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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Figure 3-1 shows a reduced version of a large-scale topographic map. The circled numbers indicate the items of marginal information that the map user needs to know. These circled numbers correspond to the following listed items.

a.   Sheet Name (1). The sheet name is found in bold print at the center of the top and in the lower left area of the map margin. A map is generally named for the settlement contained within the area covered by the sheet, or for the largest natural feature located within the area at the time the map was drawn.

b.   Sheet Number (2). The sheet number is found in bold print in both the upper right and lower left areas of the margin, and in the center box of the adjoining sheets diagram, which is found in the lower right margin. It is used as a reference number to link specific maps to overlays, operations orders, and plans. For maps at 1:100,000 scale and larger, sheet numbers are based on an arbitrary system that makes possible the ready orientation of maps at scales of 1:100,000, 1:50,000, and 1:25,000.

c.   Series Name (3). The map series name is found in the same bold print as the sheet number in the upper left corner of the margin. The name given to the series is generally that of a major political subdivision, such as a state within the United States or a European nation. A map series usually includes a group of similar maps at the same scale and on the same sheet lines or format designed to cover a particular geographic area. It may also be a group of maps that serve a common purpose, such as the military city maps.

d.   Scale (4). The scale is found both in the upper left margin after the series name, and in the center of the lower margin. The scale note is a representative fraction that gives the ratio of a map distance to the corresponding distance on the earth's surface. For example, the scale note 1:50,000 indicates that one unit of measure on the map equals 50,000 units of the same measure on the ground.

e.   Series Number (5). The series number is found in both the upper right margin and the lower left margin. It is a sequence reference expressed either as a four-digit numeral (1125) or as a letter, followed by a three- or four-digit numeral (M661; T7110).

f.   Edition Number (6). The edition number is found in bold print in the upper right area of the top margin and the lower left area of the bottom margin. Editions are numbered consecutively; therefore, if you have more than one edition, the highest numbered sheet is the most recent. Most military maps are now published by the DMA, but older editions of maps may have been produced by the US Army Map Service. Still others may have been drawn, at least in part, by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US  Geological Survey, or other agencies affiliated or not with the United States or allied governments. The credit line, telling who produced the map, is just above the legend. The map information date is found immediately below the word "LEGEND" in the lower left margin of the map. This date is important when determining how accurately the map data might be expected to match what you will encounter on the ground.

g.   Index to Boundaries (7). The index to boundaries diagram appears in the lower or right margin of all sheets. This diagram, which is a miniature of the map, shows the boundaries that occur within the map area, such as county lines and state boundaries.

h.   Adjoining Sheets Diagram (8). Maps at all standard scales contain a diagram that illustrates the adjoining sheets. On maps at 1:100,000 and larger scales and at 1:1,000,000 scale, the diagram is called the index to adjoining sheets. It consists of as many rectangles representing adjoining sheets as are necessary to surround the rectangle that represents the sheet under consideration. The diagram usually contains nine rectangles, but the number may vary depending on the locations of the adjoining sheets. All represented sheets are identified by their sheet numbers. Sheets of an adjoining series, whether published or planned, that are at the same scale are represented by dashed lines. The series number of the adjoining series is indicated along the appropriate side of the division line between the series.

i.   Elevation Guide (9). This is normally found in the lower right margin. It is a miniature characterization of the terrain shown. The terrain is represented by bands of elevation, spot elevations, and major drainage features. The elevation guide provides the map reader with a means of rapid recognition of major landforms.

j.   Declination Diagram (10). This is located in the lower margin of large-scale maps and indicates the angular relationships of true north, grid north, and magnetic north. On maps at 1:250,000 scale, this information is expressed as a note in the lower margin. In recent edition maps, there is a note indicating the conversion of azimuths from grid to magnetic and from magnetic to grid next to the declination diagram.

k.   Bar Scales (11). These are located in the center of the lower margin. They are rulers used to convert map distance to ground distance. Maps have three or more bar scales, each in a different unit of measure. Care should be exercised when using the scales, especially in the selection of the unit of measure that is needed.

l.   Contour Interval Note (12). This note is found in the center of the lower margin normally below the bar scales. It states the vertical distance between adjacent contour lines of the map. When supplementary contours are used, the interval is indicated. In recent edition maps, the contour interval is given in meters instead of feet.

m.   Spheroid Note (13). This note is located in the center of the lower margin. Spheriods (ellipsoids) have specific parameters that define the X Y Z axis of the earth. The spheriod is an integral part of the datum.

n.   Grid Note (14). This note is located in the center of the lower margin. It gives information pertaining to the grid system used and the interval between grid lines, and it identifies the UTM grid zone number.

o.   Projection Note (15). The projection system is the framework of the map. For military maps, this framework is of the conformal type; that is, small areas of the surface of the earth retain their true shapes on the projection; measured angles closely approximate true values; and the scale factor is the same in all directions from a point. The projection note is located in the center of the lower margin. Refer to DMA for the development characteristics of the conformal-type projection systems.

(1)   Between 80° south and 84° north, maps at scales larger than 1:500,000 are based on the transverse Mercator projection. The note reads TRANSVERSE MERCATOR PROJECTION.

(2)   Between 80° south and 84° north, maps at 1:1,000,000 scale and smaller are based on standard parallels of the lambert conformal conic projection. The note reads, for example, LAMBERT CONFORMAL CONIC PROJECTIONS 36° 40' N AND 39° 20' N.

(3)   Maps of the polar regions (south of 80° south and north of 84° north) at 1:1,000,000 and larger scales are based on the polar stereographic projection. The note reads POLAR STEREOGRAPHIC PROJECTION.

p.   Vertical Datum Note (16). This note is located in the center of the lower margin. The vertical datum or vertical-control datum is defined as any level surface (for example, mean sea level) taken as a surface of reference from which to determine elevations. In the United States, Canada, and Europe, the vertical datum refers to the mean sea level surface. However, in parts of Asia and Africa, the vertical-control datum may vary locally and is based on an assumed elevation that has no connection to any sea level surface. Map readers should habitually check the vertical datum note on maps, particularly if the map is used for low-level aircraft navigation, naval gunfire support, or missile target acquisition.

q.   Horizontal Datum Note (17). This note is located in the center of the lower margin. The horizontal datum or horizontal-control datum is defined as a geodetic reference point (of which five quantities are known: latitude, longitude, azimuth of a line from this point, and two constants, which are the parameters of reference ellipsoid). These are the basis for horizontal-control surveys. The horizontal-control datum may extend over a continent or be limited to a small local area. Maps and charts produced by DMA are produced on 32 different horizontal-control data. Map readers should habitually check the horizontal datum note on every map or chart, especially adjacent map sheets. This is to ensure the products are based on the same horizontal datum. If products are based on different horizontal-control data, coordinate transformations to a common datum must be performed. UTM coordinates from the same point computed on different data may differ as much as 900 meters.

r.   Control Note (18). This note is located in the center of the lower margin. It indicates the special agencies involved in the control of the technical aspects of all the information that is disseminated on the map.

s.   Preparation Note (19). This note is located in the center of the lower margin. It indicates the agency responsible for preparing the map.

t.   Printing Note (20). This note is also located in the center of the lower margin. It indicates the agency responsible for printing the map and the date the map was printed. The printing data should not be used to determine when the map information was obtained.

u.   Grid Reference Box (21). This box is normally located in the center of the lower margin. It contains instructions for composing a grid reference.

v.   Unit imprint and Symbol (22). The unit imprint and symbol is on the left side of the lower margin. It identifies the agency that prepared and printed the map with its respective symbol. This information is important to the map user in evaluating the reliability of the map.

w.   Legend (23). The legend is located in the lower left margin. It illustrates and identifies the topographic symbols used to depict some of the more prominent features on the map. The symbols are not always the same on every map. Always refer to the legend to avoid errors when reading a map.

Figure 3-1.  Topographical map.

Figure 3-1. Topographical map.

Return to Beginning of Chapter 3 - Marginal Information



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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