There are a number of different types of hiking maps used in the outdoors, all have their particular function and purpose;
Often called the Topo. or Contour map, this type of map gives an accurate representation of all the geographic features around you in a “flat 3D image.”
In New Zealand, the best hiking Topographical maps are the NZ Topo50 series that use the 1:50,000 map scale. (1cm on the map = 50,000cm or 500m on the ground)
The Topo. Map also has all the information you need to navigate by compass and GPS(never just GPS) in any weather with a track or with out.
While Topographical maps can seem difficult in the beginning, there are now plenty of great online learning resources that can help you. Two that I recommend are;
- Land Information New Zealand:(LINZ) Download the Topo50 Map Reading Guide (I keep a copy on my smart phone to take on hikes also)
- NZ Mountain Safety Council: Get Outdoors- Expeditions – # 13 Read a Map
Route Overview Map
Commonly seen on Park Information signs boards, or Department of Conservation (DoC) & Regional Council park leaflets/pamphlets.
This map only show the approximate route of the track, the geographic information is not as accurate as Topographical maps.
These are a series of Maps printed for the New Zealand Great Walks.
While they do show the terrain relief around the track, they are not Topographical maps. Instead they focus on detailing information specific to hiking that track. (Huts, camp sites, track route and historical information etc)
While not strictly an outdoor or hiking map, digital maps like Google maps are probably the maps most people are now familiar.
These maps are dependant on a device, and are made for navigation where there are roads. Off the roads they show very limited information with no indication of topography, elevation or other information required for hiking, with tracks marked as only a representation.
Digital device maps are best at finding your way to the car park for your hike, but make sure you have selected them for offline use so they will still work when you lose mobile phone signal and data.
What Maps to carry on a Hike
- A “paper” Topographical map of the area you are hiking, and keep it in a waterproof map bag refolded to present the page you are on.(*1)
- A park route map, showing the tracks you are intending to use.
With the rise of hand-held GPS units and Smart phones, it is now possible to take digital Topographical / other maps along on hiking trips also. These are particularly useful for;
- Reading in low light conditions
- Bad weather conditions (particularly if your phone is waterproof)
- Zooming into really close to view Topography and detail
- orientation direction to known fixed features
Despite these advantages, never rely solely on digital maps/ GPS units for your navigation when hiking.
(*1) I regularly observer other hikers who carry their map in their pack, not looking at it when they are unsure, as it means they need to dismount the pack. I carry my Map in my PLB bag, (along with my compass and GPS) which means its in easy reach and is with you even when I put down my pack.
- Land Information New Zealand,(LINZ)
- NZ Mountain Safety Council
- Geographx, New Zealand
- Department of Conservation New Zealand
- Department of Conservation New Zealand, Maps.
- Fat Canyoners