National Map Reading Week

Being able to read a map can open up a whole new world around you, they inspire adventure, they allow us to escape well-worn paths and explore moors and mountains with far more confidence, self-sufficiency and safety awareness. They give us freedom, they provide a blueprint in which to plan a journey and hold vital information about the physical environment ahead.

A map and compass should be the fundamental part of any adventurer’s life, they’re synonymous. Yet, through the rise of technology the art of map reading is being forgotten, with this once simple skill being replaced by smartphones and GPS devices that tend to focus on your immediate location, rather than the journey ahead.

National Map Reading Week aims to inspire adventure, to teach children, teenagers and adults how to read maps and how they can get lost in the landscape, without ever actually getting lost! We want you to put down your smartphones, make map reading fun, to learn how to read contours, find grid references, use a compass, measure distance, break free, explore, have an adventure…

Like to test your skills? Try our map reading quiz!

Map reading week events

Discover local map reading events and navigation training courses across Great Britain and become a navigation pro with expert advice.

Champions Map Reading guides

It’s rare that you'll see an OS GetOutside Champion without a map on them. Get inspired for your next adventure by finding out how our Champions use maps to explore and discover new places.

Map reading videos with Steve Backshall

Watch map reading videos with adventurer and TV presenter Steve Backshall, covering everything from choosing the right map to using a compass to navigate.

Map reading educational resources

Whether you're a teacher or a parent, take a look at our Education Resources for project ideas and teaching aids, plus find games to play in our fun MapZone area.

Map reading leaflet download PDF

Download our free map reading leaflets: Map reading - beginners to advanced for adults or teenagers and Map reading made easy for children. You can even print or save them to your phone!

OS Maps

View maps for all of Britain in a choice of scales and in 3D, plot routes or discover thousands of pre-planned routes from other users with OS Maps, our web and app based mapping system.

"Being able to read a map is a fundamental life skill and the basis of all outdoor activities. In 2017 we will be supporting National Map Reading Week to encourage everyone to improve their map-reading skills!"

Jonathan Elder, Ordnance Survey


Learn how to read a map with video guides from Steve Backshall

Choosing the right map

Understanding map symbols

Understanding contour lines

How to take a 4-figure grid reference

How to take a 6-figure grid reference

Features of a compass

How to take a compass bearing

Understanding magnetic north

Map reading for beginners...

A beginners guide to understanding map contour lines

Discover how contour lines on maps are used to understand the terrain around you, including gradients of hills, valleys and steepness of climbs.

A beginners guide to understanding map scales

Have you ever wondered what a map scale is, or the difference between OS Landranger and Explorer maps? Our quick guide to understanding map scales will help!

A beginners guide to grid references

OS maps are covered in a series of blue grid lines that are used to pinpoint exact locations anywhere on a map. Learn what these are called and how to find a grid reference.

Beginners guide to using a compass

Navigating using a map and a compass is a fantastic life skill and complements any GPS device. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use compass bearings.

A beginners guide to the compass

Rather than just showing north, modern compasses have many features to assist in planning and navigation. Find out what compass you need.

A beginners guide to measuring distance on a map

Measuring distance is a key map reading tool to see how far you've travelled or how far you wish to go. Learn how to easily measure distance with our quick and simple guide.

Advanced map reading...

Advanced guide to reading contours and relief

Using contours and relief on a map, plan and navigate in remote locations where man-made features can often be rare, by using contours to find points for triangulation and route planning.

An advanced guide to understanding map scale

For advanced map readers, it’s important to understand how cartographers create maps of different scales using a process called ‘generalisation’. Find out why with this advanced map scale guide.

Advanced guide to pinpointing your location

Pinpointing your location on a map is a vital skill to ensure you’re moving in the right direction and to help locate your position, if you’re lost or need to give a rescue team a grid reference in an emergency.

Advanced navigation: never be lost again

When you're walking, running or climbing at night or in poor visibility, things don't always go as planned. Here's how to find your location and never be lost again.

An advanced guide to measuring distance

A critical part of navigation is being able to calculate distance on a map, then estimate that distance on the ground to reach your next navigation point. Here we are looking at skills for walkers and runners.

Map reading ideas for kids

Five tips to help kids plan and lead their own adventures

Sometimes it can be a real struggle to get kids outside, but by giving them ownership of the adventure and the right tools for the job, watch them take control and become an avid navigator.

Have yourself a mappy little treasure hunt

OS GetOutside Champions, The Meek Family, love to find new ways to make maps more fun. Try their mappy treasure hunt game and discover more about map reading and how to get kids more involved.

How to teach young children to read and create maps

Understanding how places relate to each other is a vital skill for children. Having a good spatial awareness helps them with many other aspects of education, from maths to creativity.

If you would like to get involved in organising a map reading workshop or would like any other help, please get in touch at

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