Map Basics - Contour Lines

Contour Lines

Map Basics - Contour Lines

Contour lines are the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to map features. 

They are THE most reliable features on a map because they are only changed when the landscape itself is altered, which is almost NEVER.  If you took away every other feature on a map you would still be able to navigate on the ground with only the contour lines to go by.

Each contour signifies ground that sits at a particular height above sea level.  The contours either side of that contour represent land that is either higher, or lower than the first.  Every fifth contour line is thicker or bolder to signify a 50m interval on 1:50k maps.  This can vary with different maps and across different scales, so check the information on the map itself to be absolutely sure.

If you follow a bold contour line with your finger, you will come to a number which is written on the contour line, usually in the same colour.  This is the reference height and you can use this to work out the height of any piece of ground to within 5-10 metres of accuracy.  You’ll be able to understand this better by watching our FYA Basics YouTube vid – so hop over to FYA YouTube channel once you are done here (n.b.  it's not filmed yet - so subscribe to our channel to stay updated).


Another thing about contours…  once you are familiar with them, they will tell you the precise shape of the landscape that should be around you and with a little practice you will be able to transfer what you see around you back onto the map to determine exactly where you are at any given time or place.   We’ll show you some amazing techniques for doing this in future FYA Basics posts.

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