Read a map

Edited by Ephraim, Charmed, Nate Pepperell, Eng and 5 others

Maps are very useful when traveling, especially if you plan on going to places that you are not familiar with or you have never been before.

JulMol map castaway.png


Types of Maps

  1. 1
    Road Maps.
    Used for traveling the highways and interstates on the road.
    Road Map.png
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  2. 2
    Tourist Maps.
    Used for people who are sightseeing, landmarks or even to find famous "stars" in the area.
    Tourist map.png
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  3. 3
    Topographic Map.
    Used for hikers and can help them find locations at higher altitudes that you can't see by yourself from the ground.
    Topographic map.png
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  4. 4
    Maps for Pilots.
    Feature air routes and terminal areas, plus landmarks and tall things that planes would be wise to avoid.
    Pilot map.png
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  5. 5
    Google Maps.
    Also maps that can be used to find certain areas. "Google Maps" is only available online, so you will need to print them from your computer or access them via a mobile internet device.
    Google maps.png
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  1. 1
    You will need to determine exactly which map you need to use.
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  2. 2
    Check whether the map is drawn with the north being at the top or on the side, as this can be confusing at times when trying to read a map.
    A compass rose may be located on the map in order to guide you through the viewing process of the map. If the map does not have any type of compass rose to direct you, then it is okay to assume that the top of the map will be north, depending on the original orientation of the map. A good way to figure out the orientation is to check the words on the map. If you can read the words on the map, then you have the map in the right direction for viewing its content.
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  3. 3
    Most maps will have a scale on them to help you estimate the distance between certain locations.
    The map will show you a scale or ratio that you can use to determine the distance and how long it will take you to get to a certain location. Find the scale on the map which will more than likely be on the bottom left of the map and will look like 1:10,000 or something of that nature. This is used to give you the ratio in which the map you have is scaled. Use a 1:25,000 ratio map for walking, 1:190,000 map for diving or 1:24,000,000 map for traveling the whole world in its entirety. Use the ruler to draw a scale in order measure the miles from your point A to point B.
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  4. 4
    Latitude and longitude lines are located on the map in order to help you steer the right course when traveling.
    It is very useful when sailing a boat or traveling long distances, but not for short distance travel. Latitude lines run from north to south of the Equator, and the starting point will be located at the top middle to the bottom of the map. Longitude lines runs from east to west of the Greenwich Meridian. Each degree mark is equal to 60 miles on the map. You can view the latitude on the map by the numbers located on the side of the map for viewing, while the longitude is located at the bottom of the map. The lines will only be represented by numbers when there are no landmarks in order to help determine the location on the map.
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  5. 5
    Learn how to read the contour lines located on the map as they will let you know if the land in question is high ground or flat land.
    The lines will also be labeled with degrees, in order for you to measure how high the ground is in a real life situation.
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  6. 6
    Find the legend on the map so that you can help to identify certain things on the map that are important to your travel.
    Most maps will have a key that will allow you to identify certain things using symbols, which will help you translate certain things on the map into words for you to understand. Certain lines will identify roads and freeways between certain points on the map and mountains are often represented by brown, and the darker the color, the higher the mountain. All bodies of water are almost always represented by the color blue on the map. Any type of grass or trees will likely be represented by the color green, and all towns are sometimes represented by the color pink or yellow. Buildings on a map will be represented by the color gray or black on most maps.
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Printable longitude and latitude ruler

Long lat 2.jpg

Making use of the latitude and longitude coordinate system involves manipulating angular measurements to pinpoint a strategic position on the Earth's surface. Little has changed in this system since Ptolemy first used it in 150 AD for the first ever world atlas. Aviators and mariners are often experts in using the latitude longitude system. It is used on various maps to help them mark locations much faster and more accurately.

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To help you learn this system better, you can make use of a printable latitude and longitude ruler that can be downloaded from The University of Vermont, or The National Wildfire Coordination Group USG. However, before you use them, you should have a basic idea of the latitude and longitude measurements:

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  1. 1
    This measures positions from north to south between the designated poles. The north pole measures 90 degrees north, the equator measures zero, and the south pole measures 90 degrees south. Latitudinal lines are called parallels because they are parallel with one another.
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  2. 2
    This runs across, between the north and south poles. It measures the positions from east to west. The prime meridian's measurement is zero and this can be located across Greenwich, England.
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Questions and Answers

Looking for a scaled lat/long ruler?

I work with a local group of scouts and want to show them how to measure latitude and longitude, was looking for a 1:25000 scaled ruler to print thought I had found it on this page but the link isn't what I was looking for.

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Thank you for your contribution to making VisiHow a better resource for reading a map. We have updated the referenced sections with links to the University of Vermont, and the National Wildfire Coordination Group. Please reference those tools for a scaled ruler you can use for teaching your scouts how to measure latitude and longitude.

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Referencing this Article

If you need to reference this article in your work, you can copy-paste the following depending on your required format:

APA (American Psychological Association)
Read a map. (2015). In VisiHow. Retrieved Mar 25, 2017, from

MLA (Modern Language Association) "Read a map." VisiHow, Accessed 25 Mar 2017.

Chicago / Turabian "Read a map." Accessed Mar 25, 2017.

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Article Info

Categories : Travel & Leisure

Recent edits by: Julia Moliere, Graeme, Lynn

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