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Resources and Care of Map: Introduction to maps 1.4:

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

A selection of maps and navigation aids and resources

More in this series:

Below is the answer sheet to the questions in the last part:

Answer Sheet - 1.3
Download PDF • 1.95MB

Part 4 of my Introduction to Maps series looks at navigational aids, resources and how to look after your map.

Navigational Aids

Learning to navigate can be difficult to grasp to begin with. What with all the symbols and techniques to learn, bits to remember and all the maths! With all this in mind, navigational aids are there to help with this, to take away the stress and to make navigation easier and quicker!

As my navigation series continues, I will refer back to some, if not all, of the following navigational aids and resources. Take this time to get familiar with them and even purchase a few. I use all the following navigational aids, either with my own personal navigation or when running a course.


The Basics:

Before heading out into the hills and mountains, there are two navigational aids which are compulsory:

  • A Map (of the area you are in)

  • A Compass

a selection of maps and a compass

And I will stress here: "And the knowledge of how to use them!"

Without the knowledge of how to use a map and compass, they are both useless to you. If you are unsure, seek professional instruction through a navigation course to help you learn the basics.

If you haven't already done so, take a look at my other articles in my Introduction to Maps series to learn more about maps.

I will cover the compass in more detail in my next article.


Measuring distance, Timing and Pacing aids:

navigation measuring distances tools: a ruler, timing cards, romers, compass

When navigating, we can measure distances both on the map and on the ground using measurements, time and our own stride length, known as pacing (more on measuring distance in a later article).

  • Measurment: using a ruler or roamer to measure distance on a map.

  • Time: How long it takes you to walk a set distance on the ground.

  • Pacing: How many paces it takes to walk a set distance on the ground.

To work out distances, we can use a number of aids:

  • Ruler (with millimetre increments)

  • Compass roamer

  • Distance Cards

  • Wrist Watch (with stopwatch/timer) Or a Stopwatch

These aids can be used on the hill or at home when planning a route. The compass is the most versatile aid here as most base plate style compasses have a millimetre ruler on the side as well as roamers.

Distance cards have scale rulers marked on the side to help you measure distances in relation to the map scale you are using.

Using a distance measuring card to measure distance on a Harvey's Map

In the above picture, a distance card is used to measure how far it is from the road to South Hessary Tor on a 1:40,000 scale Harvey Map. The answer: Just under 1.3km

Timing Cards and Stopwatch:

Knowing the distance, we can use our walking speed to measure how long it will take us to walk that distance.

But remembering all the data we need to calculate time can be difficult and confusing. There are a number of 'cards' we can purchase, or you can create your own. Below are two examples of Pacing Cards to help you work out timings:

Navigation timing cards

These cards are great aids as it takes away all the mental maths! With the example above, we measured a distance of 1.3km. If we were walking at a speed of 4kph, using the cards above we can work out it will take us 19mins 30seconds.

Samsung Galaxy Watch showing stopwatch function

A wristwatch with a stopwatch function will help you with keeping time on a walk. Even better, if you have a timer function, you can set the time it will take you to walk the distance you have measured, start the countdown timer and the alarm will inform you that the time is up.

TOP TIP: Attach your watch to the strap of your rucksack or chest strap. This way you won't have to keep rolling up your sleeve to see and set times if it is wet and/or cold!

Pacing Beads:

Navigation pacing beads

These are used to help you keep track of how far you have 'paced'. Usually, you will have 10 beads attached to some string that you can move up and down the string. Each 'bead' represents 100m paced. So after every 100m paced, you move a bead down the string. This helps you to keep track of distance traveled. In the above example, I have 'paced' 200m.

To recap, we have so far looked at the following navigational aids:

  • Distance Cards

  • Timing Cards

  • Pacing Beads

These are the main navigational aids most walkers will carry with them whilst navigating. They are small, lightweight and fit into a jacket pocket easily. One way to keep them altogether and organised is to attach them to each other and/or to the lanyard on a compass. I usually attach the Pacing Beads directly to my rucksack strap for ease of use.

Selection of navigational aids: compass, pacing beads and timing cards

Other Navigational Aids:

The above aids are the bread and butter of navigation. They are generally used the most whilst out navigating and help us to plan our routes. These next few navigational aids are to help you further whilst out navigating and simplify your planning:

  • Roamers

  • Notebook (Ideally waterproof)

  • Writing Implements

  • Pointers

  • Phone Apps


navigation romers: compass, shaven raspberry, Harvey Maps

As mentioned in my previous article, roamers assist you with 6-figure grid references. These are handy at home with your initial planning of a route but rarely used on the hill themselves. However, they have their uses on the hill if you need to give an accurate grid reference to the emergency services. You can get specific roamer cards but most compasses have scale roamers printed to them.

Notebook and Writing Implements:

Rite in the Rain Notebook and pens

Not to state the obvious, but these are for writing notes and details of your planned walk. For example, if you are navigating along a complicated route, you can write down specific details of that route so you don't forget (more on navigation strategies in a later series).

Notebooks are also useful to write down any information about your group (such as medical details or next of kin details), information about a casualty and your location in case you need to inform mountain rescue.

Having a waterproof notebook means it can be used in any weather without the paper turning to mush! Another option is to laminate a sheet of white paper to use as a fold-able, portable whiteboard.

Take a variety of writing implements with you too. A pen might not work when wet and a pencil nib may break. So having a pair of each will ensure you can write down anything at any time. Below is a selection of pens and pencils I take with me:

  • Permanent and Non-permanent marker (fine tip):

Used to annotate a laminated map (more on 'why only laminated' later) or write on a piece of laminated paper. Either circle checkpoints, draw on my route, mark dangers or add detail about the route.

  • Pencil:

Same as above but on a paper map. Back up to a pen.

  • Biro pen:

Used to write notes in a notebook.

  • China-graph pencils:

Used as the same as a permanent/non-permanent marker.


These are handy little aids to help you 'point' at small features on the map or to mark your last known location so you are not scrolling over the map to find where you were!

You may be asking "why do I need a pointer?". Take a look at your finger. Now point to a small feature on a map. Do you notice the large area your finger takes up? To be more accurate, we use pointers. Below are some examples:

  • Sticky notes (Stationary style 'book marks', see below image for example)

  • Corner of a compass or navigation card.

  • Pen or pencil tip.

  • Blade of grass or small stick.

As you can see with the above examples, anything thin and pointed will be efficient.

But a point to note with the sticky note pointers. I use these to stick on to my map to mark my last known position so I can instantly see it when looking back at the map.

Pointers showing location on a Harvey's Map
TOP TIP: If using sticky note arrows, point the arrow at your last known position in the direction you will travel. This will help you work out which way you are going and helps with orientating your map.

Phone Apps:

Modern technology today is both a blessing and a curse. Mountain Rescue call outs over the last few years have increased and technology has played a part in this. People head out into the hills and mountains with only a smart phone to navigate, only to have the battery die, the phone getting lost or damaged or just having no idea how to use it.

I want to embrace technology as it is so dominant in our lives and is a great resource, however it will NEVER replace a traditional paper map and compass, not should it be relied upon!

Instead, technology should be used alongside a map and compass with the knowledge of how to use them and their limitations.

The main Apps on the market at the moment, and ones I use regularly are:

  • OS Maps

  • OS Locate

  • Viewranger

OS Maps and Viewranger are subscription apps. You pay a yearly subscription to access maps of the country and to use all the features of the app, such as route plotting and the ability to download and print the maps.

OS Locate is a free app which gives you a Grid-Reference of you location.

Mobile phone apps should NEVER replace a traditional map and compass.

I use these apps to CONFIRM my position and decisions when out navigating. This means I have used all my skills in navigating FIRST and am using the app to visually see if I am right or not. I DO NOT rely on the app alone, I can not emphasise this enough.

OS maps app showing a plotted route

Care of Maps

Look after your map and it will last a long time and lead you on may future adventures! Ruin it, and you are potentially in a dangerous situation on the mountain! So how can we look after our map?

Firstly, the UK weather is not always reliable! The best way we can protect our map from the elements is by using a map case. These are waterproof, see-through plastic cases in which we can place our map. They come in all sorts of styles and sizes. I prefer a small, non-slip plastic which is transparent on both sides.

TOP TIP: Get a style of map case which is see through on both sides. You can have your route on the map on one side and your timing card and notes on the reverse, or another scale of map.

How good are map cases? Several years ago I was training a Ten Tors team on Dartmoor. The group lost their map! A month later, I was back on the moor training the same team doing a reverse of the previous route. We found the map!! It had spent a month on the moor but was still in perfect condition.

One problem with the constant folding and un-folding of a map is that it can create damage along the folds, especially on the maps you use the most! This can create holes and fading, meaning you lose detail on the map. See the below image:

OS map showing damage

There are several ways we can prevent this:

  • Cut out small areas of maps and laminate them (Image 1 below):

This is great if you use the same area(s) often and prolongs the life of your map. However you need to ensure you keep the important details such as Grid numbers and map prefix.

  • Use mapping software to select and print off areas (Image 2 below):

Now days, you can print off A4 size areas of maps and laminate them. This saves you cutting up your maps! However, you must ensure you have a good quality printer and paper. Another important factor is to ensure the scale of the map is not changed in the printing process. Once printed, measure the size of the grid squares and adjust the printer settings accordingly. As a reference:

  • A grid square on a 1:25,000 scale map is 4cm x 4cm

  • 1:50,000 grid square measures 2cm x 2cm

Cut out section of a map
Printed OS map

The final options are to buy laminated or waterproof maps. Ordnance Survey produce a range of 'Active Maps'. These are paper maps that are already full laminated. These are great for writing on as you can rub the ink off later without ruining the map. However they are bulky, don't fold well and once the lamination has been damaged, water can get to the paper underneath and damage the map further.

Harvey Maps are printed on Polyethylene and are completely waterproof and tear resistant. They fold down small, fit into a jacket pocket and are completely weatherproof. However, I would not recommend writing on them, even with non-permanent ink. When it comes to rubbing the ink off, you may rub the map detail away too! (See image below, notice the blank white patch where detail has been rubbed away)

Damaged section of a Harvey's Map

Using pens (marking) maps:

I personally don't mark any full size maps that I have purchased, if I can help it and within reason. Using inks or even a pencil can cover detail on the map. Over time, these markings can clutter the map even more. My only exception to this rule is OS Active Maps as the ink rubs off easily and doesn't ruin the map itself.

However, there are times when I will want to permanently mark a map. I may want to add notes to a map. For example, I might want to highlight an error on the map or mark areas of particular danger to avoid in the future.

If I want to mark a map, for example when running a navigation course and want to note down key learning outcomes, then I will print off a map of the area, annotate it and laminate it. This saves you ruining your purchased paper maps.

annotated printed OS map

Recap and resources:

I have compiled a list below of all the navigational aids I have listed in this article. Use it as a tick list to create your own navigational toolbox. Over time, you may discover more resources and aids to help you navigate, for example a GPS device. I have purposely not mentioned these here as they are a more advanced navigational aid that require training to use properly and can easily be used wrong or relied upon. I may cover GPS devices in a later article.

List of navigational aids and resources:

  • Map (of the area you are in)

  • Compass

  • Ruler (with millimetre increments)

  • Distance Cards

  • Pacing and Timing Cards

  • Wrist Watch (with stopwatch/timer) Or a Stopwatch

  • Phone Apps and GPS devices

  • Roamers

  • Notebook (Ideally waterproof)

  • Writing Implements

  • Pointers

  • Phone Apps

  • Map Case

Take a look at my DOWNLOADS and RESOURCES page for links on where to buy and download these resources and for more information.

There are plenty of other navigational aids and resources out there. Over time you will come to discover these, but the ones I have highlighted here are the main navigational aids used.

Below is the question sheet to this article.

Question Sheet - 1.4
Download PDF • 137KB

Answers to these questions are in the next Part of this series.


This brings us to a close on this part of my Introduction to Maps series on Resources and Care of Maps. To put these skills into practice and to learn more, take a look at my Navigation Course I offer. All confirmed bookings will receive a 10% discount code to use on Harvey Maps products from their site.

Next Up:

The next article in this series will be Part 4.1: The Compass

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See you At The Edge!

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