About the Study Guide

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Whenever you’re in a remote or unfamiliar area, a topographic map and compass are a must.

Topographic map

Topographic maps are often created from aerial photographs and reveal the contours of the land, including hills, ridges, and valleys, as well as lakes, rivers, creeks, trails, and roads.

  • Contour lines show the elevation of the ground.
  • Contour intervals reveal how much vertical distance there is between each contour line—closely spaced contour lines indicate very steep slopes.
  • Contour lines that are sharply tapered indicate an uphill direction.
  • Rounded contour lines typically indicate a downhill direction.

Topographic maps are available at many outdoor stores or may be ordered from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Branch of Distribution
P.O. Box 25286
Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225

National Forest Service Travel Maps show forest road networks and restrictions. They are available from the U.S. Forest Service.