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Which map to choose for hiking and hill walking, Ordnance Survey map vs Harvey Map

Which Map?

Ordnance Survey (OS) vs Harvey Maps, both make great maps with attention to detail and accurate cartography. Ordnance Survey cover the whole of the UK including the bits that most walkers won’t be interested in. Whereas, Harvey maps cover the mountainous/common locations of the UK which walkers will frequent including Dartmoor, Exmoor and the Chiltern Hills.

Two mountain walking maps for the English Peak District
Ordnance Survey map vs Harvey map

Information on the map:

Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps are amazing works of art and provide you with so much information, I have spent many an evening looking over a map and absorbing its many details. which is invaluable to the walker but they also include county, parish and civil boundaries that the walker doesn’t need. In fact, some walkers through lack of knowledge and training have followed these boundaries mistaking them for footpaths.

Some of the other information on ordnance survey maps that is not particularly useful to a walker is the identification of library’s, town halls and boat hire. These can clutter some maps and provide information overload for the walker.

Harvey maps contain less information than Ordnance Survey, not necessarily a negative fact. The symbols provided to walkers are specifically relevant to the activity of hiking which makes the map unique as it is designed for the particular purpose to which we intend to use it. One of the downsides to a Harvey Map is that they don’t identify any archaeological or historical information which some people may find interesting and include within the planning of their walk. I myself have suddenly seen a historical feature on my map and have detoured with the sole purpose of exploring the site of interest. One could argue that Harvey Maps may identify and explain specific historical information on the back of the map which in fact provides more information than the Ordnance Survey. Perhaps this will help you to make a decision based upon this information.

One of the benefits of a Harvey Map over an Ordnance Survey map is that the contours are much easier to see and read as they’re bolder and a contrasting colour. This is key if trying to use contour heights as a method of re-locating or using micro-navigation when in the mountains and also provides a significant benefit in the dark or in poor weather.

A mountain map of the Langdale Pikes in the English lake district
Harvey Map 1:25,000 scale of the Langdale Pikes
A map of the English Lake district showing a parish boundary on a mountain map
Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map of the Langdale Pikes showing a Civil Parish Boundary which to the inexperienced looks to be a footpath

Are the maps accurate?

Both Ordnance Survey and Harvey maps predominantly make their maps (cartography) using aerial pictures of the ground and their specialists examine the pictures and overlay the data against existing map images to identify any changes in a process called ‘photogrammetry’. The only addition to this is that Harvey Maps also have a team of hill walking surveyors to cover 25km a day to capture any changes that have occurred since the photos were taken. These could be new fences, repaired/replaced footbridges and new forest tracks. So in regards to accuracy, the information available suggests that Harvey maps should have a higher level of accuracy compared to Ordnance Survey.

Both OS and Harvey Maps create 1:25,000 maps. This means that when you are on the hill and you are looking at a small mountain lake, it is 25,000 times smaller on the map than what you can see with your eye. This is a useful navigation thought when working out your current location or checking for a feature, that you can see in front of you, on a map. Ask yourself what would that feature look like if it was 25,000 times smaller and it may not be as prominent on your map as you would at first assume it would be.

For winter hillwalking or long distance walking you might not want a 1:25,000 map and instead choose a bigger scale. OS offer a 1:50,000 scale which is great at helping you to navigate by looking at the topography of the land around you, this scale makes it easier for you to associate your surroundings with the picture on the map in front of you. The downside to a 1:50,000 map is that the detail can be lacking as what you can see is 50,000 times smaller on the map. Harvey Maps didn’t follow OS with the 1:50,000 as they found that a 1:40,000 map was more useful to a hillwalker and I agree. The 1:40,000 Harvey map for the Lake District centres perfectly on the national park and this one map covers the entire Lake District area and none of the lowland outer lying towns and villages. The downside to a 1:40,000 map used to be that most of the common compasses on the market provided a romer, a reference for increasing accuracy when reading a grid reference or measuring distance on a map, in 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 and this was a real pain when using a 1:40,000 map. However most modern compasses now also have a 1:40,000 romer included and this issue is now resolved (see image of a Silva Expedition 4 compass)

A Silva walking hiking mountain navigation compass
Silva compass with different map scale romers

Map material:

What do we need and want from a walking/hiking map?

· Waterproof

· Not going to rip in a rucksack or pocket

· Lightweight

· Clear information

· Easy identification of ground conditions

· Easy identification of features to aid navigation

· Easy to identify a grid reference

· Low cost

My thoughts

I started to use Harvey Maps because my Ordnance Survey paper maps were getting wet and as a result were trashed, they simply were not fit for purpose for use outside in Britain and I wasn’t satisfied with the use of a map case due to it being clumber some and smacking me in the face with the force of a scorned lover every time there was a gust of wind. So, my natural progression, like most people, moved on to laminated ordnance survey maps which were much better at being weatherproof but are bulky, don’t fold easily and once the laminate splits water can penetrate and the maps lifespan drastically reduces. On a recent 2-night foray in to the Moelwynion mountain range my brand-new laminated OS map split across the fold and the map got wet which made navigating very difficult.

There used to be a company called TuffMap who printed OS maps in to waterproof paper (possibly the same paper used by Harvey Maps) and these were great and very durable but the company does not seem to currently be trading.

I started to purchase the British Mountaineering Councils “Mountain Map” made by Harvey Maps when they first came out in 2005. This map was ground breaking as it was so strong that you could lift a person with it and it wouldn’t tear! Since then, I started to look more towards Harvey Maps as they seem to tick the ‘what we need/want’ list above. They are waterproof, tough, foldable and lightweight. They are more than half the weight of Ordinance Surveys laminated maps (Harvey= 63.2g vs OS= 208.1g) and they are a similar cost if not a little cheaper.

A weight comparison of a laminated Ordnance Survey map and a waterproof Harvey Map
A weight comparison of a laminated Ordnance Survey map and a waterproof Harvey Map

Quit waffling, what’s the summary of Ordnance Survey Map vs Harvey Map?

Both maps are great products which are essential to a hillwalker to navigate themselves during their adventures. There are many pros and cons to both products but I choose to use the Harvey Maps Superwalker XT25 maps when I am out on the ground as they are not as cluttered with information as opposed to the incredibly detailed Ordnance Survey maps.

However, when planning routes for clients I often refer to the Ordnance Survey maps so that I can see where the Tumulus are and where old roman forts are situated along my route, checking this information gives me the ability to plan a route which is both interesting and safe, I have time to research some of the historical locations which I may pass on the route. I will then make a rough note on my Harvey Map of that location and will consequently wash it off of my map after the walk.

So, to choose which map I would use I have asked myself this question; Ultimately what map would I want in a storm with heavy rain to navigate myself to a key location accurately and my answer would be the Harvey Map for its toughness and waterproofness, the Harvey Map is a product which is specifically designed for the hillwalker by the hillwalker.

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