If you're lost in the rainforest with a map, you'll need to know how to use that map. Learn about some basic concepts that you need to know to read a map: distance, direction, and scale. Then take a quiz to see how prepared you are for the wild.
Let's say that you're lost in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. You can see a river with the distinctive bend, but unfortunately you did a pretty poor job of packing your backpack. You have no GPS, no cell phone signal, and only a few hours of sunlight left. Thankfully, you do have a map and a compass. So you'll be fine, right?
Being lost in the rainforest would be quite daunting
Not necessarily. Unfortunately, a lot of people have no idea how to use a map properly, or even what the various symbols and shapes on the map mean. A map is only as good as the person who's using it. In this lesson, we're going to take a look at some of the most basic concepts when it comes to map reading: direction, distance, and scale.
Direction on a Map
Direction is the most important thing you need to know when you're lost in the rainforest. Direction is the way that you have to travel to get from one place or object to another place or object. It's usually measured in terms of compass directions: north, south, east, and west. North is directly up on standard maps; south is directly down; east is directly right; and west is directly left. If this is ever not the case, there will be something on the map that tells you this. This will usually be an arrow, a cross, or some kind of pointed star that shows which direction is north.
Maps usually have a compass on them to show which direction is north
If you know roughly where you are on a map, and you know where you need to get to, you can use the map to see whether you should travel north, south, east, or west. If you have a compass, traveling that direction is easy. If it's at night, you could also use the North Star, which is called Polaris. Unsurprisingly, the North Star is always in the north.
Figuring out direction when you're completely lost is a little more difficult, but it's still possible to do with the map. What you need is some points of reference. If you can find two points of interest, like the distinctive bend in the river and maybe an unusual-looking hill, it's possible to use the directions of those two objects to triangulate your position using the map and compass. If the hill is directly to the north, and the river bend is to the east, then it should be obvious where you are on the map by drawing a couple of lines and seeing where they cross.
Distance and Scale on a Map
So now you know which direction to go in, but it's starting to get dark. Can you make it in time? To know that, you need to know how far it is to your destination. You need to know the distance. Distance is the measure of the space between two points, measured in a straight line. But how do you know the distance from the map?
Well, maps have something called a scale. Scale is a way of describing how much space in real life a certain amount of space on a map represents. For example, maybe an inch on a map is equal to a mile in real life. You find this out by looking for a line or bar near the edge of the map, which is a physical representation of the scale. That line should have markers showing a particular distance, and numbers to tell you how far that is in real life.
An example of what the scale on a map looks like
Once you know what the scale is, all you have to do is measure the distance from where you are to where you want to be. Let's say that 1 inch on the map is indeed equal to a mile. The distance between your position and where you want to be on the map is 3 1/2 inches. That means it's 3 1/2 miles to your destination. Since you have four more hours of sunlight, you decide that you will probably make it in time. You feel much better, all thanks to your ability to understand maps.
Maps are really useful as long as you know how to use them. Some of the basic concepts you need to know to understand maps are direction, distance, and scale. Direction is the particular way you have to go to get from one place to another. Examples of directions include north, south, east, and west. Directly up on a map is usually north; down is usually south; to the right is usually east; and to the left is usually West.
Distance is a measure of the space between one place and another, measured in things like meters, kilometers, yards, or miles. You can use a map to figure out the distance between two places using something called a scale. A scale describes how much space in the real world is represented by how much space on the map. For example, perhaps every 2 inches on a map is equal to 1 mile in real life. This is usually displayed with a line or a bar on the edge of the map, and numbers to say how far that bar represents in real life.
When you know these things about how maps work, you can get yourself out of trouble by figuring out the direction and distance to your destination.