Map reading skills pdf

In an age when mapping apps are commonplace, you may think that learning how to read a paper map is an obsolete skill. Map reading skills pdf if you enjoy hiking, camping, exploring the wilderness, or other outdoor activities, a good road or topographic map is your still best friend. Unlike cell phones and GPS devices, there are no signals to lose or batteries to change with a paper map, making them far more reliable.


This guide will introduce you to the basic elements of a map. The legend, sometimes called a key, tells you how to interpret a map’s symbols. For instance, a square with a flag on top usually represents a school, and a dashed line represents a border. Note, however, that map symbols used in the United States are often used for different things in other countries.

The symbol for a secondary highway used on a United States Geological Survey topographic map represents a railroad on Swiss maps. TitleA map’s title will tell you at a glance what the map is depicting. If you’re looking at a road map of Utah, for example, you would expect to see interstate and state highways, plus major local roadways across the state.

A USGS geological map, on the other hand, will depict specific scientific data for a region, such as groundwater supplies for a city. Regardless of the type of map you’re using, it will have a title.

OrientationA map isn’t very useful if you don’t know where you are relative to your position on it. Most cartographers align their maps so that the top of the page represents north and use a small arrow-shaped icon with an N beneath it to point you in the right direction. ScaleA life-sized map would be impossibly large. Instead, cartographers use ratios to reduce a mapped region to a manageable size.

The map’s scale will tell you what ratio is being used or, more commonly, depict a given distance as the equivalent of a measurement, such as 1 inch representing 100 miles. The map user should look to the legend for an explanation of colors on a map.

A neatline is the border of a map. It helps to define the edge of the map area and obviously keeps things looking organized. Cartographers may also use neatlines to define offsets, which are mini-maps of an expanded area of the map. Many road maps, for instance, contain offsets of major cities that show additional cartographic detail like local roads and landmarks.