains up front allow you to chew through deep snow, but the added braking capability could cause fish tailing. This happens a lot while going downhill on a slippery slope.

Air down your tires to a standard off-road level. For a 31-in. tire, that would be in the 18 to 15 psi range. Start off in single file as you normally do. The lead vehicle will blaze the trail, but often becomes stuck. Plus, the underbody usually gets packed with snow, so the vehicle doesn’t run well. Be prepared to pull out that vehicle, but also rotate the vehicles to keep a “fresh” vehicle in the lead at all times.

Getting Stuck 

If you get stuck, try rocking the vehicle. You can usually gain a few inches each time, which often is enough to get you onto better ground. Avoid spinning the tires if possible. That just melts the snow underneath, which quickly freezes. Then you’re in worse shape than when you started.

If you’re still unable to drive out, use a recovery strap to pull your vehicle out. But be careful: The strap is under tremendous stress. Make sure no one is standing between either vehicle. If that strap breaks, it’ll crack the person in the head, and your trip is over. A Pull Pal® also works well in these situations.

 More Snow Driving Tips

Remember to drive slowly. As mentioned above, snow covers all blemishes in the trail. If the snow is firm enough you may actually drive on top. But more likely, you’ll cut through, and expose your vehicle to rocks and other hazards below.

Even with chains, your vehicle behaves quite differently in snow. Stopping and cornering are more difficult and braking distances are greater. Drive slower than normal and keep a safe distance between the vehicles. 4WD doesn’t offer any better braking than 2WD, despite what you may think. If you find yourself sliding one way, turn with it, but also apply some power and stay off the brakes. The 4WD traction will help pull you out of it.


Use gentle acceleration whenever climbing a hill. Quick acceleration can cause the tires to spin, which results in an icy trail. Speaking of hills, assess the trail before descending, and make sure it’s safe to drive. Can you get back up if you had to? If not, and that’s the only way out, take a different route.

Here’s hoping your next romp through the snow is a safe and enjoyable one.

Tom Severin, 4×4 Coach and Master Tread Trainer, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit to develop or improve your driving skill.

What about driving off-road during the rest of the year? Get some tips on driving off road responsibly from Tread Lightly!


Usher in 2018 with New Membership Benefits

The New Year is the perfect time start anew with membership benefits that fit your recreation lifestyle and help you save in 2018!

Are you a member of an active Tread Lightly! club?

This year we are giving members of Tread Lightly! Clubs huge saving on individual memberships.


Also new in 2018

General Tire Discount up to $100 rebate for $50+ Individual members

And out brand new 2018 Membership T-shirt and decal designs!

We still have our most popular Tread Lightly! Membership benefits including:

$100+ Individual Members

  • Chrysler, Jeep Ram, Dodge, SRT, and Fiat Affiliate Rewards Program Preferred Price, 1% below factory invoice on purchase or lease of new vehicles

$50+ Individual Members

  • FREE 2018 member shirt and decal
  • 20% off Tread Lightly! online store
  • 20% off Goal Zero online purchases
  • Up to $100 General Tire rebate
  • Up to $100 Discount Tire rebate
  • 20% off OutdoorX4 Subscription
  • Eligible to apply for a Tread Lightly! Stewardship Grant

$25+ Individual Members 

  • FREE member decal

Find the membership that fits your lifestyle at

Respect and Protect Native American Heritage

In the early 90’s the month of November was deemed ‘Native American Heritage month’ to help recognize the significant contributions and growth that have been made by Native Americans. Tread Lightly!, along with our dedicated partners, would like to encourage you to take time this month to learn and appreciate the rich traditions and ancestry of Native Americans and help us protect ancient artifacts, rock art and petroglyphs.

We recently teamed up with the Utah Bureau of Land Management on a campaign called Respect and Protect. This campaign aims to educate the public about how to protect cultural, historical and archaeological resources on federal, state and tribal lands from looting and vandalism. You can help by reporting vandalism on public land to your local land management agency.

Help us see these amazing relics into the future by sharing our message. Use the hashtag #RespectandProtect when sharing these sites on social media and be an on-the-ground advocate when on public lands.

Check out our video on the importance of our Native American history, filmed in Escalante, Utah above.

Fly Safely, Fly Responsibly, Tread Lightly!

Recreational drones have taken the country by storm as the popular new hobby. It makes sense, too. Not only is it fun to fly a drone around, it’s also a great opportunity to get outside, and maybe record some footage that you otherwise couldn’t get. In January of 2017, 670,000 drones had been registered with the federal government, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The goal of the registry is to help regulate these unmanned vehicles, especially those that fly in restricted areas like airports and over sporting events. The national drone registration system was introduced in December of 2015 by the FAA, with the help of aviation experts, government agencies, and companies like Amazon and Google. In February of 2016, over 325,000 people had registered their drones, and that number has now doubled in the past year. In fact, Michael Huerta, the FAA’s chief administrator, projects that nearly seven million drones may be sold in the U.S. by 2020, or about two-and-a-half times the population of the state of Nevada.

FlyWith so many drones in the sky, it’s been important to not only establish rules and regulations, but also promote and enforce them. That’s why some organizations are creating programs to spread awareness on responsible and correct drone usage. For instance, Tread Lightly has recently implemented their Flying Drones Responsibly campaign as a part of their Respected Access is Open Access (RAOA) campaign. The overall goal of RAOA is to protect and enhance outdoor access and opportunities by fostering a stronger sense of individual stewardship in the recreation community. They wish to maintain and expand access to public and private lands to enjoy all types of outdoor recreation. The slogan, “Respected Access is Open Access,” has a simple meaning: responsible behavior leads to continued access. Initially, the campaign focused on recreational shooting and hunting, but is constantly being expanded and now, of course, holds the Flying Drones Responsibly campaign. This new drone campaign holds the same message, that responsible drone use will lead to continued and expanded drone access.

One of the main issues that the campaign promotes is responsible use during fire season. From afar, wildfires are an interesting spectacle, and drones provide a unique close-up to this phenomenon. But, what many people might not realize, is that flying drones near wildfires can disrupt the work of the firefighters. In an FAA press release in July 2017, it was reported that there had been 17 documented instances of unauthorized drone flights over or near wildfires this year, with 14 resulting in operations being temporarily shut down. The release continues on to stress the issue:

“If an unauthorized drone is detected flying over or near a wildfire, fire managers may have to ground all airtankers, helicopters, and other aerial firefighting aircraft until they can confirm that the drone has left the area and they feel confident that it won’t be coming back. This can cause wildfires to become larger and more costly and to unduly threaten lives, property, and valuable nature and cultural resources.”

This is why it is so important that drone-users understand what to do when it comes to drones, as irresponsible usage can have some dire consequences. That’s why companies like Tread Lightly establish campaigns that help users remember, as the FAA says, “If you fly, we can’t.” The hope is that the program spreads and that users, not just Tread Lightly, begin to educate each other on responsible drone usage. For more information visit the Flying Drones Responsibly campaign.

Don’t get left in the cold.

With winter just around the corner, it’s time to pull out the winter coats and get outside. Winter is a magical time to experience the outdoors in a new light. Snowmobiling is an exciting way to adventure out and get a winter thrill.


Safety is extremely important when going out in the winter months. Educating yourself is key to enjoying snowsports. Laying clothes and wearing waterproof outer shell and footwear is essential keeping the day entertaining. Make realistic plans and stick to it, be prepared with a map of your destination. Winter can be unpredictable, always carry a small backpack with supplies and emergency equipment.

Ride On

When snowmobiling there are responsible ways to travel to minimize your impact. First, travel in areas designated to snowmobiling and avoid trails with low snow cover, snowmobiles’ spinning tracks damage plants and soils. Do not ride on frozen waterways or lakes. To avoid tipping a snowmobile, reduce speed around corners and pump your brakes when going downhill to prevent brakes from locking.

Respected Access

Comply with signs,  respect barriers and be aware of private property. Be aware of avalanche areas, avoid steep slopes, cornices and gullies. Taking an avalanche course is the best way to make sure you are educated and safe. Snow can hide hazards or obstacles, be aware and ride at a reasonable speed to avoid these obstacles. Do not disturb historical, archeological or paleontological sites while out riding.

Snowmobiling is an exciting way to get friends and family outdoors. Take a new adventure this year and see some new sites. Trails you may have spent all summer exploring, could be a whole new experience covered in snow and ice. Check out the tips here.

Hunting season is upon us!

Hunting season is upon us, the weather is cooler and the leaves are changing. This is an exciting time to get outside and practice responsible hunting. Tread Lightly! Has a handful of useful tips to keep your hunting safe.

Ride On

When getting to your location use designated routes and trails. No matter what vehicle you use, practice minimum-impact techniques. This includes driving over obstacles, not around them, to avoid widening the trail. Avoid cutting switchbacks, cutting them weakens their purpose of keeping the trail stable. Fall can be a rainy season, when possible avoid mud, when in soft terrain, keep a slow speed to avoid causing rutting.

Respected Access

When hunting it is important to respect property signs, if crossing private property one must ask permission from landowner. Leave gates as you find them. Hunting is about being a sportsman and practicing ethical hunting. Never shoot across roads, trails, waterways or into caves. Only shot when you see an animal clearly, and you know what lies between you, the target and beyond.

Seasoned hunters know that respectful hunting keeps access open and safe for everyone involved. Taking friends and family out hunting can be an excellent way to educate them on safe practices, regulations and create a love for the sport. For helpful tips click here. 

Always check with your local government for season and regulations.

Tread Lightly’s! Board of Directors Announces Management Reorganization

Tread Lightly’s! Board of Directors Announces

Management Reorganization

Casey Snider Appointed Interim Executive Director

CENTERVILLE, Utah (February 1, 2017)—Tread Lightly!, the premier non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and encouraging stewardship of America’s lands and waterways, announced a leadership reorganization under which the Board of Directors has appointed Casey Snider as interim Executive Director, effective immediately. Snider will replace former Chief Executive Officer, Lori McCullough. The announcement was made today by Joel Pedersen, Secretary of the Tread Lightly! Board of Directors.

“Tread Lightly! will continue working toward delivering on our mission to balance the needs of people who enjoy outdoor recreation with our need to maintain a healthy environment, while continuing to grow the organization,” said Pedersen. “We have great confidence in Casey’s abilities in serving as interim Executive Director during this transition.”

Pedersen continued, “On behalf of the entire Board, I want to thank Lori for her service to Tread Lightly! and we wish her continued success in her new pursuits.”

About Tread Lightly!: Tread Lightly! is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible recreation through ethics education and stewardship programs. Tread Lightly!’s educational message, along with its unique training and restoration initiatives are strategically designed to instill an ethic of responsibility in outdoor enthusiasts and the industries that serve them. Tread Lightly!’s award-winning materials, programs and services are solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing recreation issues. Visit for more information.




Jerrica Archibald | Tread Lightly! | 801.627.0077 |