Navigation Skills 3 – What’s the best map for walking?
By Dave Roberts
Navigation Skills 3 – What’s the best map for walking?
One of the most essential items in the walker’s pack is a decent map. With so many different types, which ones should you buy? Here’s a brief run-down of the maps available for outdoor activities in the UK by the Ordnance Survey, Harvey Maps. and others We reviewed the waterproof or laminated versions where possible in order to allow us make fair comparisons between the different types.
1- Harvey British Mountain Maps (85g / £14.95)
These are really tough plastic maps. I remember trying to rip the corner off one of these, but there was no way. Having been field tested for many years, often in a mesh pocket of my rucksack, these maps have proven themselves to me. They’ve been worn white at a couple of seams, but this wear and tear still leaves them usable and much less noticeable than similar wear on a laminated or paper map. I also like the 1:40,000 scale as it shows the whole of North Snowdonia on one map.
The OS Landranger does that as well, but with none of the detail that Harveys have packed into this map. I love the way it’s been height shaded as well, reminding me of some of those beautiful old one inch tourist maps you could get. The rear of the maps often have extra information, such as summits in 1:15,000 and geological maps. This is the lightest map along with the other Harvey offering, but then this map has a greater coverage as well. Despite the scale, they still manage to show walls and fences in upland areas which to me are a vital aid to navigation. The downside of these maps is that they’re only available for limited areas: North and South Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons (but not the Black Mountains), Peaks, Dales, Lakes, Ben Nevis, Knoydart and the Cairngorm areas. A few other areas are covered, but most popular areas now have a map available and the range is constantly expanding to cover new areas so it’s worth keeping your eye out for your favourite area if it isn’t currently included. Another bugbear is the scale. 1:40,000 is just not on most compass romer scales and you’ll have to buy one from Harveys. Ultimately they’ve less detail than the usual Explorer maps, so are less useful for very detailed navigation.
2 – OS Explorer Active (200g/ £14.99)
One of the best options for laminated maps, especially if you walk often in one area. This is arguably the best map style and scale for detailed navigation, and are basically the standard map type you’ll encounter. They’re tough, but heavy. That said, they’re not indestructible. I’m on my second Snowdon sheet, while the Mountain Map’s still serviceable. They tend to go at the folds where the I reckon to make them last though that it’s worth keeping them dry and in your pack. Too much keeping in a mesh pocket was the end of my first copy! It’s probably not the done thing to open it out and use it to sit on wet grass though. Tough, cheap and there’s a map for everywhere in the UK bar Northern Ireland*– but could be tougher!
3 – Harveys Superwalker Maps (85g/£9.95).
Same scale as the Explorers, with extra information for walkers. Boggy areas are marked in a blue on all Harvey maps, which has been useful on a number of occasions. These Superwalkers can look rather sparse in comparison with OS maps, but this simplicity is one of their advantages. They also show paths that are not on the OS ones, and discerning paths on the ground rather than rights of way is much clearer.
All the information you’re likely to need as a walker are on there, with only the superfluous information (boundaries) removed. They’re printed on a tough and waterproof paper, so there’s no danger of water getting into the seams and ruining them. Unfortunately, they have poor national coverage. While most of the popular mountain areas are covered, South Snowdonia is only covered in the Rhinogydd area (but a fine map!) Even the Snowdonia ones are missing out some essential sections such as Nantlle and the entire northern half of the Carneddau, which means they rarely find their way on my walks.
4 – OS Landranger Active (175g/£12.99).
Similar to the Explorer active, but at the 1:50,000 scale. Ideal for an overview, and cheaper, but it’s all down to taste as to how useful these maps are. I’ll admit to rarely using this scale – other than planning at home when they provide a good overview, and only then in the absence of a BMC Harveys Mountain Map. I miss the walls and fences found on other maps when navigating. Other than that they’re similar to the OS Explorer, but with very limited coverage of only the more popular areas.
5 A to Z Adventure Atlas (£7.95)
The new kid on the block, these are a map in booklet form that often have further information on the locality such as a road atlas and facilities. They use the proper 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey mapping and are waterproof. They are available for all the National Trails and National Parks, so you’ll be OK if you’re going to popular areas. The only drawback is that they are in booklet form, which makes delicate navigation rather fiddly as you’ll have a high probability you’ll need to navigate off the edge of the map. While that’s true for all maps, the small form of these maps mean that there are many more edges and so you’re more likely to encounter the problem. Ideal when navigation isn’t going to be too taxing, Perfect for national trails (both the format and the cost of only buying one or two maps for an entire trip) and well suited for browsing in the pub or on the train. The versions for the England Coast Path are in a proper map format and provide an economic way to get coverage of coastal areas. There are unfortunately no maps for the full Wales Coast Path, but here’s hoping.
I find that a good combination is the Mountain Map (if available) and any Explorer map for extra detail. Recently, I’ve started to think that a decent map case and paper maps is the way to go. The problem with laminated maps is that they offer little grip for a compass and the lighter maps are almost impossible to handle in strong winds. The laminated maps are nigh on impossible to bend across the seams, so if you’re navigating on the folds, which is usually the case, you can’t fold the map in order to show your immediate area.
*Northern Ireland have their own mapping body – the OSNI and they produce a 1:50k Discoverer series and a 1:25k water resistant Activity map for the more popular areas. The OSNI Discoverer is height shaded and is reminiscent of the old one inch maps.