Color blindness can be a hindrance to hikers. 3% of men are color blind to reds and greens. Others deal with various types and degrees of color blindness. There are three challenges. First, picking out the man-made blazes from the natural blobs on the trees, secondly, identifying the color of the blaze once the blaze has been seen, and finally deciphering features on a colorful map.
A hiker queried the Finger Lakes Trail email list for ideas on how to handle his color blindness. He hiked a section of the Conservation Trail and the orange blazes were almost invisible to him. And he missed the blue blaze trails that directed him to a lean-to’s and water sources. Many others probably share his challenges.
One suggestion offered was to hike with a non-color blind person. Another was to closely follow a map if its colors are distinguishable.
In Europe some trails are marked with blazes of two or more colors in stripes, and that helps a lot. But it’s a lot of work for maintainers and is rarely done in the US.
The most helpful suggestion was creative. Before you hike, cut three 2″ x 6″ rectangles out of white scrap vinyl siding, paint the smooth side of each with gloss exterior latex blue, orange, or white, and LABEL each blaze with its color name on the colored side of the blaze. A local trail maintainer may be able to assist with this. (Don’t use aluminum siding because the edges will cut you or punch holes in your pockets). When you come to a blaze that really looks like a blaze but it has a color that you can’t decipher, then compare your blazes to it and you may be able to conclude that it’s more like one color than the other.
If you can’t tell whether it’s a blaze or just a “blob” of some sort on the tree, then compare your blazes to 2 or 3 similar-looking blobs further along the perceived path. If you don’t find 2 or 3 similar looking blobs along the perceived path, then you can probably conclude that you’re not on a blazed trail. If there is no perceptible path, then work out in a couple of concentric circles, looking for a worn path or other similar blobs. This won’t always work, especially if the blazes are dirty or worn or way too big or small, but you may be able to eliminate alternatives this way, especially if you know approximately where you are and you’re only comparing two colors. This should let you distinguish a deer trail from the hiking trail. Carry a roll of striped flagging tape with you (e.g. order from Ben Meadows or Forestry Supply) and be sure to mark the spot where you last found a certain blaze, plus any search routes away from that spot.
Another suggestion was to look for other ways in which the trail may be marked — maybe the trail you’re on has a disk on it but the other trail (the spur) doesn’t, or there’s a difference in the tread width or wear pattern (the main trail would usually be wider or more worn), or the side of the tread has been demarcated with branches, such that even if you can’t see the blazes, the trail itself is still apparent.
Finally, if you’re hiking the Finger Lakes Trail, consider carrying a good handheld gps device into which you have loaded the FLT track and waypoint data. Do not rely solely on the gps device (it can be off by a few meters, your spare batteries may fail, too, etc.), but use it to augment the appropriate Rite-in-the-Rain FLTC map (especially the description on the back) while you “read the landscape” and search for the human pathway or the particular trail. I realize that your colorblindness makes it more difficult to read the gps, but adding this to other sources of information should help you keep from getting really lost.
(Thanks to all who participated on the FLTC email list and contributed to this compilation.)