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Understanding Topographic Maps and Their Uses

If you are one of those outdoor enthusiasts yearning for a long Aussie bushwalk or you belong to a survey crew researching conservation, mining or developmental projects, your best tool in hand is a topographic map.
Printed topographic maps have been in use for many years and have proved to be an important cartographic tool for holiday lovers, landscape planners and for all those who love to explore the Australian outdoors.

What makes topographic maps unique?

topographic maps
What, at first glance looks like a painting of a five year old, surprisingly turns into a wealth of useful of information once we learn the art of interpretation. Yes, we are talking about topographic maps!
The most unique feature of a topographic map is the three dimensional representation of the earth’s surface. Through a diverse blend of lines, colours and symbols, these maps showcase the various natural and man-made features on earth.
With a skilled team of surveyors, fact checkers, photographers, editors and geography experts working on the production of a map, users can be assured of 100% accuracy. To read these maps one must be familiar with its various features and acquire the feel of the three dimensional relief and the ability to visualise ‘map to ground’..

Features of a topographic map

Contour lines are the most important feature of a topographic map. These lines represent specific elevation levels and are connected to indicate the shape of an entity such as a mountain or a valley. The space between these contour lines indicate degree of slopes and spot elevations shows difference in elevations and benchmarks along the original terrain. Closely spaced contour lines indicate steep slopes, widely spaced contours indicate gentle slopes.
Flat areas with minimal elevation changes can also be represented using supplementary lines and terrain depressions are indicated by using hachured contour lines. Apart from these lines, colours and symbols are used to draw a clear distinction between various natural features such as water resource, relief features of the land, vegetation and soil.
Man-made structures like railways, transmission pipelines, dams, boundaries and buildings can also be understood in detail by reading the topographic maps.

Achilles TAS Topographic Map 4036

Achilles TAS Topographic Map-$-9.85

Avoca 7523 N Topographic Map

Avoca 7523 N Topographic Map-$-10.95

Echunga SA Topographic Map 66271

Echunga SA Topographic Map-$-10.70

Jagungal 25k Topographic Map 8525 1

Jagungal 25k Topographic Map-$-9.95

Factors that make a topographic map easy to interpret

Before one decides to buy a topographic map, here is a checklist to ensure that the right choice is made.

  • The scale of the map must not be too big or too small to facilitate easy reading of the features.
  • Distinct symbols and colours must be used to differentiate natural and man-made features and must be well explained in the legend.
  • Universally standardised symbols and symbols designed to appear like the related feature make interpretation much easier.
  • Colours are the next important feature in a topographic map after contour lines. Right choice of colours and difference in colours to indicate different theme layers such as greens for vegetation, blues for water features, reds & blacks for roads and man-made items.

Significance of Topographic Maps

Topographic maps are celebrated for their accuracy. Research has revealed that printed topographic maps offer a more comprehensive picture than any of those digital devices. From path-tracking tasks to understanding the geography of the earth, maps form an indispensable part of the travel kit. Read on to find how topographic maps can be efficiently put to use.

  • Planning a journey to the wild with topographic maps

    Explore wild with topographic maps

    Exploring trails in the wilderness puts your adrenaline into action. Your topographic map allows you to plan an efficient and safe route with minimum changes in land elevation, avoiding obstructions like deep canyons, swamps and terrain that make hiking difficult. The map also helps cross country hikers to find nearby water sources and potential resources of shelter. While using a topographic map, travellers can explain their route with ease to family members as well as to other members of the travel team.
    With its accuracy in portraying high points along the track, topographic maps are also an ideal tool for locating places with the maximum reception for mobile and GPS devices. For the safety and survival of travel lovers, the topographic map must be made a part of the travel kit.


  • Recreational activities in the wilderness

    Recreational activities in the wilderness

    Topographic maps are best suited for communing with nature through activities like hunting, camping, hiking, fishing and cycling. For instance, while hunting during the cold weather, maps help to track thermo-regulating animals that move towards slopes. Understanding the grasslands, helps understand the routes of the grazing herd. They can also be used to look for high elevation lakes and ponds for fishing purposes that can be accessed only by foot.


  • Understanding the geography of the land for scientific purposes
    Geography impacts civilization greatly. To understand the landscapes and plan its development, topographic maps are mandatory. Biologists can use topographic maps along with other related data on vegetation and soil to understand the population of a particular species. Civil planners can understand land terrain along shorelines and river-cut cliffs to plan improvement projects. Urban engineers and surveyors can use these maps to understand meridians and magnetic declinations for their reference. Topographic maps can also be used for other projects like wind turbine placement, construction of irrigation facilities and so on by environmental managers.
  • Abminga Topographic Map

    Abminga Topographic Map-$-9.25


    Lower Glenelg Discovery Bay Map Carto Graphics-$-12.95

    Mount Lofty Ranges CFS Emergency Map Book

    Mount Lofty Ranges CFS Emergency Map Book-$-79.50

  • Adding aesthetic to the working space
    Well-designed and colourfully attractive maps act as source of aesthetic value to the working space. These maps are 100% accurate and adorn walls thus giving them a unique look. They can nurture spontaneous ideas and act like the main tool of control in conference rooms and other discussion rooms involving professionals from the respective fields.

Imparting knowledge about the earth’s surface

Imparting knowledge about the earth’s surface

To understand every feature on the earth’s surface through a three dimensional representation and to understand the state, international and political borders with their various man-made utilities, topographic maps are essential. They can be used in conjunction with different maps such as soil maps, resource maps and road maps to understand the bigger picture clearly.
The large scale graphic representation offered by topographic maps details the magnificent outdoors of the country and also educates individuals about the relevant urban developments. In short, these maps serve a wide range of purposes and are an incredible source of valuable information. Investing in the right set of topographic maps helps travellers gain the confidence to explore lands far and wide.

1 Comment

  1. June 30, 2017    

    In order to convey the message of the map, the creator must design it in a manner which will aid the reader in the overall understanding of its purpose.

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