Learn How to Read Topographical Maps

Knowing how to read a topographical map is an important skill needed for back-country survival. The topographical map helps you locate man-made and natural features like mountains, waterways, bridges, buildings, and woodlands and locate the most appropriate shelter or potential escape routes for your particular survival situation.  When you’re travelling through an unknown area, a topographical map is the best pick to carry along with your compass to navigate and assess the terrain features on that specific location. Topographical map can be a total lifesaver when you know how to read it and make use of the crucial information it can provide. However, what if you can’t do it?

Below will cover the basics on how to read topographical map. Use it for your next travel adventure. Once you understand it fully, not only will you become more skilled in navigating trails ahead, but you will also have a more accurate view of the surrounding territory.

Topographical Map

Photo Source: http://blog.outdoorherbivore.com/wilderness/map-skills/

  • Remember the BASIC four cardinal directions.

You maybe be carrying a compass with you. Taking note of the four cardinal directions when reading the map is one of the most important key for an easy navigation. As with the most maps, North is the top of the map, East is the right part, South is the bottom while West is the left. The compass does not really point a true north, although it may point to some areas coincidentally. The compass needle is attracted by magnetic force, which constantly changes and may vary in different places. Maps are designed point to the True North while compass are for magnetic north. Most topographic maps have the difference between magnetic and true north printed for that region.

  • Analyze the Contour Lines

The contour lines of the topographical map can tell you a lot about a terrain – its ruggedness, steepness, elevation and its ground cover. A close contour line indicates a very steep slope while farther spaced contour line indicates a more level terrain. Bolder or heavier contour lines are known to be indexed contour lines, and is typically the same with the fifth contour line. They are normally numbered showing elevation.

Lighter contour lines, which fall between indexed lines, are known to be intermediate contours. They do not have given elevation and are in sets of four between indexed contour lines. Supplementary contour lines are dashed lines which indicate an elevation that is half of the elevation between the contour lines surrounding it. The terrain under this contour line is expansively flat.

Contour Lines of Topographical Maps

Photo Source: http://ciehub.info/ref/FM/21-26_1993/Ch10.htm

The key point to remember when analyzing contour lines is this: “The closer the spacing, the more rapid is the change in elevation”. Series of closely spaced contour lines that almost appear to be a single line represent steep slopes. They are good for rock climbing. On another hand, few contour lines indicates a flat terrain which is an easy foot trail.

  • Knowing how to read the map’s scale

You also need to learn about the map’s scale. Maps are plotted in ratios, in which a measurement written on the map is equal to a larger scale in the actual world. Map scale can be represented either ratio or graphical scale.

Ratio: If the topographical map uses the scale of 1:30,000, it denotes that an inch on the map is equivalent to 30,000 inches in the actual world. You can see the scale legend at the bottom of the map.

Graphic: This is a line that demonstrates how long a given distance is using a straight line, which can be a mile or hundreds of miles.

  • Understanding Map’s Legend

Map legend is a key to all the symbols used in the map which represent real objects. Specific legends in the map are used to represent contours, vegetation types, waterways, buildings and more.

Topographical Map Legend

Photo Source: http://www.compassdude.com/map-symbols.php

Whether you’re an experienced hiker, seasoned explorer or a first time climber, knowing how to use and read the topographical map will give you additional certainty on your location and give you an idea where to trek further. Going to spots where maybe no man has ever set foot before, you can collect another remarkable off-trail climbing. So, are you ready for more thrilling yet exciting adventures and experiences?

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