Definition of a Topographic Map

Definition of a Topographic Map
Topographic maps show two-dimensional surfaces of man-made and natural features. Using contour lines, names, shapes and shading; the topographic map is an essential tool for those making their way through the outdoors.

What Is Found On a Topographic Map?

Man-made items such as buildings, railways, power lines and roads can be found on a topographic map. Natural features such as lakes, rivers, slopes, mountains, forests and rapids are also noted. All are identified by symbols or colors.

Topographical Surveys

Topographical surveys play an important role in keeping all information on worldwide topographic maps accurate and concise. They are used to provide data for maps that need to be updated periodically to recognize new bridges and roads, or to remove man-made or natural structures that have been demolished.

Contour Lines

Contour lines represent relief on a map and connect a group of points that identify equal or uneven elevation. They help outdoorsmen easily identify distance or changes in terrain such as mountains, slopes or drop-offs.


Scales measure the space between the locations on the map and the related length or distance to the ground. Average topographic map scale sizes are medium-covered areas that show minimal details (1:50 00), and small-covered areas (1:250 000) showing more precise objects in a smaller vicinity.


Topographic maps are used for navigational purposes by campers, hikers, backpackers, survey crews and military personal to quickly identify objects and terrain.

Article Written By Julie Boehlke

Julie Boehlke is a seasoned copywriter and content creator based in the Great Lakes state. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Boehlke has more than 10 years of professional writing experience on topics such as health and wellness, green living, gardening, genealogy, finances, relationships, world travel, golf, outdoors and interior decorating. She has also worked in geriatrics and hospice care.

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