Trekking the the wilds means discovering some of the planet’s most beautiful places. You can just head out and hope for the best with a basic topo map or even just some local knowledge – but going with a seriously great mapbook that acts as a guide is even better. At Steep Magazine, we can’t imagine travelling without our Backroads Mapbooks.
For our podcast, we meet Russ Mussio, founder of Backroads Mapbooks. With detailed topographic maps featuring off-the-beaten-path natural treasures, Backroad Mapbooks are the choice of anyone looking for adventure. Listen to our conversation on what makes these maps so special, or read our conversation below.
Steep Magazine: Hey, Russ. It’s great to have you here on the show.
Russell Mussio: Thanks, Greg. Thanks for having me.
Steep Magazine: When and how did you start Backroad’s Mapbooks? What inspired you, and was there a big need among adventurers?
Russell Mussio: We started about 25 years ago. Basically, it was just built out of what we felt was a need in the industry. My brother and I grew up in the interior, around trail BC, and always liked to go fishing and hunting, exploring with my father and family.
We went down to Vancouver. We wanted to do that when we were in university, but really didn’t know where to go, so looked at all the maps, books, and things out there and we’re still scratching our head quite a bit. Then from that idea, we just started spurring out the idea of creating sort of like a city mapbook, but for the outdoors. We listened to our customers and we have continued to evolve it from there.
Steep Magazine: It sounds like it was a big undertaking, walk us through how you managed to put your first maps together. What inspired you?
Russell Mussio: Well, I was young and in the university. I actually did a thesis on the project. It was just an idea we had and when we put two and two together, we just really liked the idea of just creating, like we said, a city mapbook, but for the outdoors just because there really wasn’t anything out there; just topographic maps and various guide books. We felt we needed a product like that personally, and if someone else wanted to buy one, that’s a bonus to us.
Steep Magazine: Your maps are quite unique just looking at them here. Did you ever want to create something simple or did you always want to create something this special?
Russell Mussio: Yes and no. It was more, like I said, personal need and want. Then when we talked to everybody else, everybody said,”Wow, that’s a great idea.” From that, you just get inspiration and motivation and we just were able to build from there.
Steep Magazine: Most of us realize just how much detail there is in these maps, especially the treasures listed. What prompted you to include all these details?
Russell Mussio: I looked at the numbers on the business plan and everything looked great. I really wasn’t working at the time, I was just finishing university, so I decided to take my next year or two and really explore the options. I went knocking door to door, asking people “How am I going to do such a thing?” I talked to the geography department at UBC, and a grad student there and said,”How do I make a map?” He said,”Well, this is the easy way to do it.”
Using a mylar sheet, I trace out the government topographic maps to get all the base detail. Then I talked to my brother’s forestry guys and we put together all the road maps. Then started looking at everything else out there and saying,”Okay, what would make this better than a topographic map or another roadmap?” From there, we noticed that there wasn’t a lot of information on recreational options. We decided,”Okay, lets start adding in trails and campsites.”
Steep Magazine: What kind of treasures and special places can people find on your maps versus just a regular topo-map?
Russell Mussio: With ours, we felt that it was necessary rather than putting a symbol for a campsite, we’d say, “This is Smith Lake Provincial Park.” Same thing with the trails. We continued to make it more user-friendly. Really the labeling and identifying and just kept adding to it, listening to people and saying,”What more do you want on there?”
Steep Magazine: Tell us about what areas these maps cover.
Russell Mussio: Well, we’ve actually gone coast to coast. We’ve gone as far as Newfoundland and PEI, touched a little bit on Quebec and Yukon. We offer the various regional books in BC, Alberta, and Ontario, whereas the other smaller provinces we stick with provincial titles. Its just something where we continue to grow and touch on all these other great areas of the country.
Steep Magazine: Any plans to spread these into other areas? I don’t know, like, North America?
Russell Mussio: We’ve thought about it quite a bit, but it’s quite a project to take on. Going into the US in particular, which is always appealing to people. We just have to almost have a whole another team to do it just from the sales component. We felt rather than diluting ourselves even more, even going nationally is quite a challenge, to add in international and the US is something where it’s like that’s just a lot of work that we’re not sure of we’d see the reward.
Steep Magazine: Your products come in several forms and versions, how can people physically use your maps?
Russell Mussio: Well, obviously the papers are original one with the mapbooks, but we also have our topographic maps, which we’ve taken from the paper and made them larger format and easy to read. Then from that, we’ve created waterproof maps, which are rather than having individual pages, you have the traditional fold-out map. From that, we then evolved into GPS maps, which is the introduction to the digital side of things and has really allowed us to refine the product a ton.
We have a few other digital components that you can download to various apps and other programs out there.
Steep Magazine: What about digital? Everyone wants stuff on their phones and devices.
Russell Mussio: Like everything, it’s been a huge challenge to get going. It’s trying to build something from scratch. The biggest problem with that is we’re competing against free. The nice thing about our product is we have our maps. All of our road and trail information, all the recreational information that basically no one can really touch. We’re getting there and we’re pretty well into it so far. We know the things we need to do. It’s just something that we’re in the early stages of that and hope to improve it as we continue into the future.
Steep Magazine: Your maps include some great content on what to do once you get to a place. How did you develop it? How did you know what would resonate with the users?
Russell Mussio: The adventures are definitely based on what we feel are people that, or what people are doing out in the industry and are out in the back country. From that, we’ve looked at building the core things like fishing, hunting, and camping. Then really we went in to all the trade shows. People would come in to say,”Oh, what about adding paddling routes or wildlife viewing.” That’s really how we’ve evolved it, is listening to people as well as these are the things that we really like to do.
Steep Magazine: Yeah. Absolutely. You have some excellent content for adventures. Everything from hot springs to great fishing spots.
Russell Mussio: Well, between the topo and even guide books, that’s one thing we feel we’ve done better than everyone else; is that we’ve tried to be, for lack of a better term, an encyclopedia of everything that’s out there. Rather than writing about the top 10 or 50 hiking trails, we try to include them all. All the fishing lakes we can get a hold of from the stock lakes to the various mysterious lakes that are out there. Since we’re out there with our various writers, and people are out there, we always try to add in a few local tid-bits.
Steep Magazine: Have you ever not placed a special find on your maps to keep it a secret?
Russell Mussio: Well, maybe that’s a secret! Yeah, we played with that for a little bit, in particular in busier areas, it’s something you’re always a little bit concerned. Say like our East Nalgonda park, is this ginormous park that’s phenomenal paddling and fishing. The writer out there used to have his little brook trout fishing lakes, and rivers and he’d want to not keep them on there. I’m like, “Well, in an area with probably 1300 lakes, I don’t think anyone’s really gonna notice it”, but we augment the writing per se on that, and that’s where we came up with the concept of being very factual as opposed to rating, saying,”This is a fantastic, or the best lake in the area.
Steep Magazine: You must hear from your users. How do you integrate into the maps and keep them current from people with boots on the ground and I mean literally?
Russell Mussio: That’s one of the best things we’ve had over the years actually, is the feedback. We’ve always had an update program, and again, at trade shows and on the street. Anytime I’m driving around, people love to give me corrections for sure. It’s kinda good, but that’s actually the best way to make your product better, right, it’s just to listen to people and say,”Oh, okay, well it’s good to know!”
Steep Magazine: Your maps are truly well made. I mean, I’ve had mine for over a year, and it looks almost new. How are your products built to stand the abuse and conditions in nature and for the real serious adventurer types?
Russell Mussio: We have done a lot of improvements to them. The quick answer to that would have been,”Well, why would I want to make them durable. Make you buy them again” With the printed maps, or the topo maps, we’ve got onto waterproof paper that’s a really solid one for people out there. You can literally throw it in a lake and it floats. You can almost try to burn it, it’s pretty awesome paper. It’s something where we try to use quality papers as opposed to doing those old city mapbooks that really were meant to be thrown out after a year or two.
Steep Magazine: What’s next for you? How will your products and maps move into the future?
Russell Mussio: I think the big evolution is the digital side of things, right, the navigators, the things that work on your smart phones. We really need to get that delivery system nailed down, and try to diversify in that market, because the one thing we’re finding is we can’t be the end all, be all for everything on a map. We want to make sure we’re available on other people’s apps. Maybe try to merge with a few of the companies that are out there. That really is our focus, and I really want to get our app and the navigator all offline, so basically … like the GPS, you literally grab a chip, plug it into your phone, and you’ve got the whole mapbook and all the wonders of the digital world popup information in the palm of your hands.
Steep Magazine: I guess you’ll be able to add up-to-date information like regulations, changes to roads, you name it?
Russell Mussio: That’s the great thing about the digital world is you can add in these extra components. You can add links to various federal or provincial resources for instant updates on regulations. You can add in so much more information. Obviously a paper map is limited to the scale and the area you can cover, you can only put so much on there, whereas in the digital, you can really zoom in and put multiple points in those areas to say,”What does that mean?” Or “This is a closure.”
To learn more about Backroad Mapbooks, visit them at backroadmapbooks.com