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Map reading for beginners

This section is intended to show absolute beginners the correct use of maps. It's always astonishing how many people can't read or misunderstand maps..

A map, as every child knows, is a drawing of the ground. All maps in western countries start life as aerial pictures Those are converted into drawing by highly experienced specialists. Any map is as good as the people who make it..

On every map you will find the scale. This indicates how many times a map is smaller than reality. A good rule is not to go too small if you don't need it. I found the following sizes working good:.

For long travels on motorways and tarmac roads: 1:500.000 and up to 1:1.500.000. Those have the advantage that you see the next larger cities that are indicated on roadsigns..

For slow travel and sightseeing without leaving the roads: 1:200.000 or 1:250.000. Many maps of local areas are in this scale. Not as fast when you look at roadsigns and try to figure out in the direction of which city you have to drive. But better for finding small roads and points of interest. Those are the maps that show the most difference in quality. I will later explain why..

For off-tarmac driving: 1:20.000 or 1:25.000. Those are generally very precise as they consist the base of which map makers start for drawing larger maps (like the 1:1.000.000)..

Just of interest for walkers are maps in even smaller scale like the 1:5000. They are of not much practical use for 4-wheeling.


But let's go to the basics immediately:

A map should be always read with the north up. All maps in the northern hemisphere are made that way so you can read the names and indications when you hold it in your hands. It's an bad habit to turn the map so the road you drive on points in front of you.