How to Read a Paper Map

With so many amazing walks and trails for you to explore throughout Ireland, now’s the time to brush up on your map reading skills.

When hiking or exploring isolated trails, you can’t rely on Google Maps and GPS, which is why it’s so important to know how to read a paper map.

Here are the simple map reading skills you need to know before starting your summer hike.

How to Read a Map

Map Reading Basics

Choose the Right Map

First and foremost, before setting out on your hike, make sure you have packed the right map for your journey. There are many different types of maps available, such as aerial, topographic and illustrative maps and when wandering into unknown terrain it’s important to have the right equipment.

OSi’s Discovery Map Series provides climbers and walkers with everything they need to tackle their chosen route. In total, there are 93 Discovery Sheets covering the whole of Ireland. Each of these sheets is a single map, which is then divided into grids at a scale of 1:50,000.

OSi’s store has the definitive range of paper maps for the island of Ireland can be easily ordered online, so it’s easy to make sure you’re fully prepared.

Check the Map’s Orientation

Once you’ve purchased the right map, take a moment to examine it after you’ve opened it. Scrutinise what you’re seeing and try to find your position on the map.

Most maps will feature a ‘compass rose’ in the corner which is used to determine your cardinal direction north, south, east and west. North is considered a neutral position from which to identify the other directions. Unless otherwise specified, the top of the map will always correspond with north.

Learn the Legend

Now this doesn’t refer to an old Irish fable, but in fact the map’s key. Usually found in the corner of the page, the key will define the meaning behind each of the map’s symbols.

Usually, you’ll find symbols representing roadways, towns, and archaeological features, like passage tombs and dolmens. Before setting off, familiarise yourself with the legend and learn what geographical features may lie ahead.

How to Read a Map

Contour Lines

Contour lines connect points of equal elevation above or below sea level. Knowing the elevation of the land is extremely important when hiking or climbing.

Watch the contour lines closely and prepare for any steep climbs ahead.

Read Map Coordinates

As mentioned in our previous article, a map’s scale serves two different functions. Firstly, it shows the complete area of a map and the specific distance between points.

If a map is 1:50,000 in scale, this means that 1cm on the map represents 50,000 cm, or 500 m, on the ground. For example, you if you drew a 2 cm line on your map, the actual distance would be 1 km.

How toRead a Map

Grids also help you determine your location. This is an important skill to have, especially if you ever need to relay your location to emergency services.

Looking at your map, you’ll see a series of lines running horizontally and vertically across the map. Each line has a corresponding number found at the end. The numbers which run from left to right on the map are called Eastings. The numbers which run from bottom to top are called Northings.

When giving a 4-figure grid reference, locate the square you are in, then give the Easting number followed by the Northing number.

In the example below, the grid reference for number 4 is 2854. .

Grid reference

How to Use a Compass

Learning how to use a compass can be tricky. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to use a compass. The definitive guide has everything you need to know about orienteering with a compass.

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