Route Planning Aids

During my days as a flying instructor with the RAF one of the things that I was constantly repeating to my students were the 5 P’s – Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  In more recent years I have come across the phrase ‘Fail to Prepare – Prepare to Fail.  Both of these may be clichés but they are also very true.

As a young Scout one of the first skills that we were taught was mapping and compass work.  The ability to plan and navigate a route was the most basic of skills ‘drummed’ into me and nothing has changed today.  Even in these days of Satellite Navigation on your smart phone or dedicated devices, if you can not read a map or follow a compass bearing you should not venture into the hills.

However, life is not all about the old paper maps anymore, though the need to be able to read one remains.  Rarely will I do all my planning on a map alone, I will use one of the many commercially available mapping programmes on my PC.  Today I will discuss two of these – OS Maps and Memory Map.

OS Maps

osmap titleThis award-winning software has been developed by the Ordnance Survey as a web-based planning and navigation tool.  It has access to the most detailed leisure mapping and can be used across all platforms, which allows you to plan on the PC but have the route on your smart phone or tablet.  The route can also be downloaded onto your favourite handheld GPS device.

One of the great advantages of this package is that it is web-based and does not require software to be loaded onto your PC.  Thus allowing you to access your planned routes from any other device wherever you are.  It also gives you access to a massive repository of other Peoples routes allowing you the freedom to pick and choose whatever route you wish.  If you know you are going to a poor smart phone coverage area or do not wish to use up too much of your data allowance, then you can download the planned routes at home onto your smart phone for later use.  In addition you can print out your map and an associated route sheet.

osmap 25k

OS Maps provides you with access to several different maps.  Standard gives you an ‘open source’ style map, National Park pathways give you an overlay onto the standard map allowing you to ‘click’ two points on a National Park footpath and the software will create you entire end-to-end route.  OS Leisure maps gives you the classic 50k Landranger and 25k Explorer maps, whilst Aerial provides satellite imagery.  The most recent pièce de résistance is the Aerial 3D – this, as the name implies, allows you to see you planned route or chosen area in magnificent three-dimensional imagery.

osmap 3D

Route planning is very easy – simply click ‘Create Custom Route’ then, using the mouse, click your way through the desired route.  Title and save and it is there for future use.  You can, if you wish, keep it private so only you can access it or publish it so that others can benefit from the fruits of your labour.  It really could not be easier to use.

The OS Maps website has an extensive ‘get started’ and help section that will guide you through the full workings of the software.  This is a well presented and intuitive package which is constantly being developed and improved.  I have used it for 4 months and now do 90% of my route and expedition planning on this software.

osmaps discover routes

On the downside – being a web-based package means you are at the mercy of the internet and the servers which may be prone to ‘hic-up’ occasionally.  That being said – I have only had one occasion where I was unable to print a route – I was still able to follow the route on my phone and GPS.

Give OS Maps a FREE 7 day trial and I am sure you will want to sign-up for a full year from as little as £19.99 per annum.  For more information click HERE

Memory Maps

MM titleI have been a user of Memory map since 2006 when I bought the Landranger 50k V5 edition.  At that time it can in two boxes containing 7 CD’s, one installation disk and 6 regional disks.  Once loaded onto the PC this gave me coverage of the whole of Great Britain.  If I recall the whole package cost me about £120 at the time.

The software is so simple to use – once opened, select which region you want from the Map List.  The Help menu contains a very good guide-book on how to get the best out of the package.  Though it is very intuitive and straight forward to use.

MM plane

Memory Maps allows you to plan routes creating leg distances, compass bearings and leg timings.  Print the maps you have created and download your route and track details to a handheld GPS device.  It also allows you to import track information from a GPS device in order to evaluate where you have been, distance covered and speed travelled.  You can look at the profile of your route and follow it in a 3D fly through.

MM properties

On the downside this is an expensive piece of kit in comparison to the OS Maps and you have to buy separate 50k and 25k bundles.  Whilst it is possible to load the programme onto multiple devices you are still restricted to the use of those particular devices making portability an issue.  However, do not let these minor issue detract from the fact that this is a sound aid to route planning.


Paper Map Aids

Before I leave this basic introduction into Route Planning Aids I need to mention three great aids when planning with paper maps.  These are available from a company called Shaven Raspberry and are great little devices to carry in your rucksack or wallet.

The first one is a navigators slope angle tool.  This tool allows you to match the contour lines on a 25k or 50k map and assess its slope angle and hence its severity to climb.  It also has the added advantage of identifying potential avalanche risk areas.  The reverse of the card provides instructions for its use.

The second is an excellent timing card.  This allows you to predict your speed and time over different distance and terrains.  Based on the Naismith’s Rule, it is an important device for accurate calculation of leg and overall route timings.  Various different parameters are considered such as up slope and down slope, darkness, weight of back pack, plus estimated average speeds over different terrains such as grass, soft snow and deep snowdrift.

The final device is permanently tethered to my compass for ease of access, it is a map romer scale grid reference tool.  It takes the guess-work out of grid references allowing accurate 6 or 8 figure grid reference to be read.  It works on both the 25k and 50k maps.


As you can see there are several different devices available to help you plan your routes.  However, there is nothing more important than to plot your route onto a map, note the compass bearings you need to walk and the various leg lengths.  Then GetOutside and follow your route using your compass, map and your eyes to navigate.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s