Map Reading Tips – Part 5 -Contour Lines.

How to read and use contour lines.

Contour lines or contours are the small lines that show relief (Height)on a map. Understanding contours and how to use them can change the way you use maps and will form the base of your navigation. Below I run through how they work and how to interpret them to what you see in front of you.


How do contour lines work?

A contour is a line that joins points of equal height, on a 1:25 map the lines will show height in 10m intervals and the thicker lines indicating 50m. The picture below gives a good illustration of how contours relate to the ground

Note (In none mountainous areas contours can be at 5m intervals)


The section of map below illustrates how contour lines when close together indicate steep ground, when they are far apart they indicate less steep ground, the peak is 430m as their are three distinct contour lines which indicate 10m per line. slopeguide2

TOP TIP – When we navigate we often bury our heads into the map and forget to look around, try setting your map (Point the map north) and look around, see how many features on the map you can recognize and navigate too without a compass. 

Further reading

Ordnance surveys blog about contour lines.

Thanks for reading, this blog was developed as part of National Map Reading week.

For more information about me and my navigation courses visit my Facebook page.





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