Using OS Maps To Enhance Map Reading

Posted on October 19th 2017 by Jason Rawles

You’ll know by now that it’s #NationalMapReadingWeek so I’m putting a series of blogs together to help enhance your map reading abilities and skills. Monday we looked at what I love, Tuesday we looked at getting started and yesterday was my top ten hints and tips¬†and now to look at OS Maps.

There’s no getting away from the digital aspects of map reading and while we should respect the limitations (battery life, tech failure, waterproofing etc.) we should embrace if we can. So today I’d like to discuss how I see something like the OS Maps/OS Locate functionality supporting a safe and fun map reading experience…


I use OS Maps extensively as part of my route and map reading planning. I can go to the place I’m heading to online and map things out exactly as they are to be. This then gives me data like distance, elevation and time under foot. I can also save the route and it then syncs from laptop to iPhone which I can then follow if I chose to on the day.

What you do need to be careful of is the timing calculations for speed. They are set as a parameter for walking in the settings so you can change them if needed or adjust in your mind against how fast you go.

This is then your foundation information to check starts times against daylight hours and also weather conditions. It also determines how much food/water you’ll need on your adventure. It’s my starting point for every day or expedition in the hills or outdoors.

planning os maps

3D functionality

Granted, I do spend a fair chunk of time in the mountains of north Wales but I also love going exploring in other places around the UK. If I am unsure of anything that I see on the mapping screen I can flip it to 3D and get a really good view of what’s there. This may be boggy ground or even steep areas.

This could be potentially life saving if people want to look at steep ground locations like Sharp Edge, Crib Goch or Striding Edge in advance.

3d os maps

Augmented Reality

A few people think this is a gimmick and in essence if could be seen as such. You want to know what a certain hill is or you’re board in a meeting and just point your smartphone at a wall. But, consider this…

…if you’re in the outdoors in poor visibility you could actually use this as location tool. By knowing what’s where you can start to get a better picture of where you are. Yes, before the map police start shouting about map reading skills, yes, you should have an appreciation but this is something that could quickly help. Like any tool, it has a place.

ar os maps

Print off the route on A4 waterproof paper

Rather than use my larger OS Active maps as the primary map reading tool, using OS Maps you can just print off the route you’re embarking upon. This then means you can put the bigger map in your rucksack as back-up. As mentioned I also print on waterproof paper meaning I get more from each print off and it is more weather resistant than normal paper!

a4 os maps

Leaving a bread crumb trail

If you’re out and about and little apprehensive you’re able to start a route which then starts to leave a trail that you could always reverse back on if things don’t go to plan. Word of caution is this will use a lot of battery life so either only use if necessary or carry a small power pack with you. Another use case for this is for boxing off an obstacle in that you can’t proceed but you need to walk around it accurately.

bread os maps

Find routes when out and about

If you’re heading to a new location you can get access to over a million routes that are already populated within OS Maps. This makes it a hell of a lot easier to make a positive #GetOutside decision! You can then print off the routes, store then on My Maps, follow them etc. etc.

Can you find any of mine on there…???

routes os maps

Route sharing on OS Maps

If I’m planning adventures with pals I can share the route via email and they then upload the GPX to their OS Maps. It means we are all reading common information and it can be done remotely. We can then all print off the route etc. etc.

share os maps

OS Locate.

OS Locate is an app that sits on your smartphone independent of OS Maps. You can open the app and it will give you a 6 figure grid reference of where you are and also a digital compass. Recently mountain rescue teams have asked people to download it to pin point a location. If stuck you could obtain your grid reference, relay back to your map, work out a plan to get safe or on track. Life saving. Get it from the app store relevant to your phone or HERE.

os maps locate

There is much more to OS Maps than this. Things like identifying Greenspace, finding national park pathways, finding grid references and much, much MORE. Why not get it HERE and have a play?

My view is that OS Maps massively compliments physical maps but does not replace them. I plan digitally and then play with physical maps on the ground. My skills, experience and qualifications all supersede just using an app, something online or pics from a magazine.

A place for everything, and everything in its place!!!!

Please do let me know your thoughts in the comments below and share around.



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