How to read a map

The maps are a very useful tool for travelers and navigators because they show us the world around us, helping us to locate places, measure distances and locate our position. In essence , to help us get our bearings. When you go on a trip it is important to have a map of the place not to miss. In some locations you can see a general map of the free online like Google Maps, but we must not forget that there is not always a signal or the internet connection, just think for example of a hike in the mountains or in any natural environment, so it is important to learn how to read the maps on the card.

The first step is to choose the right map, is suitable for the type of trip and destination in the program: in fact, there are various types of maps, intended for different uses. For example, there are road maps, which are useful for those driving on motorways and provincial roads, tourist maps for the city, such as those found in the various guides to the attractions and the most important monuments and topographical maps for hikers who travel in remote areas and natural environments, which show the paths pointing to the rivers, peaks, lakes, huts, and the places where to camp.

In particular, the latter may seem the most complicated to read and understand, but if you plan an excursion in a natural environment unknown to us is very important to learn to do this to avoid getting lost.

All the maps are designed according to the standard rules, and therefore learn to read them is not as difficult as it may seem.

What does a map look like?

To understand how to read a map is first of all essential to understand the various elements that characterize it , and how these may give us clues, facilitating the orientation. Among these are:

  • The colors. Maps usually use colors standard: blue indicates all of the water basins such as lakes, streams, rivers and the sea, while the grey or the black indicates all the buildings, monuments, roads and streets, and all the natural elements of rock, as the cliffs; the green shows woods and forests, and its tones more or less intense, suggests to us if we are in the presence of vegetation, more or less dense, while the brown indicates the presence of peaks, and the yellow indicates grasslands, meadows, and all the open spaces of the countryside.
  • The scale. Each map shows a scaled image: this is the proportion between the size of the map and the true size of the place represented. This allows you to calculate the actual distance between the various places indicated. For example, if a map is made with the scale 1:10,000, means that everything that is represented in the map is 10,000 smaller than they actually are: then one centimeter on the map corresponds to 10,000 centimeters or 100 meters. It is sufficient to have a ruler with him to measure the distances of the places represented on the map, and then multiply the figure obtained for the value of the scale (10,000 in our case). Each map uses a different scale, and this is usually indicated at the bottom and to the side.
  • The legend. On each map there is a legend, that is a key to the interpretation of the symbols used, which are universal precisely because it must be understandable to all. The legend clarifies, for example, the meaning of the lines, which may be of different size, color, and type (dashed or continuous), and usually represent each type of road and footpath; for other symbols, we can indicate the bridges, the towns, the cities, etc., this Is usually a symbology standard, but it is necessary to underline that, for example, the maps of orientation and have their own symbology. It is important that you familiarize yourself with the symbols used by the map you will have to use.
  • The level curves. These are lines that join all points which are at a same height from the sea level and are a useful tool to understand the conformation of the ground and locate the presence of hills and mountains. For example, if a path crosses the curve, means that is on a slope. When the two curves are very close together, it means that a slope is very steep, while on the contrary if they are very far apart indicate that the terrain is flatter.
  • The points of the compass. Is essential to find the correct direction. Most maps are drawn with north located at the top, south is down, west is left and east to the right. An exception is represented by the maps of orientation with which it is essential to have a compass to locate the north and the other meridians are magnetic.
  • The latitude and longitude. If you are visiting the city, are not the fundamental elements, but if you are in the cruise, plane, or in a remote area of the latitude and longitude can be useful to locate your exact location.

How to find your way with the map

If you are in the city there will be difficult to get your bearings with a map. As a first step it is necessary to first understand where you are, and then establish the right direction to take; it is necessary to locate on the map of the reference points, which can be the names of streets, museums, monuments, etc.,

Once you have identified one or more reference points, talk to it and turn the map so that the point placed in front of you is at the top of the map. In this way, you can then understand the direction to take and calculate the distance using a ruler and referring to the scale of the map.

Slightly more complicated is the orientation with the topographic maps in natural environments, where there are no streets, buildings or monuments that make reference to establish the proper direction; in this situation, you can take as a reference the rivers, the lakes, the mountains, or any other recognizable element and use a compass to locate the direction with a higher accuracy. Place the paper horizontally on the ground and turning the wheel until the reference point and its representation on the map (the symbol) are in parallel position. At this point, place the compass on the map, trying to match the north of the map with the magnetic north of the compass:the earth’s poles are in fact in constant movement and for this, it creates a discrepancy between the north indicated by the paper and the one indicated by the compass. Orient a map is always a fundamental step to read it in a more detailed way. Keeping the map stops, you should then place the compass on the line from the current position leads to the desired destination; rotate the dial until the arrow orientation does not align with the north of the map. Then you just need to stand up and start walking holding the compass in front of you; turn up to the north of the magnetic needle does not align once again with the arrow orientation. Now you’re geared properly towards the destination identified on the map.

When we lose

In addition to identifying its direction , it is important to be able to understand their position when we lose. Of course, if you have a portable gps that processes the journey to your destination is all very simple, but if you find yourself in the mountains or in a remote place where there is no signal you will need to do to the “old way”. If you are not able to identify where you are on the map, you can use one of the techniques the most simple and popular: triangulation. First of all, you have to choose three points of reference is very obvious, that are visible, physically and on the map. These points must be distributed around your field of vision in the area as large as possible, so as not to lose sight of. The first step is to orient the direction arrow of the compass towards one of the points of reference and, consequently, orient the compass and the map; you must then draw a line that goes from the reference point along the edge of the compass and through your approximate position. Repeat the same procedure with the other two points and you will get a triangle: your location is inside of it, or in the meeting point of the three lines.

The importance of a map

The map does not have useful only in the moment in which we lose the guidance, but should also be used for planning a trip. Plan a route and draw it on the map and reduces the risk of getting lost. And also allows us to save valuable time by identifying the points and attractions that we do not want to lose and working out a sort of daily schedule that includes a visit to the places that are in the same area and close together. Even more important is to get familiar with the environment and the path that we want to address when you go in the natural contexts or in a car trip “on the road”. The maps allow us, in fact, calculate distances and figure out how many km we can and we want to travel daily and where should you make a stop, identifying refuges, housing or parking areas that are located along the route.

Also the cards weather they are useful because they give us information on the climate of a given location. Among the climate there is paper weather: it is a dynamic map because it is constantly updated and will inform us on the variation of time, by reporting any precipitation and the arrival of the currents of hot or cold air. See this type of map can be useful to understand the climate of our destination, and to dress in an appropriate manner.

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