Part One
  Map Reading

  Reading Topographical Maps Introduction 1. HOME

  Topographical Maps - Definition, Purpose and Categories 2. Maps

  Information in the margins of an army map 3. Marginal Information    and Symbols

  Latitude, Longitude and Other Methods to Locate Points on Topographic Maps 4. Grids

  Translating Distance on a Topographic Map to Distance on the Ground 5. Scale and Distance

  Grid North, Azimuth, Declination And Other Concepts Used To Find Direction With Topographic Maps 6. Direction

  Overlays - Used Primarily In Army Map Reading 7. Overlays

  Aerial Photographs - Supplements And Substitutes For Topographic Maps 8. Aerial Photographs

 Part Two
  Land Navigation

  Using Compass, GPS, Sun, Shadows, and Stars in Land Navigation 9. Navigation Equipment    and Methods

  Reading The Shape Of The Land In Topographic Maps 10. Elevation and Relief

  Orienting and Navigating With Topographic Maps 11. Terrain Association

  Mounted Land Navigating With Motorized Vehicles 12. Mounted Land    Navigation

  Land Navigation In Different Types of Terrain 13. Navigation in    Different Types of    Terrain

  Sketching Topographic Maps A. Field Sketching

  Folding Topographic Maps B. Map Folding     Techniques

  Units of Measure and Conversion Factors Used in Reading Topographic Maps C. Units of Measure and      Conversion Factors

  Units of Measure and Conversion Factors Used in Reading Topographic Maps D. Joint Operations      Graphics

  US Army Training Material for Map Reading and Land Navigation E. Exportable Training      Material

  Orienteering F. Orienteering

  US Army M2 Compass G. M2 Compass

  Additional Aids such as Night Vision Goggles and Global Positioning System or GPS H. Additional Aids      (GPS, Night Vision)

  Global Positioning System -  GPS J. Global Positioning      System - GPs


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An azimuth is defined as a horizontal angle measured clockwise from a north base line. This north base line could be true north, magnetic north, or grid north. The azimuth is the most common military method to express direction. When using an azimuth, the point from which the azimuth originates is the center of an imaginary circle (Figure 6-2). This circle is divided into 360 degrees or 6400 mils (Appendix G).

Figure 6-2. Origin of azimuth circle.

Figure 6-2. Origin of azimuth circle.

a.   Back Azimuth. A back azimuth is the opposite direction of an azimuth. It is comparable to doing "about face." To obtain a back azimuth from an azimuth, add 180 degrees if the azimuth is 180 degrees or less, or subtract 180 degrees if the azimuth is 180 degrees or more (Figure 6-3). The back azimuth of 180 degrees may be stated as 0 degrees or 360 degrees. For mils, if the azimuth is less than 3200 mils, add 3200 mils, if the azimuth is more than 3200 mils, subtract 3200 mils.

Figure 6-3. Back azimuth.

Figure 6-3. Back azimuth.


When converting azimuths into back azimuths, extreme care should be exercised when adding or subtracting the 180 degrees. A simple mathematical mistake could cause disastrous consequences.

b.   Magnetic Azimuth. The magnetic azimuth is determined by using magnetic instruments, such as lensatic and M2 compasses. Refer to Chapter 9, paragraph 4, for details.

c.   Field-Expedient Methods. Several field-expedient methods to determine direction are discussed in Chapter 9, paragraph 5.


When an azimuth is plotted on a map between point A (starting point) and point B (ending point), the points are joined together by a straight line. A protractor is used to measure the angle between grid north and the drawn line, and this measured azimuth is the grid azimuth (Figure 6-4).

Figure 6-4. Measuring an azimuth.

Figure 6-4. Measuring an azimuth.


When measuring azimuths on a map, remember that you are measuring from a starting point to an ending point. If a mistake is made and the reading is taken from the ending point, the grid azimuth will be opposite, thus causing the user to go in the wrong direction.


There are several types of protractors—full circle, half circle, square, and rectangular (Figure 6-5). All of them divide the circle into units of angular measure, and each has a scale around the outer edge and an index mark. The index mark is the center of the protractor circle from which all directions are measured.

Figure 6-5. Types of protractors.

Figure 6-5. Types of protractors.

a.   The military protractor, GTA 5-2-12, contains two scales: one in degrees (inner scale) and one in mils (outer scale). This protractor represents the azimuth circle. The degree scale is graduated from 0 to 360 degrees; each tick mark on the degree scale represents one degree. A line from 0 to 180 degrees is called the base line of the protractor. Where the base line intersects the horizontal line, between 90 and 270 degrees, is the index or center of the protractor (Figure 6-6).

Figure 6-6. Military protractor.

Figure 6-6. Military protractor.

b.   When using the protractor, the base line is always oriented parallel to a north-south grid line. The 0- or 360-degree mark is always toward the top or north on the map and the 90° mark is to the right.

(1)   To determine the grid azimuth—

(a)   Draw a line connecting the two points (A and B).

(b)   Place the index of the protractor at the point where the drawn line crosses a vertical (north-south) grid line.

(c)   Keeping the index at this point, align the 0- to 180-degree line of the protractor on the vertical grid line.

(d)   Read the value of the angle from the scale; this is the grid azimuth from point A to point B (Figure 6-4).

(2)   To plot an azimuth from a known point on a map (Figure 6-7)—

(a)   Convert the azimuth from magnetic to grid, if necessary. (See paragraph 6-6.)

(b)   Place the protractor on the map with the index mark at the center of mass of the known point and the base line parallel to a north-south grid line.

(c)   Make a mark on the map at the desired azimuth.

(d)   Remove the protractor and draw a line connecting the known point and the mark on the map. This is the grid direction line (azimuth).

NOTE: When measuring an azimuth, the reading is always to the nearest degree or 10 mils. Distance does not change an accurately measured azimuth.

Figure 6-7. Plotting an azimuth on the map.

Figure 6-7. Plotting an azimuth on the map.

c.   To obtain an accurate reading with the protractor (to the nearest degree or 10 mils), there are two techniques to check that the base line of the protractor is parallel to a north-south grid line.

(1)   Place the protractor index where the azimuth line cuts a north-south grid line, aligning the base line of the protractor directly over the intersection of the azimuth line with the north-south grid line. The user should be able to determine whether the initial azimuth reading was correct.

(2)   The user should re-read the azimuth between the azimuth and north-south grid line to check the initial azimuth.

(3)   Note that the protractor is cut at both the top and bottom by the same north-south grid line. Count the number of degrees from the 0-degree mark at the top of the protractor to this north-south grid line and then count the number of degrees from the 180-degree mark at the bottom of the protractor to this same grid line. If the two counts are equal, the protractor is properly aligned.




Map Reading and Land Navigation Buy the book this website is based on: Map Reading and Land Navigation

This website is based on the US Army Field Manual: "Map Reading and Land Navigation" Buy a copy from to take with you out in the field.


Book Review - Be Expert with Map and Compass

One of the best ways to learn and become proficient in any subject is to find a way to make a game or sport of it. That's exactly what orienteering does! Orienteering began to develop almost 100 years ago in the Scandinavian countries as a fun and effective method for military training in land navigation. Bjorn Kjellstrom was closely involved with the early development of orienteering, and he is the person who introduced the sport to North America. He, along with his brother Alvar, and a friend named Gunnar Tillander, invented the modern orienteering compass. They manufactured and marketed it as the Silva Protractor compass. This compass, along with Bjorn's book Be Expert with Map and Compass, made it much easier for anyone to learn how to use a map and compass.

This book has become the most widely read classic on the subject of map reading, compass use, and orienteering. Over 500,000 copies have been sold in the english language editions alone. There have been very successful editions published in French, Italian, and other languages as well. It is a short (just over 200 pages), easy to read, enjoyable book that can help you to have fun while you learn the subject quickly and effectively.

The book is organized into four main parts, plus a short, useful introduction. Part 1 covers having fun with maps alone. Then, Part 2 covers having fun with a compass alone. Part 3 puts it together and shows you how to have fun with a map and compass together. This section also introduces the game or sport of orienteering. Part 4 covers competitive orienteering for those who would like to compete with others in the sport.

A reproduction of a segment of an actual topographic map is included as a fold-out in the back of the book. It is used together with the "how-to" instructions the book provides. For example, one of the exercises in Part 3 is an imaginary orienteering "hike" that uses the sample map.

If you would like to have one of the best books available on map reading and using a compass, Be Expert with Map and Compass is hard to beat. You can buy a copy from today.

Read a book review of Agincourt

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