What Are Topographic Maps Used For?

What Are Topographic Maps Used For?
Topographic maps display different areas of the Earth's surface. These maps focus on using contour lines rather than other squared off designs to distinguish elevation changes and the shape of the terrain. What is beneficial with topographic maps is that they usually include both man-made and natural features. Natural features are often highlighted by small pictures or symbols for easy identification. Man-made objects, such as roads and buildings, are also identified. Topographic maps also assist sportsmen with staying safe and reaching their destination.


For those who are getting ready to hike out on unfamiliar terrain--a topographic map is an extremely useful tool. Hiking on marked and unmarked trails can still bring about unfamiliarity with an area. New man-made structures, such as pathways and bridges, can go up without notice. Having a current topographic map of the area on hand will assist in easy navigation. For example, a topographic map will state how long a sidewalk or bridge is and where the next crossroad will occur.

Backcountry Backpacking

Backcountry backpacking is a wonderful activity for those who enjoy exploration. Trekking through the backcountry also involves taking risks of the unknown. One way to navigate properly through terrain is to utilize a topographic map. The map will show backpackers changes in terrain. Meadows, woods, riverbeds, suspension bridges and mountains are all notated on a topographic map. Not only does the map help with recognizing land structures, it also helps to cue backpackers of area landmarks signifying the approaching changes in landscape.

Cross Country Skiing

One sport enjoyed by many in the winter months is cross country skiing. While many think there isn't much of a need for a map when skiing, it can in fact be extremely beneficial--even lifesaving. Several inches and feet of snow can cover low lying signs or other indicators of changes in terrain. The map will show drop offs, valleys and cave areas. A topographic map can also show heavy brush areas or forest that are near a cliff or mountain walls. These may be areas to avoid during heavy snow times to prevent accidents involving avalanche or large blocks of falling snow and ice. A topographic map also indicates where bodies of water lie--this should be avoided when skiing during a thaw to prevent breakthrough.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping involves seeking a location that is remote or away from the grid of electricity, sewer and running water. One way to find a safe place to set up camp would be to use a topographic map to distinguish certain land features. The map easily displays where water, forest and man-made buildings have been established. Choosing areas that have a bit of a clearing, but are near natural water sources may be beneficial for the backcountry camper.


A topographic map will help a driver establish a route or alternative way to get to a destination. For those who are 4x4 driving off-road--the topographic map will help assist throughout the journey. It will help assist in determining mileage between dirt or paved roads and where a trail may be located. It will also help to avoid areas, such as ponds, swamps, rocky terrain and heavily wooded areas.

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.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.