Maps, guidebooks and other references

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Maps may be available in paper or digital form. Good maps are essential for planning and use during a trip.  Selecting the right maps is essential for planning and leading a safe and interesting trip. The best maps to use in the field are topographic. Information provided by other maps which is not shown on standard topographic maps may also be very useful. Other maps may include road, national parks guides, maps in guidebooks and recreational maps for particular user groups.

Topographic maps

Topographic maps are the most commonly used by people for bushwalking trips. These maps accurately represent the elevation and shape of the ground through the use of contour lines.

Map scales

Map scales are shown as a ratio that expresses the relationship between a unit of measure on the map compared with a unit on the ground. For example, one centimetre on a 1:50,000 scale map equals 50,000cm (500m) on the ground.

The best scale to use is determined by the intended use of the map and is affected by the intended method of travel through a given area. A person driving may use a 1:100,000 map while a person walking may choose a 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 map. A larger scale map (e.g. 1:25,000) shows more detail than a smaller scale map (e.g. 1:1,000,000).

Scale Uses 1 cm on the map equates to:
1:100,000 Trip planning. Car travel to/from trip. Walking/ski touring (on track). Four wheel driving trips. 1000 metres or 1km
1:50,000 Bushwalking/ski touring. 500 metres
1:30,000 Online digital government topographic can be printed and used on trips, but have limitations for use on extended trips.
1:25,000 Bushwalking, ski touring and Rogaining (on or off track). 250 metres
1:15,000 Rogaining and orienteering 150 metres
1:10,000 Rogaining and orienteering 100 metres

Digital maps

Digital maps are increasingly available from a variety of sources for use on devices including laptops, tablets, smartphones and GPS units.  Digital map sources include:

  • Topographic maps available from state government mapping agencies
  • National Park and public land maps
  • Google maps (limited detail)
  • Open source streetmaps (variable quality and detail)
  • Maps provided with GPS units
  • Maps provided via apps  

NOTE: It is best not to rely only on digital maps. Paper maps should always be carried.

The small device screen size can be a significant limitation for practical navigation. The device may fail and batteries can go flat.  

Digital maps printed at home may be fine for day trips, but have limitations for extended trips where durability (paper and ink), areas covered and quantity are problems.

Commercial printed maps are better quality, cover a larger area, easier to use and lighter and less bulky to carry.  These are ordered online or bought from outdoor shops.

Recreational maps

Recreational maps contain specific information for particular user groups including:

  • Bushwalking
  • Ski touring
  • Four wheel driving
  • Mountain biking
  • Gold detecting

These maps may show details such as reliable water sources, campsites, huts and areas of interest. They may also show tracks which are not on standard topographic maps. They may also cover the area of interest on one sheet.

Guidebooks

Guidebooks are available from outdoors shops and online. Some provide detailed information with recommended maps while others may only provide suggested routes with limited detail for a wide variety of walking and skiing areas in Australia.

Some factors to consider when using a guidebook to plan a trip include:

  • when the information was last updated (year of publication)
  • how much detail is provided
  • reputation of the author(s)

Note:  Maps in guidebooks are intended as an indication of where to walk. They can make it to easier plan a trip and follow the notes but they should be used in conjunction with recommended commercial and topographic maps. Maps in guidebooks should not be the only map used for navigation purposes on a trip.

Nationals Parks and public land information

Hard copy maps and track notes may be available from national park offices.

Digital maps and track notes available on websites provided by national park services and state land management offices may include:

  • Topographic digital maps that can be used on devices and/or printed
  • Track and park notes that can be downloaded and printed (e.g. PDF)

These websites may also provide online information about routes including track and road conditions, water and fire restrictions.

Each state provides websites with additional important information including road, track and park closures and fire events etc.

See State Information for more details.

Magazines

There are a number of outdoor magazines available. Some have track notes and surveys vetted by other experienced outdoor enthusiasts, others do not. They can be useful for walking and ski tour trip ideas.

Other websites

Websites providing information on outdoor activities including trip notes, equipment advice, safety procedures are provided by individuals, clubs and other organisations.

Websites may include GPS track logs of a trip that may be useful, however they may not follow the preferred route.

Note: The information provided on a website may only represent one person’s experience or opinion.  The information may be out of date and/or inaccurate.

Bushwalking clubs

Bushwalking clubs often have a significant body of specific knowledge from past trips. Clubs hold meetings where speakers give presentations about trips. Most bushwalkers and ski tourers are keen to talk about their trips and provide information about specific routes.

Some clubs keep trip reports that may be available to members. These reports provide details on track conditions, campsites, water availability and how long the group took for sections of the route at the time of the trip. There may also be articles in club newsletters and on websites.