How To Measure Trail Distance On A Map


Hiking not only brings you close to nature, but it is an excellent way to help the body and mind rest to their natural clock. And let’s not forget that it is a great way to exercise.

If you are an avid outdoorsman, it’s crucial to go through the day hiking checklist and gear list before heading out into the backcountry. This ensures you have everything you need to survive and stay safe.

There are also certain special skills that you need. One of these highly crucial skills is learning how to measure distance on a map.

But the maps have all manner of curves and symbols that can discourage one from learning how to read. This is especially the case when you are new to reading maps. However, keep in mind that everything on the map represents what is in the landscape.

The importance of learning how to measure trail distance

It might not seem like it but it could be a matter of life and death when you go out into the backcountry without knowing how to measure trail distance on a map. One of the most important parts of reading the map is judging the distance.

There are a few steps involved in judging the distance from the map.

1. You need the right map

You will probably have come across different maps. The map that you choose for your back-country expedition should be the right type of map.

Before you measure distance on a map, you must first ensure that the map you choose corresponds to the activity. If for example, you will be cycling, running, or even walking, you want a map that provides you with plenty of detail and information.

It will tell you what to expect ahead of you such as a water body. For this, you will need quality water shoes for hiking.

2. Check the scale on the map

The scale is a good way of telling if you’ve gotten the right map. The scale will represent the distance on the ground by comparing it with the distance on the map.

But reading the scale requires a bit more than just comparing distances. It could be one of the more time-consuming ways to read a map because there are different types of scale.

The first type of scale is the ratio. This is a common way to scale a map. While it may be written on the cover of the map, other times it can be written on the graphic of the map. For a scale written 1:30,000, this means one centimeter on the map represents 0.3 kilometers is the ground.

The second type is the graphic scale. This is often located at the bottom of the map. You can also locate it in the legend. This is a box that contains descriptions of the symbols and images found on the map.

The third type of scale is the word statement. It is perhaps the easiest type of scale to read. It’s however not as common as the previous two types of scales. It may say something like “4cm to 1 kilometer”.

With the right map, you can find the most ideal location for settling down for the evening. If you planned on spending a few nights out, a backpacking tent will keep you safe from the elements.

How to measure distance on a map

Now that you understand the different scales that you can find on a map, it’s time to learn how to measure distance on a map. Remember that the scale represents the distance on the map.

First, take a ruler and measure the route. Note that this will only work when the route appears somewhat straight. Check the length in centimeters from one point to the next.

But what if the route is curved. In this case, you can use a string and trace this on the route. You can market points on the string as you trace.

After you’ve got the measurements in centimeters, it’s time to calculate the distance on the ground. You can see that by measuring from point A to point B the distance is 4cm, and the scale says 1: 100,000 this means that the distance on the ground is 4 kilometers long.

On the other hand, if you used a string, then you will need to place the string on top of the graphic scale.

Measuring the distance when you are in the backcountry

The string method is the most efficient way of calculating distance when reading the map in the backcountry. Make sure that you have a durable string with you.

Sometimes you need to figure out how long it is going to take to reach your next destination. Other times you want to know how far you are from civilization. If you have to settle down for the night, a quality backpacking sleeping bag will ensure a comfortable night’s sleep and is a great thing to have together with the backpacking tent.

Sometimes you could take a different route and find yourself in a location that you never anticipated. This is why it is important to learn how to measure trail distance on a map correctly. You will be able to read the map and find your way back when need be.

Reading a map is not just about calculating distance, it is also about learning where exactly you are. Only then can you calculate distance right. The best way to locate where you are on a map is to use landmarks.

The next thing that you should learn therefore is how to identify landmarks on the map.

Globo Surf Overview

All the lines, curves, and numbers on a map can be confusing especially for a first-timer. However, once you learn how to interpret the map and how to calculate distance, you can make your way through the backcountry while knowing exactly where you are.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. How to measure distances on a map,
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!