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Looking After Your Map – Basic Map Care

A map is a tremendous resource, packed with lots of details about the landscape and invaluable for anyone wanting to successfully navigate a walk.  Maps aren’t cheap however so it is important to look after them. Even on a dry day, walking with some form of map cover will reduce the wear (and probably tear) to your map, especially around the folds.

Using a Map Case

Many people use a map case and there are some excellent makes, particularly the big cases that allow more than just two map segments to be shown at once. There is, however, a tendency to hang the case around your neck and read the map from that position. This is not good for “setting” the map. We’ll talk about setting or orientating a map in another blog, but to briefly explain the term, it means holding the map up so that the features on the map coincide with the way they appear on the ground.

If the map case is slung around your neck, then you won’t be doing this, not to mention that you risk death from strangulation! Removing the strap or string from the map case will help by stopping you hanging it round you neck.

The great news about map cases is that they aren’t really expensive. Like all products, they come in a range of sizes and prices.  But you can get a simple map case for under £5.

The map case above is one of the cheap ones, it allows you to see two panels of your map at once, and uses velcro fasteners, as opposed to zips. More expensive map cases have additional pockets to carry other items.

map care- map cases
Should you use a map case or laminated map?
Cheap map case
You can get small map cases for relatively little cost- if you must!

Laminated Maps versus Map Cases

People who have enjoyed one of my map and compass courses will know of my opposition to map cases however.  The lack of map setting is one reason but the other is the difficulty of taking your map in and out of the map case to see a hidden part of the map for the key.  There are a multitude of reasons why having easy access to the rest of the map is a good idea suffice it say that if you’ve already spent ten minutes cramming your map into your map case, you aren’t going to want to keep taking it in and out again.

My preference is to use a laminated map. They last much longer than the paper ones and they are even great for sheltering underneath when it’s raining.  They are also useful for sitting on, thus preventing DWB (damp walkers bottom)!  Joking aside, a laminated map will last considerably longer than a paper one, even in a map case.  My laminated maps get very heavy use, but last a good 18 months to two years before I have to replace them.

Harvey Maps, an excellent mapping series that cover the more popular walking areas and routes,  are all printed on waterproof paper which is more robust than the standard paper used by the Ordnance Survey.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of map care, it’s time to think about how to get the best use out of your map. Sign up for one of our Map and Compass courses today.

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Choose your map scale

 One of the regular questions I’m asked is what map scale should one practice with?  Well it every much horses for courses really; if you want to pursue orienteering as a sport, then you need to get used to large map scale (1:5000 or 1:10000 typically although others are used).  If exploring the wilds of the Scottish Highlands is your thing, then many seasoned veterans would suggest a 1:50000 map.

Most of  us, however, fall between these two extremes and on the Silva Navigation School courses we tend to concentrate on 1:25000 map scale, where 1 cm on the map is the equivalent of 25,000 cm (or 250m) on the ground.  In the UK we are lucky in that we have excellent mapping at our disposal from the Ordnance Survey to Harvey Maps, and whilst their maps look different from each other, both are well mapped and contain masses of detail that we as outdoor users can use to safely navigate by.

Get familiar with your map

OS maps, of course, cover the whole of the country whilst Harvey maps tend to be restricted to major outdoor areas and long distance and recreational routes.  If you find yourself in an area covered by both, I would certainly advise you go out and practice on both.  Familiarity with different maps is always useful especially if you ever walk abroad.  The quicker you can get used to a different looking map the better, and you can spend your time working out how accurate the map and therefore how much you can trust it!

OS 1:25000 map scale
OS 1:25000 map and its equivalent Harvey map below
Harvey 1:25000 map scale

Maps are only as good as the last time they were surveyed and printed and although the OS are said to effect over 10,000 changes to their mapping every week, errors inevitably creep in.  I know of houses that have been up for over 40 years that are still missing from maps whilst the neighbouring housing estate built eight years ago is on.  

You’ll find lost of inconsistencies on maps the more you begin to look at the detail.  One error on the map won’t get you lost, however –  check the detail around it to see if the rest of the map in this area is correct or if you’re if you’re in the right place!

At the Silva Navigation School, we teach you how to choose the right map scale and how to get the most from your map.  We show you how much useful navigational details there is and how you can use it to your advantage.  Why not look through the dates now, and book a course.  

In the meantime Happy Map reading.

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Buying a compass

Compasses come in many shapes and sizes, some good, some bad and some very bad. It is important to know what to look for when you’re buying a compass.

what to look for in a compass - buying a compass
What to look for in a compass

The diagram on this page shows the essential elements that a compass should have. There are compasses which have more than this but if you buy a compass which has these as a minimum, then you are on the right track.

You Get What You Pay For When Buying a Compass

However, there is a world of difference between a £5 compass and a £25 compass and you really do get what you pay for! Spend wisely and you’ll have a compass that will last for years, will be reliable and won’t let you down. Buy a cheap compass and you’re heading for trouble.

Silva has built up a deserved reputation for the quality and accuracy of their compasses. From their Field compass up to the splendid Expedition 54  you can be assured you have a compass made to high standards.

You can buy a range of Silva Compass perfectly suited for all outdoor enthusiasts from the Silva Navigation School Shop.

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Silva Navigation School 2018

silva navigation school 2018

The diary has been checked and double checked and so I’m pleased to announce that the Silva Navigation School 2018 dates are now official and available to book.  There is something for everyone again this year, from one day map and compass courses aimed at beginners to two day weekend courses for those who want to really spend time honing their navigation skills.

Don’t forget there is also the famous, or infamous, Contour only day too, a course designed to help you really get to grips with contours and how useful they can be to navigate with.

What is more, the two day course price has stayed the same as this year too; even more reason to buy now.

With Christmas coming up, why not buy a loved one a course, a compass, one of my navigation books or even a compass.  You know you’ll make their day.

Pete, Silva Navigation School

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2016 Map and Compass course dates published

Roll up, roll up.. the 2016 dates for all Silva Navigation School map and compass courses have now been published.  Bronze course start in February and run through, most month to October.  The Silver courses are in January and November and the Gold 2016 course is in December.

Like in 2015 we’re also running a series of one day Map and Compass courses and these are running from March until October and our unique Contour only course is on 15 May 2016 next year.

You can book online on The Silva Navigation School website.  To find out more visit the website or call Pete Hawkins on 01298 872470.