for those who love the outdoors

16 July, 2022

How to read your hiking map

Do you know how to read your map? How to find the fastest route to the next pub? Read on for top tips from Steve Backshall and Emma Holland.

How to read a walking map

Three quarters of UK adults cannot read a map. 

According to research by a recent article in the Guardian that three quarters of UK adults cannot read a map (read the article here) - this article will help offer advice on how to read a map and ensure you get the most out of your next hike. It may even save you time finding your quickest route to the nearest pub lunch! 

Understanding your hiking map

We caught up with #GetOutside​ champion and naturalist Steve Backshall. He continues his series of map reading videos with Ordnance Survey by explaining how to choose the right map for your activity.

Every adventurer knows, even with new technology, that a paper map is a vital piece of equipment. Steve explains the difference between the OS Landranger and OS Explorer maps published by OS, and which to use for your next adventure.

This video is part of a series with Steve Backshall introducing you to map reading and navigation skills


Demystifying footpaths, access land, and public rights of way

As part of our festival of content, Emma Holland a senior mountain leader for Mind over Mountains, gives us a ten-minute presentation on how to recognize footpaths, access land and understanding rights of way that you can find on an ordnance survey map.

Watch the presentation here




Here are our top tips for map reading:

  1. Firstly, take some time to orientate yourself with the map and your planned route. This means finding north and then matching what you see on the ground with what is represented on the map.
  2. Once you have oriented yourself, take a look at the legend (this is usually found in the bottom right-hand corner of the map). This will explain all of the symbols used on the map, which will be helpful in interpreting what you're looking at, especially if you're looking for the fastest route to the pub!
  3. Pay attention to the contour lines as these show elevation changes and can help you visualise the shape of the land. If they're really tight together, that means the slope is really steep and you may wish to circumnavigate that big slope instead!
  4. Another important feature to look out for are grid lines, which criss-cross the map and can be used to pinpoint your location (they usually intersect at points called "grid references"). This helps you break up the features you see around you and know exactly where you are.
  5. Finally, make sure you're aware of any dangers that might be represented on the map, such as cliffs, fast-flowing rivers or steep slopes or impassable routes. There's nothing more depressing when out for an active hike and finding yourself 5 miles down a track, that you need to circle back on your hike, to get where you wanted to go.

By following these simple tips, you should be able to read your hiking map like a pro! Just remember to always carry a map with you when venturing out into the wilderness and to check it regularly to help you stay on track.

Have you got top tips to share with the Outside & Active Community? Share them over on our Instagram @beoutsidebeactive