Map Reading - ScoutHelp

The ability to use a map correctly is an important scouting skill. If you intend to go hill-walking or hiking then it becomes an important skill in its own right. Getting lost when the weather begins to take a turn for the worst is not the best experience in the world (and I know that firsthand!). If you are walking in potentially 'dangerous' country then it is paramount for safety that you know where you are and where you are going.

In this section we cover the main points involved in becoming familiar with a map and all the information that it contains. Note that related material, (Compass and Tracking - Direction Finding) are also important but these are covered in their own section.

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Contour Lines

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Contour lines are a way of representing height and structure on a flat map. In real life the landscape around you is full of (Three dimensional) features, rolling hills, sudden drops, gentle inclines, steep spurs and flat farmland. It is next to impossible to represent this directly onto a map (The major problem being that it is impractical. A map with fully featured bumps and lumps like those you may have seen in your school geography classes is a bugger to fold up!). In order to show this (very important!) information on the map we use contour lines.

Introduction

What are contour lines?

Well the trivial answer is that they are those faint brown lines all over your Ordnance Survey map.

What on Earth do they mean?

Contour lines are a way of representing height and structure on a flat map. In real life the landscape around you is full of (Three dimensional) features, rolling hills, sudden drops, gentle inclines, steep spurs and flat farmland. It is next to impossible to represent this directly onto a map (The major problem being that it is impractical. A map with fully featured bumps and lumps like those you may have seen in your school geography classes is a bugger to fold up!). In order to show this (very important!) information on the map we use contour lines.

A contour line represents a particular height above a fixed point (sea level) in metres. Every point on that contour line is at the same height above sea level. They therefore operate on a similar principle to Isobars and Isotherms in meteorology, where each line represents a particular pressure or temperature and each point on that same line has the same pressure/temperature.

You will find that not every contour line is marked with an actual value. On an Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50 000 map, the contours are spaced at 10 metre intervals. Only a few contours are actually marked with a number.

Err, Right. So what good are they?

Contour lines are invaluable in certain situations. Walking, route planning, direction finding or position locating require a basic understanding of contour lines. With practice you can look at a map and envisage the landscape as it should appear in real life. At the very least you should be able to tell if you have to walk up a mountain or if it is flat ground all the way. By applying a few simple principles you can learn a lot about the 'lay of the land' from contour lines.

Credits

The information in this section has come from scoutingresources.org.uk we are very thankful for there help.