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 examination of the transverse Mercator projection, which is used for large-scale military maps, shows that most lines of latitude and longitude are curved lines. The quadrangles formed by the intersection of these curved parallels and meridians are of different sizes and shapes, complicating the location of points and the measurement of directions. To aid these essential operations, a rectangular grid is superimposed upon the projection. This grid (a series of straight lines intersecting at right angles) furnishes the map reader with a system of squares similar to the block system of most city streets. The dimensions and orientation of different types of grids vary, but three properties are common to all military grid systems: one, they are true rectangular grids; two, they are superimposed on the geographic projection; and three, they permit linear and angular measurements.

a.   Universal Transverse Mercator Grid. The UTM grid has been designed to cover that part of the world between latitude 84° N and latitude 80° S, and, as its name implies, is imposed on the transverse Mercator projection.

(1)   Each of the 60 zones (6 degrees wide) into which the globe is divided for the grid has its own origin at the intersection of its central meridian and the equator (Figure 4-8). The grid is identical in all 60 zones. Base values (in meters) are assigned to the central meridian and the equator, and the grid lines are drawn at regular intervals parallel to these two base lines. With each grid line assigned a value denoting its distance from the origin, the problem of locating any point becomes progressively easier. Normally, it would seem logical to assign a value of zero to the two base lines and measure outward from them. This, however, would require either that directions— N, S, E, or W— be always given with distances, or that all points south of the equator or west of the central meridian have negative values.

Figure 4-8.  UTM grid zone location

Figure 4-8. UTM grid zone location

(2)   This inconvenience is eliminated by assigning "false values" to the base lines, resulting in positive values for all points within each zone. Distances are always measured RIGHT and UP (east and north as the reader faces the map), and the assigned values are called "false easting" and "false northing. " (Figure 4-9). The false eating value for each central meridian is 500,000 meters, and the false northing value for the equator is 0 meters when measuring in the northern hemisphere and 10,000,000 meters when measuring in the southern hemisphere. The use of the UTM grid for point designation will be discussed in detail in paragraph 4-4.

Figure 4-9.  False eastings and northings for the UPS grid.

Figure 4-9. False eastings and northings for the UPS grid.

b.   Universal Polar Stereographic Grid. The UPS grid is used to represent the polar regions. (Figure 4-10)

Figure 4-10.  Grid zone designation for UPS grid

Figure 4-10. Grid zone designation for UPS grid

(1)   North Polar Area. The origin of the UPS grid applied to the north polar area is the north pole. The "north-south" base line is the line formed by the 0-degree and 180-degree meridians; the "east-west" base line is formed by the two 90-degree meridians.

(2)   South Polar Area. The origin of the UPS grid in the south polar area is the south pole. The base lines are similar to those of the north polar area.


This grid reference system is designated for use with the UTM and UPS grids. The coordinate value of points in these grids could contain as many as 15 digits if numerals alone were used. The US military grid reference system reduces the length of written coordinates by substituting single letters for several numbers. Using the UTM and the UPS grids, it is possible for the location of a point (identified by numbers alone) to be in many different places on the surface of the earth. With the use of the military grid reference system, there is no possibility of this happening.

a.   Grid Zone Designation. The world is divided into 60 grid zones, which are large, regularly shaped geographic areas, each of which is given a unique identification called the grid zone designation.

(1)   UTM Grid. The first major breakdown is the division of each zone into areas 6° wide by 8° high and 6° wide by 12° high. Remember, for the transverse Mercator projection, the earth's surface between 80° S and 84° N is divided into 60 N-S zones, each 6° wide. These zones are numbered from west to east, 1 through 60, starting at the 180° meridian. This surface is divided into 20 east-west rows in which 19 are 8° high and 1 row at the extreme north is 12° high. These rows are then lettered, from south to north, C through X (I and O were omitted). Any 6° by 8° zone or 6° by 12° zone is identified by giving the number and letter of the grid zone and row in which it lies. These are read RIGHT and UP so the number is always written before the letter. This combination of zone number and row letter constitutes the grid zone designation. Columbus lies in zone 16 and row S, or in grid zone designation 16S (Figure 4-8).

(2)   UPS Grid. The remaining letters of the alphabet, A, B, Y, and Z, are used for the UPS grids. Each polar area is divided into two zones separated by the 0-180° meridian. In the south polar area, the letter A is the grid zone designation for the area west of the 0-180° meridian, and B for the area to the east. In the north polar area, Y is the grid zone designation for the western area and Z for the eastern area (Figure 4-10).

b.   100,000-Meter Square. Between 84° N and 80° S, each 6° by 8° or 6° by 12° zone is covered by 100,000-meter squares that are identified by the combination of two alphabetical letters. This identification is unique within the area covered by the grid zone designation. The first letter is the column designation; the second letter is the row designation (Figure 4-11). The north and south polar areas are also divided into 100,000-meter squares by columns and rows. A detailed discussion of the polar system can be found in Technical Report 8358. 1. The 100,000-meter square identification letters are located in the grid reference box in the lower margin of the map.

Figure 4-11.  Grid zone designation and 100,000-meter square identification.

Figure 4-11. Grid zone designation and 100,000-meter square identification.

c.   Grid Coordinates. We have now divided the earth's surface into 6° by 8° quadrangles, and covered these with 100,000-meter squares. The military grid reference of a point consists of the numbers and letters indicating in which of these areas the point lies, plus the coordinates locating the point to the desired position within the 100,000-meter square. The next step is to tie in the coordinates of the point with the larger areas. To do this, you must understand the following.

(1)   Grid Lines. The regularly spaced lines that make the UTM and the UPS grid on any large-scale maps are divisions of the 100,000-meter square; the lines are spaced at 10,000- or 1,000-meter intervals (Figure 4-12). Each of these lines is labeled at both ends of the map with its false easting or false northing value, showing its relation to the origin of the zone. Two digits of the values are printed in large type, and these same two digits appear at intervals along the grid lines on the face of the map. These are called the principal digits, and represent the 10,000 and 1,000 digits of the grid value. They are of major importance to the map reader because they are the numbers he will use most often for referencing points. The smaller digits complete the UTM grid designation.

Figure 4-12. Grid lines.

EXAMPLE: The first grid line north of the south-west corner of the Columbus map is labeled 3570000m N. This means its false northing (distance north of the equator) is 3,570,000 meters. The principal digits, 70, identify the line for referencing points in the northerly direction. The smaller digits, 35, are part of the false coordinates and are rarely used. The last three digits, 000, of the value are omitted. Therefore, the first grid line east of the south-west corner is labeled 689000m E. The principal digits, 89, identify the line for referencing points in the easterly direction (Figure 4-13).

Figure 4-13.  Columbus map, southwest corner.

Figure 4-13. Columbus map, southwest corner.

(2)   Grid Squares. The north-south and east-west grid lines intersect at 90° , forming grid squares. Normally, the size of one of these grid squares on large-scale maps is 1,000 meters (1 kilometer).

(3)   Grid Coordinate Scales. The primary tool for plotting grid coordinates is the grid coordinate scale. The grid coordinate scale divides the grid square more accurately than can be done by estimation, and the results are more consistent. When used correctly, it presents less chance for making errors. GTA 5-2-12, 1981, contains four types of coordinate scales (Figure 4-14).

Figure 4-14.  Coordinate scales.

Figure 4-14. Coordinate scales.

(a)   The 1:25,000/1:250,000 (lower right in figure) can be used in two different scale maps, 1:25,000 or 1:250,000. The 1:25,000 scale subdivides the 1,000-meter grid block into 10 major subdivisions, each equal to 100 meters. Each 100-meter block has five graduations, each equal to 20 meters. Points falling between the two graduations can be read accurately by the use of estimation. These values are the fourth and eighth digits of the coordinates. Likewise, the 1:250,000 scale is subdivided in 10 major subdivisions, each equal to 1,000 meters. Each 1,000-meter block has five graduations, each equal to 200 meters. Points falling between two graduations can be read approximately by the use of estimation.

(b)   The 1:50,000 scale (upper left in Figure 4-14) subdivides the 1,000-meter block into 10 major subdivisions, each equal to 100 meters. Each 100-meter block is then divided in half. Points falling between the graduations must be estimated to the nearest 10 meters for the fourth and eighth digits of the coordinates.

(c)   The 1:100,000 scale (lower left in Figure 4-14) subdivides the 1,000-meter grid block into five major subdivisions of 200 meters each. Each 200-meter block is then divided in half at 100-meter intervals.

Return to Grids



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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