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Topographical maps represent the topography of an area.
That's just a fancy way of saying it lays out the features: hills, valleys, ridges, rivers.
A hiker needs to know when there are elevation gains and losses, when there are water crossings, and when a mile will feel longer than a straight line mile on flat surfaces.
Tip: Hikers call these "topo" maps, because it gets tedious to say the whole long name every time.
This link takes you to a great example of elevation changes at Ship Rock, New Mexico.
You will definitely notice a lot of lines, of every shape: straight, crooked, solid, broken.
Because this is New Mexico topo map, brown lines predominate. Lack of surface water and sparse human activity (roads, buildings) in this area make colors other than brown something you have to hunt for.
Now take a look at this topo map of an entirely different region in Georgia.
These maps make efficient use of
symbols to tell you about the things you'll find as you explore an area. An example:
There might also be a place or feature name near the symbol, giving you even more information that you can use to cross reference on another map.
The scale of the map is also
important, giving you information about how to convert inches or
centimeters into "real" dimensions such as miles or kilometers.
The only way to get good at reading a topographical map is to practice.
You can download a free one, then write a description of a section of a trail that you see on the map.
In other words, you are translating from symbols to words.
What a great way to build or strengthen your hiking skills!
P.S. It's a fun skill to teach kids, who are intuitively drawn to maps, colors and wiggly lines.
In the United States, The USGS provides free downloads of topo maps.
This link takes you to a map of the U.S., and you can select the region you're planning to hike in. Print the maps you need, and carry them in a plastic bag.
If you'd rather purchase maps, there are several companies that make topographical maps.
To keep your purchased maps safe and dry, use a sturdy map case like this one.
Hikers need maps.
Lots of them, as the hiking habit grows.
Maps also make great memories if used as wrapping paper for gifts for your trail buddies.
If you don't want to use paper maps, here are some electronic options:
No excuse for not having a map on a hiking trail these days!
Happy mapping and safe navigating to your favorite outdoor spots.
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