How to Use TOPO Maps

 How to Use TOPO MapsA topo map, short for topographical map, can be intimidating upon first glance. These maps contain a wealth of information about the land features of a particular area. Thanks to contour lines, which show elevation, a flat topo map gives you a "three-dimensional" look of the area. With a little planning, a hiker can plan a route to his destination and use a compass to navigate to the destination. Become familiar with the topo map and compass before setting out on a hike in unfamiliar terrain.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

How to Use TOPO Maps

Things You’ll Need:
  • Topo map
  • Compass
  • Rule
  • Pencil
Step 1
Spread the map out on a table or flat surface. Orient the map so that north is facing away from you. If you are actually navigating outside, make sure map north is facing north.
Step 2
Locate the magnetic declination symbol. This symbol indicates the difference between true north and magnetic north. Always use magnetic north when using a compass.
Step 3
Note the contour lines. Each line shows a specific elevation.The distance between the lines indicates the steepness of the grade. When navigating from a topo map, use contour lines to find the easiest way to get to your destination.
Step 4
The map legend identifies all of the symbols and terrain features Study the legend until you are familiar with all of the land features.
Step 5
Look for the bar scale to determine how the map measures distance. The scale shows how many feet or miles a certain measurement on the map indicates. Use a ruler or string to find the distance to your destination.

Tips & Warnings

Always inform others about where you will be hiking and when you should be returning.

Article Written By Daniel Ray

Daniel Ray has been writing for over 15 years. He has been published in "Florida Sportsman" magazine. He holds an FAA airframe and powerplant license and FCC radiotelephone license, and is also a licensed private pilot. He attended the University of South Florida.

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