When you are working in the field, as a student or a researcher, you do two things all the time. Pull out your field notebook to jot down notes and observations and pull out your geologic map to reference, draw on, record strike and dips, and more. That map is your most important possession when in the field and it is where all of your hard work lives. That single piece of paper is the reason you’ve flown, driven, hiked, camped, and struggled up the side of that mountain – to put observations and measurements on that map. Being a field map isn’t an easy life and having a map board can protect the map and make using it easy.

On the outcrop you take your strike and dip measurement, then pull out your map to record it. We’ve seen students pull maps out of plastic bags and draw on their mapping partner’s back. We’ve seen students use service clip boards. Worst of all we’ve seen students fold their maps into tiny little squares that will fit on their field notebook. (Every Twister fan knows – you don’t fold the maps – roll the maps!)

The best solution is to have a map board – a purpose designed tool that protects your map from the elements, makes consulting the map at a glance easy, and gives you a writing surface. Lots of university professors have their own versions of map boards – some with wood an hinges, some made from regular clip boards, some made from acrylic plastic. Each of the designs we saw had some strengths and some weaknesses. Solid acrylic boards got all scratched up after a few days. Hinged boards often had hinge or hinge attachment failures. The most frustrating thing was the lack of a good way to hold the maps down so they didn’t blow away. Binder clips worked, but meant the map board did not fold flat. Those little wire handles also keep coming off.

Designing the Best Map Board

Determined that there must be a better way, our design team worked through an iterative design process with field camp instructors. We made many prototypes and each one uncovered something to change. After three or four we were honing in on a solid design. We all thought it over some more, slept on the design, and made a final set of changes to make what we think is about the closest thing to the ideal map board that there has been to date.


12x18 inch map board

For starters, the same design comes in two sizes. Different people use different sizes of prints and some field geologists have a strong preference for the larger or smaller boards. The larger boards are 12×18, while the smaller boards are 9×12. This lets you use a common 11×17 in map either full size or folded in half. The smaller board is also perfect for teams doing tasks like geophysical surveys or well drilling which often have plots, maps, or other data on standard 8.5×11 in pages.

Next is the materials our board is made from. The front cover is clear acrylic to you can see your map without having to open the board. This is especially great for quick glances to verify your position or taking a look at the map while it is raining. The back of the map board doesn’t need to be clear, but it does need to be durable. Here we’ve used hard board – a laminated wood product which takes knocks well and is reasonably weather resistant. Both the front and back are precision laser cut to be perfectly sized with rounded corners to make sure those slips and falls don’t result in a nasty injury.


You may have also noticed that the cover to the map board is engraved. It has imperial and metric scales for taking photos of samples, measuring small objects, and anything else you need a scale for in the field. We can also engrave custom text or numbers so instructors can track and inventory loaned equipment. If you want your board customized, just drop us a line and we can get it added onto your order!

The front and back covers also have some features cut into them. The notches along the edges are a perfect fit to retain rubber bands. Rubber bands are cheap and when they begin to degrade they can be replaced for pennies. There is also a hole in the corner of the boards. This makes hanging them up on a peg for storage easy, but we really added it it so slip a loop a string through and hold your field protractor or anything else you want to keep attached to your map!

Edge features of the map board

We also include a Velcro dot which we like to use to attach a pencil to the board. Need a new pencil? Just grab Velcro strips from your local hardware and you’re ready to go. This little addition to the map board seems inconsequential but is one of our favorite things as you no long need to shove that pencil in the spine on your field book or keep getting jabbed by it in your pocket.

The last part was actually the most difficult – the hinge. We tried so many hinge designs. We used piano hinges, door hinges, strips of fabric, riveted webbing, and more. In the end, simple fabric backed tape (often called Gaffer’s Tape) and Duct tape were the top performers and preferred by the mappers we showed our prototypes to. These also have the advantage of being field replaceable by anyone with a pocket knife. When they get worn, dirty, or just old the old tape can be cut/peeled off and new tape applied in a minute. Ask any military operator what they want in field gear and the answer is universally “it should be simple.” Well, it doesn’t get much more simple than tape!

So who should buy a map board? You should! If you are a student you won’t find a tool that can make mapping as convenient. Field professionals will love it as well. Even better, field camp instructors can purchase in bulk for their students. You may even find the map boards useful every day in a shop or other facility in which protected views and writing surfaces of logs, status information, and more is essential.

9″ x 12″ Map Board

12″ x 18″ Map Board

John Leeman
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