Maps designed for walking have a great amount of detail in them that is geared towards helping you translate what’s on the map to what’s on the ground around you. Thankfully most map makers make it really easy to identify what everything is on the map with colouring, shading and symbols. So with a bit of practice, you can learn to build a mental picture of what should be around you. In this section, we are going to talk about what you will expect to see on a map and what it all means.

Maps vary from country to country and with different map companies in each country but they all have the same idea as to how they display their data in terms of how things look. They might have different colouring or slightly different symbols but with an understanding of one map, you will quickly be able to get to grips with any map you pick up. Most of the examples in this section will be from an Ordnance survey map from the UK.

The first thing you will obviously see when you get a printed map is the cover. The cover of a map tells you loads of important information about the map so you can make sure it is the right one for what you need. The first thing you will notice is the area that the map covers, there will often be a rough map of the greater area that shows exactly where in that region the map covers so you can work out if your route might overlap the maps. The next thing you should see, which is often at the bottom, is the scale which we talked about earlier in the course. There also will often be some sort of symbol or text about what the map is for, look for a symbol conveying a person walking and you will know it is a map geared towards what you want to do.

Map Covers

Inside the cover, there are two main things, the map and the legend(also known as the key). The Legend is included on almost any type of map whether it be a piste map for skiing, a map of your local park or a walking map, it is a key to what everything means on that particular map. We’re going to take you through all the common symbols and features you will often find on a walking map, but it is good to know about and use a legend if you are ever unsure. The legend is also great because it means you can easily pick up a completely different brand of map and just look at the legend to translate your skills to the different symbols or colouring.  Below is an example of a legend for an OS map.

OS Map Legend

On the Map

Next, we’re going to go through the common things you will find on most maps, like before we will be using the UK OS maps as an example but with the use of the legend you will be able to translate these features to just about any map.

Roads and Railways are great linear features to follow or orientate from, often easy to see from a distance and easy to follow. Making sure you know the difference between types of roads can be a real help in the field.

Roads and Railways

Paths are normally the easiest things to follow on a route but knowing what type of path it is, and your rights of way, can help you keep yourself out of any unwanted trouble.

Map Paths

Boundaries are important to recognise, to keep yourself out of trouble by staying out of restricted areas, military zones or just to know that you’re in a national park. Contact your local authorities to get the latest on any restrictions in your area.

Map Boundries

Land and Forestry areas are marked to show where there is marsh land, forest, open fields and things like that, these features and especially the boundries of them are very useful in navigation. For instance, walking to the corner of a woodland and finding that corner on the map is a great way to work out where you are. Note that because maps unfortunately, aren’t updated in real time, things could have changed since the map was printed so always be wary that some woods could have been cut down or field boundaries may have changed.

Forsets, Woods and Land on Maps

General Features are things like buildings, churches, bridges and other man-made things that can be useful for navigation.

Map Legend General Features

Tourist Icons are things that aren’t necessarily useful for navigation but are useful for enjoying your day out, it marks things like tourist attractions, parking, campsites, activities and anything else deemed interesting in that area.

Map Legend Tourism Icons

Natural Terrain is displayed on the map with shading which is usually quite good at representing the rocks on the ground.

Terrain on a map

Take your time to look over the legend on your map, look at all the features and try to find some of them on the map, with a little practice you will be able to recognise features on a map quickly and easily. Next, we are going to talk about how to read contour lines, one of the most useful features in navigation.


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