Topographical maps were created during the 18th century in France. They were designed to aid in battle planning, so knowing land features and elevation was critical.
Topographic maps allow you to navigate using characteristics of the natural environment. They are especially useful to hikers and backpackers.
The main variable in a topographical map is the scale at which it is drawn. In the US, the most common map series is drawn on a scale of 1:24,000 over 7.5 minutes (a further subdivision of longitudinal degrees).
The main feature of a topographic map is elevation, which is shown by contour lines. Contour lines are drawn at regular intervals. The maps also show things like lakes, rivers, roads, and forest cover.
Until recently, data used in creating topographical maps was gathered via aerial photography. Currently, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are transmitting data automatically, which may make map production quicker, easier and more precise.