Maps have many different scales and it is sometimes tricky to find the one that is suited for your intended use.

The one thing that often confuses those new to navigation is the differences between the differing map scales available.

Every map is drawn to a predefined scale and that scale allows a reader to calculate the distances between different points and also indicates the height and area of the features illustrated. In the UK we have many different scales of map for different purposes but the most common ones used on maps produced for walkers are 1:25 000, 1:40 000 and 1:50 000.

So how does a map scale work?

Well it really is quite simple. The scale indicates of how many times you would have to enlarge your map so it would match the actual size of the landscape you are observing.

  • One grid square on a 1:25 000 map if enlarged 25,000 times would match the actual size of the land.
  • One grid square on a 1:40 000 map if enlarged 40,000 times would match the actual size of the land.
  • One grid square on a 1:50 000 map if enlarged 50,000 times would match the actual size of the land.

So which is best the scale of map to chose for walking?

Choosing a map scale depends on the amount of detail you are looking for in a map. The more detail you require the bigger the grid square has to be in order to accommodate that additional detail and as knock on it also means that your map will cover less land. Which map scale you decide upon using will be dictated by your needs.

A 1:25 000 map is ideal for walkers as it shows a good level of detail including paths, trails, roads, structures and obstacles e.g. marshes, fences, rocky areas etc. Contour lines are marked at a 5m or 10m interval allowing you to easily gauge how steep a slope or area may be. Ordnance Survey produces their Explorer Map range in 1:25 000 and the maps are firm favourites with many walkers. This range of maps covers the entire UK in excellent detail.

1:25 000 - Map scales – the differences explained Walk Fife
Copyright Ordnance Survey 2017

A 1:40 000 map provides slightly less detail than above but still gives enough information for walker to easily navigate their route. Contour lines are marked at a 15m interval along with a shading system that indicates changes in height which allows you assess an area easily. Harvey Maps use the 1:40 000 scale in many of their maps of the UK National Parks. Harvey Maps are a favourite of many Munroe Baggers because of their uncluttered nature plus they are waterproof and do not tear easily. These maps do not cover the whole of the UK and instead just focus on popular hill ranges and routes.

1:40 000 - Map scales – the differences explained Walk Fife
Copyright Harvey Maps 2017

A 1:50 000 map is the least detailed of the three scales here but still provides roads, paths, structures and landmarks. This scale of map is often a favourite of touring cyclists as it accommodates more landscape into one map than the other two scales. Contour lines are marked at a 20m interval making it slight more tricky to assess the terrain. The Ordnance Survey Landranger Maps are produced in this scale and again cover the whole of the UK. These maps are good to get a accurate overview of an area or region when extra detail isn’t required e.g. initial planing of a long hike.

1:50 000 - Map scales – the differences explained Walk Fife
Copyright Ordnance Survey 2017

Pick the map you need for the route ahead…

It is not until you start using maps that you will begin to realise which scale of map works best for you. If you are planning a cycling route where you will be covering long distances then a 1:50 000 map would best match your needs. If you are tackling the Fife Coastal Path or the Lomond Hills then perhaps 1:25 000 map would be your best option as it provides good detail and information to help you along your way.

Hopefully this post will be of some help to you and if you have any questions then please feel free to drop us a line to ask us question.

Happy Walking!

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