It has been a few year now since I write my post of maps and the Pyrenees and it seems the right time to look at the subject again.
The widespread use of computer mapping has had quite an impact on trip planning and route walking as well I suspect. There are a number of companies who now sell computer versions of Pyrenean maps and we also have an explosion in mapping apps for smartphones. But first let’s just look at paper maps.
UK walkers tend to consider that the 1:25K scale map is always superior to 1:50k offerings but this is not so in the Pyrenees. 1:25 maps just have too much empty space on them and you will find yourself struggling with maps that seem to have endless forest on them. Things aren’t really helped by the design of the French ISGN maps which are not always the most legible. But the biggest problem with the ordinary 1:25 map is that they do not effectively mark all of the trail walks. The GR10 will be marked but it is a bit hit and miss with the HRP route, I suspect because this is not an official route and there are different interpretations of it. The HRP may be marked on some maps but not on others.
By far the best maps for walking with are the 1:50K Rando Editions Maps. These cover both the French and Spanish sides of the range. On the French side you will have place names in French and on the Spanish side in Spanish — this can be useful as some places are known by two different names. For the Spanish side these are also the only real maps that make sense to me.
These Rando Edition maps use the base data of national cartographers but the layout and design is there own. These are very legible maps which have all of the trails clearly displayed. These are the maps that I carry with me when I walk on these hills.
Rando Editions Maps are not — so far as I am aware — available in electronic form and for a long time I found this frustrating. But, I have come to realise that this doesn’t matter that much.
When planning a route at home many of the downsides of the French ISGN maps are no longer significant. You are not having to fold a map in the wind or carry the weight of many maps. With your computer you can simply view the map at a different magnitude or quickly scroll on to somewhere more interesting. Where the trail is not well illustrated you have more time to ensure that you have the line of your walk right.
French ISGN maps are available on all of the main computer mapping platforms including Anquet, Memory Map, Routebuddy and Viewranger. All of these company’s offer iPhone Apps which will allow you to display your maps and some have Android apps as well.
It is often said that it is impossible to get lost on the GR10 and GR11 as they are so well way-marked, but I have! Carrying a map on your Smartphone makes sense as it allows you get a graphic fix on your position very quickly. I used to carry ISGN maps because they were GPS compatible but in reality I could never configure the damn things. ISGN uses quite a complicated zone system and I used this so rarely with a GPS that I could never remember how it worked. I’ve spent hours on rest days, sitting in campsites trying to understand the coordinates and getting it all to work.
A Smartphone seems a better option than a simple GPS. There are now a whole range of French iPhone Apps that provide Pyrenean mapping at a reasonable price and I presume some of these are available on the Android platform as well. These might be worth checking out as an alternative before you buy.
Finally, the ISGN 1:50 maps are also available online. These are not the same as the Rando maps mentioned above. I wouldn’t use these for hiking but they might be fine for cycle touring and of course they are a lot cheaper than the 1:25 equivalents.
So, for me Rando Editions work when walking. But — certainly on the French side — I would probably have ISGN 1:25 maps on my phone.