Reading a Topo Map
So the batteries died on your GPS, what do you do? You should always bring a good Topography (Topo) Map and should know how to read it. Most maps will have a legend or key that will show you the symbols used on the map and what they represent. Before you set out on a back country adventure get acquainted with the area on the map where you’ll be going. The colors used on maps are pretty standard and represent different types of features, as follows:
Black: Used for man-made features and cultural areas such as buildings, roads, railways, pipelines, and property boundaries.
Brown: Used for topographic and surface features such as contour lines.
Green: Used to show vegetation features, such as woods.
Blue: Used for water features, such as rivers, streams, lakes, and swamps.
Red: Used for main roads, such as highways. It can also be used to show special features like a tunnel or survey lines.
Contour lines: Lines that are used to connect points of equal elevation. Being able to decipher contour lines and translate them to a picture of the terrain is a handy land navigation skill. Lines that are close together indicate a steep rise in elevation. Often times, maps will label the contour lines with their elevation above sea level.
Scale: Scale can help you estimate distances and better plan the timing and route of your hike. Most maps are in a scale of 1:24,000 (standard) or 1:25,000 (metric). For the 1:24,000 scale maps, one inch equals 2,000 feet. For the 1:25,000 maps, 5 centimeters equals 1,250 meters. Look at the scale of your map and use it to your advantage. Many maps will have grid-squares to help assist in estimating distances on your map.