How to Read a Road Map – 6 Easy Steps

It’s raining. The sun has set. Your GPS is dead and you already need this part of the journey to your retirement buggy, but the detour through the roadblock was not planned.  You have a vague idea how to get back to the original route, but the signs are misleading and pointless, and there’s no one at this hour to ask for directions. You’re not at all sure you want to stop, given the signs of desperation on some people’s faces as you drive by in your car.

All your plans may be in vain if a breakdown prevents you from reaching your destination safely. They have always practiced the two-one and one-no mantra when it comes to quitting. Technology is great, but it can also fail. Signals can be lost. The GPS service may be turned off, the battery may be dead. If all else fails, can you read the roadmap?

Okay, this may be a pretty extreme example, but if you’re going on a road trip, or maybe something less serious like a hike, knowing how to read a road map is just as important to the success of your trip as having the experience and equipment to change a tire. Even if you’ve gone off the grid in search of a different kind of self-sufficiency – a way to free yourself from dependence on the GPS system – you should be able to read the road map before you leave.

Reading a road map is easier than you think, and it’s a skill that can save you time and effort on the road.

We have broken down six simple steps on how to read the roadmap. With this information, you are ready to use your backup navigation system in case something goes wrong.

Step 1 – Getting the right roadmap

Knowing how to read the roadmap can help ensure your safety if more technical methods are not available.

Topographic maps are ideal for situations where you cannot rely on conventional roads. It’s a good backup, but most people can rely on a reliable road atlas.

Maps can be used for many purposes: a traveller does not need the same information as a motorist and a farmer does not need the same information as a fisherman. In that sense, no two cards are the same.

What kind of card do you need? You guessed it, the road map. You also need a modern roadmap. Infrastructure and roads are constantly being developed everywhere, and land conditions can change dramatically from year to year.

If you can’t buy a printed, fold-out road map for any part of your trip, start Google Maps in advance. Print the map segments you need and save them for use when you need them. You can organize these cards into bundles so they are easy and logical to find.

Step 2 – Aligning thechart

It is very important to understand which path is on the map. Get up? No, north, south, east and west are the directions you use on the map. No matter in which direction you look at the earth itself, the top of the map is always in the north, you can assume that even if there is no compass rose on the map.

The maps are facing north. If you don’t know which way is north, it’s good to have a compass too.

Step 3 – Read the map to scale

The scale of the map is very important so that you are aware of it. The map scale shows the relationship between the mapped distance and the actual distance. This ratio and scale varies from map to map. The scale is displayed on the map even if the compass rose is not present. On a correct map (for example not drawn by hand) you will find both a compass rose and a scale.

For example, if you measure your points from A to B on a map (we’ll come back to that in a moment), and the map is 12.7 cm long and the scale of your map is 1:190,000, then you can calculate the actual distance from A to B this way;

5 x 190,000 = 950,000 inches

One mile = 63, 360 inches

So 950,000 ÷ 63,360 = 14.9 miles.

The only number to remember is 63,360, the number of inches in a mile.

Also remember that when working in miles, one mile equals 1.6 km, so in this case 14.9 miles is 23.9 km.

Step 4 – Contour lines

Reading contour lines is an important skill, even if your trip is on flat terrain. The contours indicate the height or elevation of the terrain, and each line represents the distance above sea level at which each location is located.

It’s easy to remember: The closer the contours are to each other, the steeper the slope.

A contour map is a map represented by contours, such as. B. a topographic map showing the valleys and hills and the steepness or smoothness of the slopes.

A contour map is a map represented by contours, such as. B. a topographic map showing the valleys and hills and the steepness or smoothness of the slopes.

The further apart the contours are, the denser the gradient.

When driving in mountainous areas, pay attention to the curves, especially if you want to estimate the driving time.

Step 5 – Card Legend

Unfortunately, it’s not as exciting as it seems at first glance, but it’s certainly one of the most useful parts of the map. Perhaps no map makes sense without a legend. The legend explains what the different symbols, line styles and color gradients on the map mean to you. As with the scale, the legends of each card are different, but there are a few standard symbolic images that are most commonly used.

The mountains are usually rendered in shades of green or brown, with a white section showing a snowy peak; this is basically the overall picture. The darkest areas are the lower parts of the mountain, which become greener or lighter as you reach the higher parts.

All water bodies such as ponds, lakes, rivers or oceans are shown in blue; this is also a general designation.

Forests, parks and even golf courses are painted green, it’s a universal block of green, not the varying shades of green found on maps of mountains.

Buildings and residential areas are presented as black or grey blocks, with borders in pink or sometimes yellow tones.

This may sound pretty obvious, but if you’re not familiar with the language of legend, knowing the standard rules of legend can help you understand what’s happening on your roadmap.

Step 6 – Use the map!

Now you know how to read a map, now you need to know how to use it. Get your pencil ready!

If you cannot find your starting or ending point on the map, just look at the back of the road map and use the index to find out on which page(s) your starting or ending point is located. The index is arranged in alphabetical order and gives you both the page number and grid reference for each place listed.

What is a mesh and how is it used?

The reference grid helps you to accurately identify a point on the map. The X axis runs along the horizontal edge of the map and the Y axis is vertical. For road maps four digits are generally used as the reference grid, for pedestrian maps six digits.

For the four-digit grid reference, the first two digits on the X axis and then on the Y axis.

For example, let’s say you are looking for the rural village of Cotswold in Bibury, UK. Click on the index and you will see that it is on page 34, grid reference 2437.

Press page 34 and follow the X axis to 24 and the Y axis to 37. Follow the trail with your fingers until they meet and you find Bibury on the map.

How to get from point A to point B using a map.

You now know exactly how to determine the starting and ending point on the map, you now need to know how to get from point A to point B.

To trace your route the traditional way, you will need a piece of string. Place one end of the line at the starting point and then follow the route as best you can to point B. Then mark the line where it intersects with point B, remove the line from the map and measure.

As in the equation in step 3, use a string to calculate the exact length of your journey.

A memory for you;

If your route is 12.7 cm long and the scale of your map is 1:190,000, you can calculate the real distance from A to B this way;

5 x 190,000 = 950,000 inches

One mile = 63, 360 inches

So 950,000 ÷ 63,360 = 14.9 miles.

The only number to remember is 63,360, the number of inches in a mile.


If you’re traveling alone, it’s best to write down the names of the streets and intersections you need to use to get to and from your destination. If your friend can’t read the road map (send him this article!), it’s also a good idea to provide him with a list of notes he can refer to to help you both on your journey.

Don’t forget: Do not attempt to read the map while driving. Stop in a safe place and concentrate on reading the map, so you can concentrate on the road ahead!


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