Map Reading

One of the most important things to be able to do before going of on your Adventure is know how to read a map. The Adventure All Ways route goes along existing, well signposted trails but it is still important to know where you are, particularly if something goes wrong. Fortunately we have a few hints and tips here to help out, as well as going over the basic elements of an Ordnance Survey map.

The Basics

We are very fortunate in the UK as we have OS maps which are standardised so that North is always at the top so that gives you an easy start (although if you are comparing with another map e.g. one in a town centre remember that north may be different here). In some places there are obvious land marks on the map that you can see in real life and match up north on the ground with north on the map. If not then you can always get out a compass to figure out which way you need to be facing to go north. When you are walking along a path it is useful to be holding the map so that the route on the map goes straight ahead of you, which often means holding the map sideways / upside down. The gridlines on the map run north-south (northings) and east-west (eastings). In a grid reference the first half of the digits refer to the vertical eastings and the second half refer to the horizontal northings.

Orientation and Grid References

Every OS map will have a key showing what each of the different symbols mean. This is super useful but there are a lot of them so it is best to familiarise yourself with the symbols before setting off so, at least for the most part, you do not have to keep flipping back to check what something means. One of the most important symbols to be aware of are the contour lines, which are marked in a light brown. On the map contours show how hilly somewhere is. Going between two of the lines shows a change in height of 10m. The closer the lines are together the steeper the slope is. 

Some of the contours have numbers on indicating the metres above sea level. They take a while to find but this tells you whether you are going up or down hill.

The Key

Different types of maps have different scales, it will usually say this on the map cover and there will be a scale bar in the key. On the orange OS maps this is 1:25000. This means a distance on the map is 25,000 times bigger in real life so 1cm on the map would be 25,000cm or 250m or 0.25km (Because there are 100cm in 1m and 1000m in 1km). To make it easier to guess you can use the gridlines on the map. On the orange OS maps they are 4cm apart on the map which is equivalent to 1km in real life. Although this can help work out the distance you are walking there is another top tip that can help, trace out your route using a piece of string. When you straighten the string you will have the entire distance of the walk which can then be measured and scaled up into a real life distance.

Scale and Distance

Top Tips

You can trace the route you are taking on a map with a pencil to allow you to find it on the map more quickly and know at turnings which way you are going. 

You will want to look at the map regularly so don’t keep it in your bag. You can get map cases or waterproof maps but if you are on a budget you could always use a clear plastic bag so you can keep the out but not have it get too wet if it is raining.  

Walls are your friend. OS are ridiculously detailed so that when you are on the hills every wall is marked on. If you glance at the map every time you cross a wall it is really easy to keep a track of roughly where along the route you are.  

If you are following an exisiting route (e.g.) part of the Transpennine Way it is often marked on the map with diamonds. At first glance it easily looks like one path with no turnings however it may well contain turnings just still on that route. It is usually signed in this situation but just take care not to keep following one path because you are following the same diamonds on the map for the whole morning. 

Getting out of towns and villages is often most confusing as there are so many paths. Unfortunately this comes right at the beginning of a walk in most cases but don’t be put off by this. If you are new to map reading just remember to schedule plenty of time for your walk to make up for any stops trying to work out which path to take. 

If you are in charge of the map keep looking at the map. It is easy to look once, see that you are on the same path and not look again for an hour. However sometimes a turning can look really obvious on a map but not in real life so it is best to keep looking at a map and the things around (walls, rivers, small plantations) so that you are aware of how soon the turning is coming up. 

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