How to measure the distance of a walk on a map with string.

There is plenty of OS mapping software out there these days, often with a ‘create a route’ function that allows you to instantly map and measure your chosen walking trail. However, almost all of these cost money and sometimes when you’re just in the initial planning stages, particularly of a long multi-day trip, you don’t want to fork out for bits of map you may ultimately not use. Also, there is something much more real about doing things the old fashioned way and all you need is a ball of string, a marker pen (or felt tip) and a  map (borrow them from your local library for free initial planning). A cat is not necessary and probably easier if you leave out of this activity, as demonstrated below…

Cat playing with string on a map

A feline hazard of doing things the old fashioned way!

Here’s how to release your inner boy-scout / girl-guide and measure a walking route.

To find out how far a route is:

  • Take a long piece of string and lay it along the route you want to measure. 
  • Mark the string with a pen or cut it when you reach your destination on the map.
  • Lay the string out along the distance key at the bottom of the map (make sure you check whether you are measuring it against the km or miles scale). Count how far the route is! Easy-peasy!
Use string to measure a distance on a map

Measure the distance by lining up the string along the map scale ruler.


To plan a multi-day adventure:

  • If you are trying to work out how far to walk each day and where to stop on a long-distance walk, you should already have an idea of the maximum distance you would physically be able to undertake per day given your fitness, the number of stops you want to undertake, how many hours you want to walk for and what kind of terrain you are tackling. Get an absolute maximum distance in mind before you go any further. 
  • Next, take a piece of string and line it up along the distance key at the bottom of your map.

Mark distances along a piece of string to measure distances on a map

  • Mark and cut off the string at your maximum daily distance e.g. 20km.
  • Now using your marker pen and still with the string lined up against the scale ruler, mark whichever shorter distances you feel would be useful. I like to mark every 5km in one colour and every 1km in another colour.
How long is a piece of string? Measuring distances on maps with string.

How long is a piece of string? Well actually, this one is 8km…



  • You now have your walking ruler ready to go! Now just lay it down along the trail you intend to take and measure how far each leg of your planned journey will be, using the coloured marks as measuring guidelines. Simple!

Use a piece of string with markers on it to measure hiking distances on a map


Kids activity idea

This is a great activity for older kids on a rainy day, particularly if you want to get them enthused over your next family hiking trip. Teach them about footpath and bridleway markers (check out the links on this post on map-reading) and let them loose on a map of your local area. Best of all, you can avoid disappointment of them planning overly long walks by measuring the string to a maximum set distance before they start.

Have you got any good tips for planning a walk? Please share below! 




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