Choosing an Ordnance Survey Map

Views 1 Like Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
If you are looking for a map for walking, cycling, running or any outdoor pursuits, Ordnance Survey has been creating the definitive maps of Great Britain for over 200 years.

When choosing a map, the primary consideration is the scale. A smaller scale will show a wider area, but in less detail, while a larger scale shows more details, but for a smaller area. For the modern Ordnance Survey maps, the main two scales used are 1:25 000 scale (OS Explorer Maps) and 1:50 000 scale (OS Landranger Maps)

Printed Maps

OS Explorer Maps – orange covers

These maps are the most popular and highly detailed series that Ordnance Survey produce.  They are ideal for all outdoor activities where you need to plan routes and find your exact position.

The maps show public rights of way such as footpaths, bridleways and trails, boundaries, landscape features and places of interest.  The map scale is 1:25 000 which means that every 1 cm on the map is equal to 250 m on the ground.

They are available in both standard paper and a laminated ‘active’ version that makes the map waterproof and considerably stronger – often vital in the unpredictable British weather! These maps are used mainly by walkers, cyclists and those that want to be able to discover an area in detail.  They are vital if you are planning on navigating off the beaten path.

You can buy OS Explorer Maps from the Ordnance Survey Online Shop

OS Landranger Maps – pink covers

These maps are designed for more general outdoor leisure trips and touring, such as days out, short breaks and holidays to both town and country locations.

At a scale of 1: 50 000, the OS Landranger Maps contain less detail than the OS Explorer Map series, but cover a larger area. They still show all roads and larger paths, as well as places of interest, tourist information and landscape features. They are really useful for navigating around towns and cities, as they show main street names and many of the larger buildings.

These maps are mainly used by tourists to discover places and activities in the local area, as well as hikers who are using main signposted routes. They are available in both standard paper and waterproof ‘Active’ versions.

You can buy OS Landranger Maps from the Ordnance Survey Online Shop

Custom made maps

Sometimes, you may find that the area you are interested in happens to be spread over 2 or 3 of the standard printed maps. The new ‘Custom Map’ option gets around this by allowing you to centre the map at any point you choose, as well as selecting the scale.  With all the features of the standard printed maps, it’s a great option to explore the area around your home or holiday accommodation. You can even add your own photo and title to the map cover, which can make this an ideal memento or gift.

Design and Order your Custom Map online using the simple map selection tool.

Guide Books

There are guide books that cover some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain that use Ordnance Survey mapping to help you explore the local area.  As well as the maps, guide books will highlight recommended walks, historic attractions, parking locations, pubs and other places of interest.

They make an ideal complement to an OS Explorer printed map, or can be used on their own if you are planning on sticking to the selection of listed routes.

Other Mapping Options

Digital Maps - Online

The OS getamap online mapping system gives to access to all levels of Ordnance Survey mapping through a web browser.  As well as being able to view and print in both the Explorer 1: 25 000 scale and Landranger 1: 50 000 scale, you can plan your routes on screen and save them for later.

Your routes can be shown on printed maps, shared with friends or exported for use in a handheld GPS device.  The OS Getamap system has additional information available such as satellite views, weather and additional tourist information.

OS getamap is ideal for those who like to plan and share a route. You can record your notes on a route, and print off single pages with enough detail for a days’ adventure without having to bring a whole map.  You can try getamap for free. Registering gives you the ability to save routes, while adding a subscription gives additional waypoint/route tools, full page printing and image uploads.


Digital Maps – Phones and Tablets

While most phones and tablets have a level of mapping included, these generally only show roads, so are not very helpful for walkers, cyclists, runners or those interested in other outdoor activities off the road.

The Official OS MapFinder App (available on iOS and Android) gives you access to 1:25 000 scale and 1:50 000 scale maps on your smartphone or tablet.  One of the critical features of the App is the ability to download the selected map ‘tiles’ to the device memory. This means that you do not have to rely on having a mobile data signal when you are out exploring.

With GPS you can pinpoint your location, which is really useful where there are no distinctive landscape features, or at night.
Like the desktop system, you can plot routes in advance and if your device has GPS capability you can also record your route for later analysis or sharing.

The App is ideal for those who like to use the latest technology with their activities. Being able to plan and plot a route on the go gives you more flexibility, although we’d always suggest bringing a printed map as a backup just in case the batteries run out.

You can download the OS Mapfinder App for free from Apple App Store and Google Play.

Have something to share? Create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides