How to Read a Topographic Map While Hiking

How to Read a Topographic Map While Hiking

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Why do you need to Read a Topographic Map? Unlike a simple trail map, topographic maps ideally reveal the terrain that you can expect to encounter on your trail. Topographic tools are essential tools for hikers as they can plan an entire trip with the help of a topographic map.

How to Read a Topographic Map While Hiking picture of a map

The map dramatically decreases your chances of any unpleasant surprises. The map includes steep mountain ascents, gently sloping valleys, and some of the fascinating points you pass by an area. The plan will give you a rough idea about the distance to reach a specific location.

How to Read a Topographic Map While Hiking

When you consult a topographic map before hiking, you can gauge the difficulty level of the hike and be prepared for potential adventures. A topographic map is one of the best tools you can have if you lose your bearings on a trail. You will need some basic understanding to utilize the vital information on the topographic maps fully.

Different forms of charts show three-dimensional landscapes that include elevations, contours, bodies of water and vegetation, and topographic features.

Why do you need a topographic map?

Simplified trail maps that include the JPEG images don’t include all that you might need on a trail. The plans don’t include any elevation data or magnetic declination and also have limited symbols.

Even if you get lost, the simplified maps won’t help you in finding your way out.  A topographic map offers plenty of information not only on distance and elevation but also on vegetation and human-made structures.

Parts of a topographic map:

Contour lines

The contour lines ideally show elevation. They are known as bread and butter when it comes to an understanding of a topographic map. It shows the layout of the terrain and also gives clarity of maximum features. The contour lines will show the changes in elevation and lay of the land.

It will also give you an estimate of what you will be walking through and how difficult the trail will be. The contour lines connect all continuous points that share the same elevation. The elevation is changing at shorter distances when you see contour lines close together, indicating a steep slope or a cliff.

The grade is gradual when contour lines are apart. You might notice that every fifth line is thicker than the others. Contour lines help you visualize the features and shape of the terrain. After understanding the contour lines, you can point to valleys, plateaus, mountains, and depressions.

Scale

Scale is known as the relative distance of the real-life map. The scale is found in the legend. It shows the ratio of real ground inches to map inches. You can understand the details of the plan by looking at the scale. If a topographic map has a scale of 1:12000, it shows a much smaller area than a scale of 1:24000.

When you are planning a route, it is essential to know how detailed your map is. The representative plate is also included in the charts that help you visualize the distances in kilometers that are more useful than measuring your hike in inches.

Legend

The legend is essential to understand how to read a Topographic Map. It contains some vital information, including:

Source data- It includes when and where the map was made. Ensure you check the map before buying, as it is essential to get some recent version possible.

Scale- It means the relative distance on the map.

Contour level- It means the change in elevation between the contour line.

Magnetic declination- It means the difference between fascinating truth north and north in the given area. It is essential to set up a compass before leaving for your trail as the magnetic declination varies from place to place.

Color key- The color key indicates the various colors used across the map to mark vegetation. The darker shades indicate denser vegetation, while the lighter colors indicate thin vegetation.

Symbol key- It indicates certain features, including rivers, pipelines, boundaries, roads, etc.

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Where to get the topographic maps?

You can get topographic maps from various sources. You can get topographic maps from local government companies or specialty companies.

How to Read a Topographic Map: Orient your map

You have to use your compass and map’s north arrow to orient your map. It would be best if you placed your compass flat on the map with it pointing to the top. Then you need to rotate yourself until you see the compass’s needle pointing north.

Look for your location on the map

You have to look around to identify nearby locations or features including mountain, river, road, or spur if you have to locate those features to find your position on the map.

Read the contour lines

You have to understand the contour lines that traverse the terrain that you might be covering on your trail. Always remember closer the lines, the steeper the landscape. You can sense gradual elevation where contour lines are farther apart. The concentric circles indicate the saddles between the peaks and peaks. If you see some concentric circles with tick-marked color, it suggests the depression in the landscape color.

a Topographic Map

Identify the landscape features on the topographic map

Landscape features include saddles, spurs, summits, and reentrants determined by contour line patterns on the topographical maps.

 ➢ Spurs- It is a landscape feature under which the land slopes on three sides and slopes downwards, only one side. You can easily identify catalysts by looking at the contour lines on the map.

Reentrants- This indicates an indentation on the mountainside. You can identify reentrants by looking at the contour lines that point against the natural mountain slope on the map.

Summit- The topmost region of a mountain is known as the summit. You can identify the conference on the map by locating the contour that is an innermost line from the set of concentric contour line ranges.

Practice deciphering contour lines by reading map features in a similar location- You have to visualize each similar picture and then see how the map’s contour lines represent each feature.

Get out on the trail with your topographical map- One of the best methods to learn map reading is by taking the topographical map along with you on a short hiking trail. So you can practice identifying landscape features and then find them on your plan as you start hiking. You should pay close attention to the arrangement of the contour lines for each element.

Thus a topographic map is a vital tool that helps you plan a route and be prepared and know what’s ahead of you. I am sure you will be able to do it easily with time if you practice map reading regularly.

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