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Learning how to use topo maps?
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Mike Henry
(mikehenry) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Learning how to use topo maps? on 05/01/2011 03:53:18 MDT Print View

Hey all,

So i am beginning to delve into backpacking, and wanted to know if there are any guides avaliable on how to understand and properly read topographic maps? I am basically clueless on the entire subject, and dont understand how one goes from knowing of a trail to mapping it on a topographic map to give oneself an understanding of the area they will be in. I haven't figured out how people map out routes and trials without there being any kinds of markings on the maps. Does anyone have an tips or guides to help this dumbfounded individual on understanding how to use topographic maps?



Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
PDF available on 05/01/2011 04:23:06 MDT Print View

Hi Mike

You can download one from the Australian bushwalking FAQ web site I maintain, at
PDF, about 5 Mbyte.


Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Learning how to use topo maps? on 05/01/2011 07:57:50 MDT Print View

I like this book

If you are near a city see if there is a chapter of

tkkn c
(tkknc) - MLife

Locale: Desert Rat in the Southwest
Learning how to use topo maps on 05/01/2011 08:36:17 MDT Print View

Here are some links on orienteering for you to try. If you enable your PM , I can send you some PDF manuals.

Army Study Guide for topographical maps
Boy Scout Links
Orienteering merit badge requirements with some ideas
Go to the orienteering section half way down the page
Kifaru Back Country Navigation

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Learning how to use topo maps on 05/01/2011 12:41:34 MDT Print View

I will second the suggestion about orienteering. Some orienteering organizations have regular "meets" open to the public. They have at least one course laid out for the experts, but then they have easier and easier courses as well. At one meet, I saw a course laid out for kids and complete beginners. Basically, you could not get lost, and it simply allowed you to practice with a topo map. A beginner can "learn their way around" as they practice on harder and harder navigation courses.

Another line of outdoorspeople to check out is the local cave explorer "grotto." They have to read topo maps to be able to find their way to cave entrances, so that is just another place to practice.

Different scouting organizations have map reading programs, especially for kids.

Military training always has a land navigation class. Some branches, like the Army and the Marines, have excellent training. Of course, you may not want to sign up for three years just to get land nav training.

FM 3-25.26 is the (correct) textbook on map reading and land nav.


Edited by --B.G.-- on 05/01/2011 15:15:17 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Learning how to use topo maps on 05/01/2011 14:49:13 MDT Print View

Bob, that FM is the combat field manual.


Edited by jshann on 05/01/2011 14:51:38 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Learning how to use topo maps on 05/01/2011 15:14:47 MDT Print View

You are absolutely right. I'll go change that now.

That's what happens when you have too many books crowded together on the shelf.

The correct land nav FM is 3-25.26.


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Old Standard on 05/03/2011 19:26:09 MDT Print View

Bjorn Kjellstrom's "Be Expert With Map & Compass" is still about the best book on the subject. It has gone through many revisions.

Be sure to get a decent Silva-type protractor compass to use with the book and in the backcountry with your topo maps.