Which map? How to choose the right Ordnance Survey (OS) Map for your walk.

The walk location is decided, you know how long you want to be out for and you’ve brushed up on your map reading skills. It’s time to get a map and plot the route. In the UK this means using an Ordnance Survey map which shows all the footpaths, features and topographic detail you will need to complete any forray into the countryside safely and successfully. There is not just one Ordnance Survey map for each area however but a choice of different series of maps, all showing different levels of detail, scales or usages. So how do you select the right Ordnance Survey map for your walk? Here are a few pointers to help you choose:

  • Locate your walk area: Go to the Ordnance Survey website and enter the start point of your walk in the search box above the map on the left hand side. You can search by postcode or place-name. Select your location from the list on the right hand side of the page. A list of locations will appear on the right hand side. Select the correct location and a list of Ordnance Survey map products covering that place will appear on the right hand side of the page.
  • Select the correct map for your walk: You have two main choices of paper map – the Ordnance Survey (OS) Explorer or the Ordnance (OS) Landranger. Other maps are available such as street atlases, historical or specialised activity maps but for hiking or walking you will need one of the above in order to provide enough detail to navigate from.

The OS Explorer map series is the most popular choice and an essential for longer or more complex walks or those going off the beaten track. It is highly detailed and shows all rights of way, footpaths, landscape and interest features and contours. Every house, public facility or point of interest is covered giving you all the tools you need to locate yourself as well as finding that nearest pub for a drink after a hard days walking! The scale is 1:25000 – that is 1cm on the map equates to 250m on the ground (4cm per km or 2 1/2 inches to a mile)

The OS Landranger map series covers a wider area with a scale of 1:50000 (that’s 1cm on the map to every 500m on the ground, 2cm per km or 1 1/4 inches to the mile). This makes it handy for planning a day out over a broader area and for getting a good picture of where you are going and it shows the main footpaths and rights of way as well as tourist information and points of interest. However it doesn’t contain as much detail as the OS Explorer range and if you are going off into the wilds you will need the detail of the Explorer map to navigate with confidence.

There are other options worth knowing about: firstly the Active Maps which come in both Landranger and Explorer ranges and have a laminated, waterproof cover to protect your map from the rain and elements when out and about; secondly there are the custom-made maps which allow you to choose where the centre of your map will be. These are particularly handy if the route you want to follow will require buying 2 or more maps or you want maps of the countryside surrounding one central point on all sides e.g. the area around a campsite or accommodation or even your house! Both types of map are more expensive than basic OS Explore and OS Landranger maps.

  • Check your whole walk area is covered: Select the type of map you require and then check on the map detail that your whole route is covered. The last thing you want is to realise that half your intended route is missing when you set off for your walk!  If necessary you will need to get additional maps for adjoining areas. Each map has a number in the top right hand corner of the cover which along with the name is the reference you will need to select the correct map to purchase.
  • Buy a map: That’s it  – the hard work and research is done. Now you know which map or maps you need you can order them online or buy from an outdoor shop. All you need is a compass, your hiking gear and a good day for the walk! Happy hiking!

This article does not cover the very many options for digital maps or maps for GPS devices. Watch out for future posts on this topic! 

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