How to Use a Topographic Map When Hiking: The Best Guide in 2022

How to Use a Topographic Map When Hiking: The Best Guide in 2022


Mastering Topographic Map: your best ally for a safe hiking journey.

A topographic map is an invaluable tool for hikers. It can help you plan your route, avoid dangerous areas, and more. In this article, we will discuss how to use a topographic map when hiking. We will cover everything from reading the map to using it while hiking . So whether you’re a beginner or experienced hiker, this guide is for you!

What is a topographic map?

A topographic map is a type of map that shows the natural and man-made features of an area. This includes things like mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, roads, and buildings. Topographic maps are usually large and detailed. They can be used for a variety of purposes, but they are especially useful for hikers.


How do topographic maps differ from other types of maps?

Topographic maps differ from other types of maps in several ways. First, they are more detailed. They show not only roads and buildings, but also natural features like mountains, valleys, and rivers. Second, topographic maps use contour lines to show elevation. This is important for hikers because it can help them plan their route and avoid dangerous areas.

What are the different types of topographic maps?

There are two main types of topographic maps: paper and digital. Paper maps are the traditional type of map. They are made from printed paper that has been laminated for durability. Digital maps are newer and are viewed on a computer, phone, or other electronic device. Both types of maps have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Paper maps are great because they’re light and easy to carry. They don’t require batteries, so you don’t have to worry about them running out of power. Paper maps are also easy to read in low light conditions. The downside of paper maps is that they can be easily damaged and they’re not as updateable as digital maps.

Digital maps are becoming more popular because they offer a number of advantages over paper maps. They can be updated more frequently, so you always have the most up-to-date information. Digital maps are also easier to search and navigate. And if you have a GPS-enabled device, you can use digital maps to track your location in real time. The downside of digital maps is that they require batteries and can be difficult to read in direct sunlight.


How to hold a topographic map?

There are a few different ways to hold a topographic map. The most common way is to hold it in your hands with both hands. You can also fold it so that only the area you’re interested in is showing. Or, if you’re hiking with a partner, you can each hold one end of the map and share it between you.

How to read a topographic map?

Topographic maps can be confusing at first glance. But once you know how to read them, they are actually quite simple. The first thing you need to do is identify the contour lines. These are the lines that connect points of equal elevation. They are usually close together where the terrain is steep and further apart where the terrain is flat. The spacing of the contour lines will give you an idea of how steep the terrain is.

In addition to contour lines, topographic maps also have symbols that represent different features. These could be anything from mountains to roads to buildings. By becoming familiar with these symbols, you will be able to quickly identify the different features on the map.

The next thing you need to do is identify the scale of the map. This will tell you how much ground is represented by each inch on the map. For example, a scale of may mean that one inch on the map represents two miles of actual ground. Knowing the scale is important because it will help you estimate distances.

Finally, you need to orient yourself on the map. This means finding out where you are on the map in relation to the other features. Once you have done this, you are ready to start using the map!

Now, we’ll detail Longitude & Latitude, Counter lines, scale

What is topographic map scale?

The scale of a topographic map tells you how much the map has been enlarged or reduced. For example, a scale of “one inch to one mile” means that one inch on the map equals one mile in real life.

The scale of a topographic map is important because it tells you how much detail you can expect to see. A large-scale map will show more detail than a small-scale map . This is important to keep in mind when planning your hike.

Understanding Longitude & Latitude

Understanding the relationship between longitude and latitude is vital when using a topographic map. Using these two factors, every place on Earth’s surface may be located using its east, west, north and south distance from the prime meridian, an hypothetical line passing through Greenwich, England.

It is customary to start with latitude, which is expressed in degrees, minutes, and seconds. 40°26’46′′N is a reference to a place located 40 degrees, 26min, and 46 seconds north of the equator. As with latitude, longitude is presented in the same format but measures east and west, with values that range from zero degrees to 180 degrees.

As a result, the coordinates “40°26’46′′N 79°58’56′′W” denotes a location that is 40 degrees, 26 minutes, and 46 seconds north of the equator and 79 degrees, 58 minutes, and 56 seconds west of the prime meridian.

To know the degree position, you can use a compass. It will allows to determine with a high precision the degrees of your position, so that you can respect your path.

To utilize a topographic map, you don’t need to understand how coordinate systems operate in detail, although being able to read them is important. This makes it easier to find your exact position on a map and gives you a better idea of your exact position or how far is your destination.

How to use contour lines on topographic maps?

Contour lines are used to show elevation on topographic maps. They are usually brown or black and they look like squiggly lines. To read contour lines, you need to know two things: the interval and the index contour. The interval is the amount of elevation between each line. For example, if the interval is 100 feet, then each line represents 100 feet of elevation. The index contour is the thickest line on the map. It is usually a different color from the other contour lines, and it represents a multiple of the interval. For example, if the interval is 100 feet and the index contour is red, then that line represents 200 feet of elevation.

To use contour lines, look for patterns in the lines. For example, if you see a series of parallel lines, that means you are looking at a ridge. If the lines are close together, that means the slope is steep. If they are far apart, that means the slope is gentle. You can also use contour lines to find valleys and depressions. Just look for areas where the contour lines come together.

For more details, please check this video.

How to use a topographic map while hiking?

Now that you know how to read a topographic map, let’s discuss how to use it while hiking. The first thing you need to do is plan your route. This means looking at the map and deciding which way you want to go. You should take into account things like the terrain, distance, and landmarks. Once you have planned your route, you should mark it on the map so that you can follow it while hiking.

If you get lost while hiking, a topographic map can help you find your way. First, stop and try to orient yourself. Once you know where you are on the map, look for nearby landmarks that will help you find your way back to your original route.



A topographic map is a powerful tool that can be used to help you plan and execute a successful hike. By taking the time to learn how to read and use a topographic map, you can make sure that your next hike is safe and enjoyable.

When hiking, either in a hiking camps or in a non marked area always carry a topographic map with you so you can orient yourself and find your way back if necessary. Topographic maps show elevation changes which can be very helpful when trying to navigate your way through unfamiliar terrain. Be sure to know how to read and use a topographic map before heading out on your next hike!

Thanks for reading! Safe hiking!


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