How to Choose Better Sheet Maps (Maps Part 2)

Something nobody ever talks about is buying a map. For city-hoppers, who fly from Phnom Penh to Beijing via Ho Chi Min and Tokyo, there’s probably little need for the various types of maps I’m going to talk about. If you’re driving from A to B, however, you need a map so you don’t end up at the wrong sea.

The two types of maps you need:
1. A big road atlas.
2. Smaller destination maps – this might be an A-Z city map book or a few Ordnance Survey sheets for the wilderness.

This article is going to talk about how to choose a smaller destination maps. In case you missed it, I discussed how to choose the big road atlas last Travel Tuesday.

The humble sheet map is more often overlooked except by people who want to do some walking out of their car. In the UK, we have Harvey’s and Ordnance Survey maps, and (with the exception of OS’s 2007-onwards touring maps) they’re so good, that you would be forgiven for expecting them to cover the whole world. It’s a bit of a shock to the system to discover that our gleaming institution of the OS map is actually only a thing in the UK. Beyond, you’re at the mercy of whatever lame-ass cartographic monstrosity they’ve scribbled on a napkin to sell to tourists.

So what do you do? Where can you go to for excellent, accurate mapping information that comes in a variety of scales with familiar symbols? While Google Maps is clearly the Gold Standard in worldwide mapping, since it uses the actual satellite images to map features that are really where they say they are, the big drawback is you need an internet connection and some sort of charge to use them (unless you want to spend hours printing them out at a multitude of scales).

What’s this scale nonsense, anyway?
Basically, it’s a ratio of how much a geographical area has been scaled down to fit on a page. For example, 1:1 would mean the map would be exactly the same size as the area it covered. 1:4 would mean it was a quarter of the size of the area it covered. The best scale you can get on Ordnance Survey maps is 1:25,000 (you can see every individual house on the map at this scale) but their 1:50,000 is usually good enough for most things unless you’re really bad at reading a map. Road maps are usually between 1:200,000 and 1:500,000. Anything above 1:800,000 is not very useful in areas of dense population, e.g. western Europe, but would probably be fine in places like Kazakhstan, Russia or Sudan where there’s not a lot of stuff to fit on a page. Anything above 1:3,000,000 is useless even for Russia. At bigger scales, the width of the road is not done to scale because otherwise it would be a tiny thin line that you wouldn’t be able to see, so they make the roads wider than they should be. This confuses a lot of people but if they didn’t do it, most maps would be unreadable.

Why does scale matter?
Surely if you buy the biggest scale available, you’ll be able to cover more countries on less paper? Yes, but the problem is, as cartographers increase the scale, they reduce the amount of visible detail. First thing you’ll notice is some minor roads not appearing where they should. Then some villages will vanish. Then eventually there will just be the main roads and big cities… you get the picture. Likewise, if the scale is too small, you will quickly fill your car with paper maps, cost yourself a fortune and spend hours looking for the right page or sheet. That’s clearly no good either. Where does the balance lie between these two extremes? Only you can answer that.

Here’s a list of brands and countries that produce printed paper maps, along with the individual scales by continent and country, for those places that are hard to find maps for (and some that aren’t) If you use the “find on page function” from your internet browser menu (top right in Chrome), you can find all of the maps for any given country in this list:

Carte De Randonnees (Institut Geographique National): Sheet maps for France (choice of scales: 1:25,000 or 1:50,000) including places of interest etc. Not quite the same level of detail as OS maps and I didn’t see any contours but I might have been looking at a sheet map that covered a flat area. They retail for between £8 and £13 and you can get them in the UK in Go Outdoors, although they are 100% in French so they might be of no use to you if you’re no good at grasping foreign languages (I’m extremely lucky that I have the ability to learn many languages but I know that a lot of people struggle with this, and I can see those people having major issues with these maps).

maps2

Cartographia: Africa: Libya (scale 1:2,000,000), Egypt (1:1,000,000),
Europe: Moscow (in Russia) (1:50,000),

Comfort! Map: Europe: Ukraine (scale 1:1,350,000),

Editorial Alpina Mapa Guia Excursionista Map & Hiking Guide: Sheet maps of Spain and Andorra (scale 1:25,000). I couldn’t open them at Go Outdoors (these maps are wrapped in cellophane) to see whether they were in English but there was a Union Flag on the front next to the Spanish and Andorran flags, which strongly implies there were English words inside.

spanish maps3

Freytag and Berndt: Africa: Egypt (scale 1:800,000),
Europe: Romania and Moldova (scale 1:500,000), Ukraine and Moldova (scale 1:1,000,000 so get the Romania one if you’re specifically going to Moldova), Russia (scale 1:8,000,000 and 1:2,000,000 on same map)

Gizi Map: Asis: Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan all in one map (scale 1: 3,000,000).

Hema: New Zealand North Island (scale unknown but it’s good) and New Zealand South Island (again, scale unknown but it’s got great detail and both have city plans).

International Travel Maps: Europe: Ukraine (scale 1:1,000,000), Russia (scale 1:6,000,000), The Russian Kamchatka Peninsula (scale 1:800,000 and 1:1,200,000 on same map), St Petersburg (in Russia) (1:14,000), Kazakhstan (scale 1:2,300,000), Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on same map (scale 1:3,000,000 and 1: 1,580,000),

Michelin: Africa. Relatively few options exist for Africa, even Morocco, so the Michelin maps aren’t the best scale or detail, but they’re cheapest option weighing in at £5.99 on Amazon. The Michelin maps cover: Morocco (scale 1:1,000,000), Tunisia (scale 1:800,000)
Asia: Turkey (scale 1:1,000,000), Thailand (1:1,370,000)
Europe: Romania (scale 1:750,000),
North America: Eastern US and Eastern Canada (one map) (1:2,400,000),

Nelles Maps: Africa: Tunisia (scale 1:750,000), Egypt (scale 1:750,000 and 1:2,500,000 – both stated on same map),

Marco Polo: Often a better scale than Michelin, particularly for larger countries. Africa: Tunisia (scale 1:800,000), Morocco (scale 1:800,000), Egypt (1:1,000,000),
Asia: Turkey (1: 800,000),
Europe: Romania (1: 800,000), Russia-Ukraine-Belarus (3 in 1) (1:2,000,000 and 1:10,000,000 – both on same map), St Petersburg (in Russia) (1:15,000),
Asia: China (1:4,000,000), Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (all in one) (1:2,000,000),
Oceania: New Zealand (1:2,000,000),

National Geographic Adventure Map: Morocco/Western Sahara, Egypt, Turkey (scale unknown),

Rand McNally; Road Map of US, Canada and Mexico (one map book) (scale undisclosed but according to Amazon reviewers it’s small).

Reise: Africa: Jordan (1,400,000),
Europe: Russia (Lake Baikal to Vladivostock – the far east third of Russia) (1:2,000,000),
Asia: Kazakhstan (1:2,000,000)

WorldMap: Egypt (1:1,000,000),

Insight Flexi Map: Egypt (1:930,000), Moscow (in Russia) (1:130,000),
Asia: Thailand (1, 1,400,000),
N. America: Canada (1:4,000,000),
Oceania: New Zealand (1:800,000)

Problem countries:
Morocco: For no good reason, nobody seems to produce a map worth a damn for Morocco. For the size of the country, the scales on offer are ridiculous.

Russia: It’s a really big country. Huge, in fact. So it won’t all fit on one sheet or in one map book. There are sections for sale from Reise but if you’re crossing all of Russia you’ll need quite a few sheets. Maps of St Petersburg and Moscow seem plentiful and scales look good for these, however.

Conclusion:
As you can see, once you get past France and Spain, it appears that there’s nothing that comes close to good old Ordnance Survey or Harvey, which makes me realise how lucky we are in the UK to have two fantastic printed mapping resources as well as Google Maps. It’s very unfortunate that GPS has taken off so well that cartographers don’t produce as many printed maps any more, so if you lose your way in an area that doesn’t get a GPS signal, like Siberia, then you’re going to struggle to get un-lost. My personal recommendation? Get a decent GPS device with world maps pre-loaded at a good scale, and always have paper maps as a back up, because none of these maps will help you while you’re crossing the Carpathian Alps or the Atlas Mountains, or kayaking the River Vltva. Being on a serious budget myself, I will probably not take my own advice any time soon, and am going with the best scale available for both Morocco and Romania when I overland there.

Do you know of any good sheet maps for other countries that I could add to this article? Let me know in the comments! I’ll reply/approve (if needed) when I get back from the Highlands of Scotland on Friday/Saturday.

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Travel Plans 2015

It was raining so much that I couldn't get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!
This was how much of Scafell Pike we could see when we looked across the water. I can’t show you the left hand side (where we were headed to park) because it was raining too heavily to get my camera out of the car.

Sometimes travel plans just go wrong. Other times they don’t materialise at all. I made a plan to climb 3 mountains during the February half term, and I climbed a grand total of half. How do you so comprehensively fail to achieve a goal? Well, it turns out you can’t climb a mountain when the path leading to it has turned into a white waterway. It’s simply too dangerous. So I turned back. While it’s irritating as all hell and disappointing and all the rest of it, I don’t think there’s any shame in knowing when to stop. I trust my own judgement and I really wasn’t confident that the mountain was safe.

It was hard, having bought petrol, made plans, hoiked equipment and trudged all that distance, only to have to admit defeat in the face of white water and whiter fog, which was closing in rapidly. But I know I made the right decision.

It has affected my bigger picture of travel plans for the year though. I had a progression of mountains planned for the year, and hikes, cycles and walks, and now I need to re-order things and try to make it all work with even less time, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that my current work contract has been extended by 5 months, meaning I won’t be free to properly travel until the end of July.

Here’s my current plans for 2015:

1. Climb Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis.

2. Hike the West Highland Way.

3. Climb Scafell Pike.

4. Visit Orkney

5. Visit the Broughs at the top of Scotland

6. Walk Hadrian’s Wall.

7. Cycle the Pennine Way

8. Spend the night in a castle

9. Climb mountains on the Via Ferrata in France and Andorra

10. Climb Serra do Gerez and Serra do Estrela in Portugal

11. Drive to Morocco via Spain (and France, Andorra and Portugal)

And here’s my current music plans:

1. Steeleye Span, March (like, this Sunday).

2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, April.

3. Download festival, June.

When compiling my list, I tried to group things by location, so for example all the Europe stuff can be done in the same trip because it’s all along the Morocco route (or at least, a meandering journey in the direction of Morocco). Again, my UK-based travelling is all in the same relative direction from me – it’s all northwards (except the Pennine Way, which starts 100 miles south of me, but it does end about 150 miles north of my house), with an emphasis on the West of Scotland. As for #8, there are plenty of castles in both Scotland and France which open their doors to tourists – if you can afford their rates. I’m hoping to get one for a cheaper price before tourist season kicks in, but you never know.

For the music plans, I chose a mixture of styles and picked one at £20 (Steeleye Span), one at £40 (L-S) and one expensive festival (Download) so I could see the maximum amount of bands, genres and time-periods without going to a different one every week or bankrupting myself.

A big factor in all my planning was my car. All of my plans are very dependent on my car working and being hospitable inside. I’ve added curtains and put one of the back seats back into the car (they were all removed before) so there’s somewhere for a passenger or rabbit if we need it.

These are the curtains to the car camper - tutorial to follow.
These are the curtains to the car camper – tutorial to follow.

Do you have any travel plans for this year? Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any articles!

[travel] HAUL – Outdoor Walking and Snow Gear

Outdoor Walking Gear Haul
The past two months have been pretty awful, so I decided to cheer myself up with a little shopping spree with the Sports Direct sale:

corner boots1

haul outdoor gear

sandals2

Let’s start with the Karrimor Walking Sandals.  The box said they were reduced from £49.99; I actually paid £13 for them because there had been another reduction since they were first put on sale.  I wore them the very next day to walk two miles and they were very comfortable – apparently needing no “breaking in” period, as most shoes do.  They felt odd when I first put them on at the store, until I realised that the strap at the very back needed loosening, then they were super comfy.

Karrimor walking sandals

I really like the ’90’s style they’ve got going on and I also love how lightweight they are – I can’t wait until summer to go hiking in them.  They also have super-grippy soles so I think these would be good for hillwalking.

Karrimor walking sandals

I bought size 6 which is an EU 39.5.  I’m usually a size 40 (which gets interpreted as a 6, 6.5 or 7 depending on brand of shoe) but these fitted fine in the 39.5.

box for walking sandals

The snow shoes I bought were also intended for hiking.

snow boots karrimor

Those of you who have been following for a while will remember I have a list of 20 Must-Climb Mountains in Europe that I want (no, I NEED) to climb before I turn 30 in 20 months’ time, because they’re on my to-do list.  I had the opportunity to tackle Scafell Pike recently and had to turn it down because I didn’t have any footwear that was suitable for winter mountains or for fitting crampons to.  I have now remedied this with these beauties:

How nice are these snow boots?
How nice are these snow boots?

I was a little bit disappointed because they also had them in pink but didn’t have anything resembling my size, so I went for the blue ones which were allegedly for boys.  The only difference I could see was that the blue ones were blue, and the girls’ ones had pink laces.  If you really wanted them to be more like the girls’ version, you could always buy some pink laces to put on them.  They didn’t do a version that was strictly “for adults” but since the children’s ones went up to a UK size 6 (which was actually an EU 39.5 again) I was more than accommodated, which is interesting because it’s the first time I haven’t had to get a size 7 in a walking boot.  One thing I like about sports direct is the staff never try to steer you to a particular gender or target-age of a shoe, they just let you get on with it.  They were so comfy (in the words of a furniture store we saw in Salzburg, they felt “so schlaft, man”) I actually felt like my feet had got their own cosy beds to sleep in.

Sorry about my feet, the boot wouldn't stay put!
Sorry about my feet, the boot wouldn’t stay put!

I felt a bit sad having to take these off both in the store and after taking the photos.  The inside is padded with something that feels suspiciously like memory foam, which, along with their fake-fur plush lining, is what makes them feel so comfy.
Another thing I really like about these is that they have a 100% waterproof part at the bottom, so that you can’t get wet from stepping through puddles etc.  While I’d love to be able to afford something in Gore-Tex that was completely waterproof, as a cheap boot for winter walking these really look a lot better than all the others – I always slightly distrust nylon-looking fabric that claims to be waterproof because in my experience it’s “light rain proof” not “puddle proof” but as you can see, these are 3 inches of rubber so unless you’re fording a stream you’re gonna be dry:

snow boots waterproof karrimor

The label says they’re completely waterproof, and certainly in the snow they shouldn’t get my feet damp.  They were £29.99 which was a reduction from £59.99, as you can see on the box:

snow boots karrimor waterproof
I really can’t wait to go walking in these boots.

Next there was a pair of No Fear winter sports gloves.  I wasn’t expecting to buy any gloves, but then ended up spending quite a bit of time in the shop trying different ones on.  The ones I settled on were reduced from £24.99 to £9.99, and I couldn’t be happier with them:

No Fear winter sports gloves

They have a clip so you can clip them together when you’re not wearing them, to avoid losing them, because there’s nothing more irritating than losing one glove under normal circumstances.  Out on the slopes in the snow, you could end up with frostbite if you lose a glove, so it’s extra important.

No Fear winter sports gloves with clip

There’s also a good grippy bit where your fingers go – unlike another pair I tried, the grip on this one felt comfortable in the Make A Fist test (make a fist, if you’re fighting your glove all the way, get a different glove, it’s going to make it hard to hold things when you wear them).

No Fear winter sports gloves waterproof snowboarding grip side

I also liked the baffle inside the glove – a strip of fabric that went all round the inside to stop wind blowing down the glove and making your wrists cold.

No Fear winter sports gloves with clip

These ones had elastic at the wrists AND adjustable velcro on the back of them, making them give a good fit without letting the cold or wet in.  Lastly, the label said they were waterproof.  I tested this in the sink today, and they didn’t let any water in when the tap was running over them.  I absolutely LOVE these gloves.  They were Extra Large size because they were “for girls” not women, but I found the fit more comfortable and felt I was getting more features than any of the ladies gloves.  Additionally, they didn’t have any for adults that looked this good.

Lonsdale mini backpack

I bought a Lonsdale Mini Backpack for £5.99 because when I went to Italy, I was a little fed up with having to drag my shoulderbag up and down big hills and endless steps around Salzburg.  I thought a nice lightweight backpack would be perfect.  I looked at all the daysacks, but I found them all to be overly-technical and overly expensive for what I needed (we were talking over £20 for one, and I don’t need it to be Camelpak compatible or have an MP3 headphone port or an air cooled back).  I wanted something I could roll up and stuff in my suitcase.  So I got this, an absolute steal at £5.99.  It comes in a range of colours, I picked the black one because I thought it would suit every outfit and mood.  It’s much smaller than most “sports” backpacks so my lunch and bottle of water won’t be bouncing around everywhere inside it when I walk around, and there’s a little pocket on the front where I can put postcards.

Lonsdale mini backpack rear view
I liked this one better than the Nike version because they only had the Nike one in Lime Green.  The Lonsdale one (which I bought) also had the advantage of padded straps, which a lot of standard sports-type backpacks don’t have.

Then there was the waist pouch.  I have been toying with the idea of a handsfree type area around my waist for festivals, concerts and other places that require the use of my hands to declare my love for whatever song is playing.  I liked this one because it was the smallest one available so I thought it wouldn’t look as bulky on my tiny size 8 frame:
pouch1

It’s another Karrimor discount, and it cost £5.99, so the same price as my backpack.  I like it because it has a little pocket at the front to keep your MP3 player or iPod, and a headphones out port, so when you’re at a festival and that band you hate starts playing, and you can hear them still across the other side of the field, you can drown them out.  Not that I have ever done this, but I did consider it during one act at Sonisphere last year.  I shan’t tell you which band it was because I profoundly loved most of the bands that played and don’t want to be mean spirited.
The back of the pouch looks like this:
karrimor belt pouch for money etc

I can’t wait to try this out so I can keep my coins on me without having to worry about the safety of my purse while I rock out like a loon at my line-up of festivals and concerts which I’ve got planned for this year, and I also thought it would be very handy when I go to Spain and Morocco later this year as well, to avoid pickpockets, because the zipped money pocket is on the inside.

Lastly, I got some spare laces.  Every time I see some cheap ones I buy them because, in a house filled with five rabbits, shoelaces often get chewed when you are least expecting it, and this means a supply of new ones is essential.  They were only 99p:
karrimor spare shoe laces

I was pleased with the whole experience on my shopping trip, and I really enjoyed the shopping process because I didn’t feel pressured into buying anything and felt like I could still ask for help when I needed it.  Even at the till when I changed my mind about something and was super-apologetic, they were really nice about it and just put it to one side to be re-stocked.  The equipment I bought at Sports Direct will help nicely with my plan to do some of the Via Ferrata in Andorra this year as well, since for Christmas my aunt got me a Via Ferrata Harness and safety line, and a guide book on all the Andorran Via Ferrate.  I will show you these and tell you what I think of them in a future post.
Have you done any new equipment shopping so far this year?  Let me know in the comments.