Searching for an adventure? Make sure you know how to read a topographic map before you go! In this blog post, we’ll give you tips on how to read a topographic map so that you can plan your next hike with ease.

There’s nothing quite like getting out into nature and exploring the great outdoors. Whether you’re going for a short walk or a multi-day hike, it’s always important to be prepared. Part of being prepared is knowing how to read a topographic map.

This way, if you get lost, you’ll be able to find your way back using only the map. In this post, we’ll give you tips on how to read a topographic map so that you can plan your next hike with ease.

1. Pay Attention to the Contour Lines

Contour lines are one of the most important features of a topographic map because they show elevation changes. They can also help you identify landmarks, like mountains, valleys, and rivers.

2. Look for Symbols

To save space, topographic maps use symbols to represent different features. For example, a triangle might represent a forest, while a circle might represent a lake.

By becoming familiar with the most common symbols, you’ll be able to quickly identify the different features on the map.

3. Know the Scale

The scale of the map will tell you how far apart things are in real life. For example, if the scale is 1:24000, that means that one inch on the map represents 2 miles in real life. This is an important piece of information to know because it will help you estimate distances.

4. Use a Compass Rose

A compass rose is an important tool that will help you orient yourself on the map. It shows directions (like north, south, east, and west) as well as angles (in degrees).

5. Find Your Location on the Map

Once you’ve orientated yourself using the compass rose, it’s time to find your location on the map. If you’re not quite sure where you are, look for nearby landmarks and compare them to what’s shown on the map.

6. Estimate Distance Using Landmarks

Let’s say you want to hike to the nearest mountain peak. To do this, first find two distant points on either side of the mountain peak using contour lines.

Then use a ruler or your finger to measure the distance between those two points on the map (remembering to convert from inches to miles using the scale).

Finally, double that number to get an estimate of how far away the mountain peak is from your current location!

7. Use Your Thumbs for Estimating Distance

Another common method for estimating distance is known as “thumbing.” To do this, hold up your thumb at arm’s length and align it with two distant points on either side of your current location (again using contour lines).

Then move your thumb until it covers one of those points completely—the number of times your thumb covers that point is approximately equal to how many miles away it is!

8. Determine Your Elevation Change

A small triangle next to two contour lines indicates either an uphill or downhill slope (depending on which way the triangle is pointing).

By counting how many contours there are between your current location and your destination, you can get a good estimate of how much elevation change there will be along your route!


We hope these tips have helped you learn how to read a topographic map! Remember—practice makes perfect!

Get out there and try reading some maps so that you can master this essential skill before embarking on your next outdoor adventure!