Mapping for Mountaineers

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Often stress the need to carry on our mountain tours and trips such basic tools as a compass and map (on these elements in courses taught SFLM). Maps are many and varied. Indeed a map is a representation of the land surface and can be anything from a simple and schematic drawing up a letter accurate and complete. Its efficiency as a basic orientation in mountain and reliability depend on the degree of information. We then treat a range of issues and map elements that we consider when purchasing our maps for mountain activities:

Offset Scale and contour:

On the level of information that can contain, for the accuracy of such information in the area that can encompass traditional formats (up to 100cms x 100 cms.) Scale recommended for mountaineering activity in general is 1: 25,000. Not to say that different scales are useless, but in general terms, this scale is best suited to our needs. A smaller scale map (eg. 1:50,000) may be more attractive for activities such as mountain biking, which travels at the same time covering an area far more extensive.

By contrast, larger scales, eg. 1:10,000, are excessive if not for activities which need timely information is very large. With such large scales for a day hiker average, almost certainly, we will need several sheets (maps) different, thus driving hassle, need for fittings, etc..

Detailed information will be very much in terms of scale. This is manifested mainly in the contour system. Faced with these curves equidistance 20 m. at 1:50000 or 1:40000 maps in 1:25,000 maps equidistance is 10 m, which offers a much more accurate topographic information. Do not forget that we are trying to mountains where altitude information is critical metrics.


Maps should contain a coordinate system for accurate and rapid location of any point which is in the area represented. The possibility of defining the location of that point is a point that they neglect some of the mapping aimed at mountaineers. The system of UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) is the most interesting for any outdoor activity. The UTM coordinate system is usually accompanied by the corresponding UTM kilometric grid, which greatly facilitates the location of the points. Several publishers, when they announce “compatible with GPS” want to indicate precisely which include the kilometer-long grid and thus facilitate the introduction into the receiver of the coordinates of any point. If the map does not have the above grid, the location of any point, especially if you’re in the middle of the road, it is very vague. This happens, for example, the maps only include the traditional geographic coordinate system (that of the degrees, minutes and seconds).

Map Types

The wide variety of maps are: tourist maps, road, thematic, etc.. Among such a variety of hiking maps topographic type (relating to relief) are most appropriate for our mountaineering activity. They also clearly indicate those elements most relevant and necessary for the mountaineer (paths, routes, shelters, cut, place names, etc..) Should contain an accurate and detailed topographic information. The set of curves relief may be accompanied by various ranges of shading to accentuate the feeling of relief, to differentiate areas or cut. In this sense, some publishers are making maps with the effects of relief achieved and very intuitive. The official mappings in this area are the most reliable and based on the maps of private publishers.

Secondary information is not so …

A good map for hiking we must also provide information about land uses (vegetation type) and a set of conventional signs (roads, buildings, towns, administrative boundaries, landmarks of various kinds) that add useful information, no both for guidance as to the knowledge of the environment. A good and complete legend (whole cartographic symbols and technical information appearing on the leaf margins) is indicative of a good map. Likewise, the mapping information that we consider “art” (datum of the map, magnetic declination, geographic zone, etc.). Is helpful for navigation.

Areas Represented:

For all the foregoing information, the official maps of the 1:25000 series of National Geographic Service (SGN) respond to all recommendations. However, being contiguous series of blades, usually happens very often that the area of interest (mountain range, mountain, summit, etc.). Displayed in a corner of the map or on several different maps. This will usually resolve publishing maps or other public entities that frame the area of interest into a map of manageable size.


One of the weakest elements of the official cartography (mapping services developed by officers) is just the place names. In this respect the publishers usually do a good job of documentation and field maps are grateful because the place names can be a very relevant for understanding the environment and the designation of sites.

Other Aspects:

Some publishers weave the maps on waterproof plastic materials, making them more durable. The year of publication and will update as accurate idea of your information, more so in our environment, very subject to human disturbance (infrastructure, forest roads, buildings, etc.).

We hope that these considerations will help you in choosing your maps for the mountain. Good course!

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