The scale of any map is one of the most important features to be aware of, as it indicates what distance on the ground each unit of measurement on the map covers.
A map at a scale of 1:250,000 signifies that one unit on the map equals 250,000 units on the ground. This means that 1cm on a 1:250,000 scale map equals 250,000 cm (or 2.5km) on the ground.
In saying that, a large-scale map that is highly detailed will offer precise navigation and include cartographic information that informs the user of what’s around them. However something to remember is that the larger the scale of a map, the less relative area it covers.
So finding a map that covers the area you want to explore starts by looking at what you hope to use it for:
Large-scale: Street & detailed Topographical Maps (1:5000 - 1:50,000)
Large-scale maps are highly detailed, and are most often used for hiking and street navigation. To chronicle things such as street names and other information on a road map, or the exact detail needed for hiking and orienteering in a state forest,a certain level of detail is required to make the map both accurate and readable.
Medium-scale: 4WD & Touring Maps (1:250,000 - 1:1,250,000)
Most 4WD and touring maps are within this range depending on the location, as the required detail changes from region to region. For example, Hema’s High Country Victoria map is at a detailed scale of 1:200,000 because the terrain as well as man-made and natural features of the region requires it. However some regions don’t require such a large scale to visualise the necessary mapping information (including roads, tracks and terrain), such as Hema’s Kimberley map that is at a scale of 1:1,000,000.
Small-scale: State & Country maps (1:1,250,000+)
Small-scale maps are useful for regional overview, but are not often used as primary navigation. An example is Hema’s Australia map, which is at a very small-scale of 1:4,500,000; perfect for overview and education but not useful as a navigation tool.
Buying a map that covers where you want to explore is not the only standard a map should be judged by. Maps are obviously crafted with different purposes in mind, whether it’s for on-road navigation, off-road touring or otherwise. When purchasing a map, the right map will be one that covers where you want to go, but also includes information to help you navigate while enriching your outdoor experience. This extra information comes in various forms:
If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, more often than not additional topographical information will come in handy. Used to indicate elevation, topographical information comes in the form of contour lines, elevation tinting and hill shading. Also marked on topographical maps are landmarks such as towers, water tanks, power and gas lines and more. These representations of elevation help you read the terrain and expected conditions of the region you are exploring, which is particularly helpful when you are not familiar with the area.
Points of Interest
Whether you are heading out on a weekend getaway or a year-long caravan or camping adventure, ideally you want more from your map than simply information on how to get from A to B. Maps designed for outdoor recreation such as four-wheel driving and camping will hopefully have man-made and natural features marked on them. Often marked on the map with recognisable symbols, these features range from camping areas and scenic lookouts to available facilities in townships and localities. These extra pieces of information will often shape the path your trip takes and what hidden treasures you will find along the way, so be sure to purchase a map that has the information you need.
Most maps these days have information sections for the area covered on the map. This comes in the form of contact details, unique information such as fire bans and permit requirements, as well as general tourist information to give visitors an historical, cultural and practical overview of where they are headed. Many maps also include map references and GPS coordinates within their information section, so explorers can correlate what they read in the information section to a specific location on the map.
Maps are powerful tools of navigation, so understanding the features that will help you plan and complete your journey will decide what map is right for your next adventure. Be sure to find a map that combines the best of scale, detail and readability with the additional information you need for your style of exploration.