Map reading skills
Let wildlife presenter, naturalist and Ordnance Survey #GetOutside champion Steve Backshall show you how to read a map and use a compass in this series of videos.

Map reading skills

Map reading skills are just as important as ever for walkers and cyclists despite the increased use of GPS and maps on mobile phones.

Indeed an over-reliance on electronic equipment has been blamed on an increase in Mountain Rescue callouts in the Lake District in 2015, as batteries are rapidly drained or signals are lost.  

It's therefore the perfect time to run through the basics of how to read a map and use a compass and Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, has teamed up with Steve Backshall to do just that.

He is one of Ordnance Survey's #GetOutside Champions and an integral part of the campaign which aims to get people of all ages and abilities to step outside their front door and start adventuring, no matter how big or small, and no matter where they live.

"Map reading is a skill that’s dying out. Everyone should be able to read with a map and compass. It can and will save lives," stresses Steve - so please do take time to watch the videos below which explain in an easy-to-understand format the key skills you'll need.

1. Choosing the right map

Modern navigation tools have changed the world but there is still no substitute for paper maps. These things never run out of Wi-Fi or satellite signal...

2. Understanding map symbols

Did you know you can even tell the difference between deciduous and coniferous woodland? This video explains how to make the most of the information on your map...

3. Understanding contour lines

Get a 3D picture of the landscape by learning how to make sense of the shape and height of your surroundings...

4. Taking a 4-figure grid reference

Take the first steps in learning how to mark a specific point of the map (a 1km square)...

5. Taking a 6-figure grid reference

Be even more precise with your position, or highlight a specific landmark. If friends are out looking for you then this can have a very real significance. It's absolutely essential and can save lives...


6. How to use a compass

A compass is one of the most basic but essential pieces of kit. This video explains how to use it in conjunction with your map...

7. Taking a compass bearing

How to get from A to B accurately using your compass...


8. Understanding magnetic north

It's important to remember that the compass needle is pointing to magnetic north and the grid lines are pointing to grid north. You therefore need to work out the magnetic variation and this final video shows you how...

  • Looking for a walk to try out your new-found map-reading skills? We've got hundreds to choose from in our Challenges and Events sections.

As part of the #GetOutside campaign, Ordnance Survey is asking for people to make their own pledges – from walking the dog longer and further, to scaling Britain’s highest summits. Anyone looking for more fresh air and to get active can pin their pledge to the map through the #GetOutside website -

There is also the added incentive of a weekly draw to support the best pledges and the handing out vouchers to support the activities – from ice cream vouchers for the family, to a pair of new walking boots for that ultimate challenge.

The campaign was created by OS in response to new research findings which show that a quarter of the British public won’t walk anywhere that takes over 15 minutes.

Ordnance Survey is also looking for inspirational adventurers that are passionate and enthusiastic about Britain, and who are great at motivating others to get out there and enjoy it, to join Backshall as well as endurance adventurer Sean Conway and mountaineer and Everest climber Bonita Norris as champions of the campaign - click here to nominate someone.


1000's of events, challenges and trips to choose from...

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