Trail Planning with OS Maps

This spring and summer I had planned to do a few long-distance footpaths to add to those I completed last year.  My first target was the 21-mile Hangers Way in Hampshire followed by the 37-mile Downs Link from St. Martha’s Hill, Surrey to Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex. Also, a re-walk of the South Downs Way over 5 weekends.


However, all of this got put on permanent hold due to the restricts and lockdown created by Covid-19.  Despite all of these postponed plans, I was not going to let this get me down.

The one thing I love doing, after walking, is planning walks.  So, with the prospect of weeks or even months of restrictions it is time maintain my sanity and plan further routes and walks.

Years ago, I would have got the paper maps out on the dining table and planned my walks, copying the details onto Route Cards.  These days the task is made a lot easier using technology.  My ‘turn-to’ technology every time is the OS Maps web-based software package often referred to as the OS Map App, though that is just part of the package.

What is OS Maps?

One account; multiple devices. Access your maps and routes on desktop computer, phone and tablet. Use advanced planning tools in the web version, then follow offline using your mobile. (Ordnance Survey)

It allows unlimited access to all 607 OS Landranger and OS Explorer maps.  It offers a multitude of different layers including National Park pathways, Greenspace, National Cycle Network, Aerial 3D and on mobiles and tablets Augmented Reality!

How do I start?

For the purposes of this blog post I am only looking at trail planning.  Therefore, I will only be focusing on what OS Maps presents us on the PC, Laptop or Tablet i.e. only those devices that are web only rather than the App which is primarily used on the smart phone.

The first thing that you need to do is to navigate to the OS maps website

This is the first page that we see.

opening page

If you have not already paid for an annual subscription but just want to see what all the fuss is about, then click the blue ‘7 day free trial‘ button in the top right-hand corner.

In the free trial you will have access to the standard open source and greenspace maps, be able to find some pre-planned routes, plan your own routes and print these out.  You will not have access to the Landranger or Explorer OS Maps.

However, if you have paid your annual subscription then ‘sign-in’ and let’s start planning.

Once you are logged in select the OS Leisure Map layer using the Layers Button (bottom right).

layers button

This allows you to scroll from 1:1M to 1:250K to 1:50K and finally to 1:25K scales.

So, lets centre the map on your desired area of interest and scroll in to the 1:25K scale so we can commence our planning exercise. In my case I have chosen the South Downs because that is where I live.

south harting

I am going to plan a route from South Harting Car Park to Beacon Hill using part of the South Downs Way long distance footpath.  Firstly, click the ‘ROUTES‘ button (top bar left of centre), this will open a side bar where you select ‘Create Custom Route‘.

create custome route

We are now ready to start planning a route but just before we do, I want to draw your attention to the Properties Bar in the top right-hand corner.  From here we can change the ‘Style‘ of the line (colour, thickness & transparency), Undo, Remove, Cancel & Save.  However, the two most important ones are the ‘Plot‘ and ‘Snap‘ buttons.

planning tile properties bar

properties bar

By clicking ‘Plot‘ we can start to plot our route however, if we are planning inside the bounds of a National Park then the ‘Snap‘ button comes into its own.  This will allow you to select the start of your walk, then the end point and maybe a couple of waypoints in between and the software will automatically select a route and snap the line to that route.

In my case I select ‘Plot‘ and click on the Car Park at the western edge of Harting Downs then I click on the footpath adjacent to the viewpoint on the summit of Beacon Hill.  The software has automatically selected a route and displayed it for me.  I could click on another footpath enroute to deviate from the plotted track.


The main difference if you are route planning outside the National Parks is that the ‘Snap’ will not work so you will have to click each waypoint along the route to create the track.

Once your route is complete the sidebar will display the route details and the elevation profile with lowest height, highest height and total ascent.

profile sidebar

Save the route.  At this stage you can choose to make it public or keep it for yourself.  If you make it public, anyone else with OS Maps subscription will be able to see it and use it if they desire.

The final thing we are going to look at is finding your saved routes on the system.  Select ‘Routes‘ as before from the top bar, then on the sidebar select ‘My Routes‘.

my routes

This will show your saved routes in the sidebar (use the search facility if you have numerous routes). Click on your route and this will appear on the map at the start point:

By clicking on ‘View route’, you can display your route.  You are then able to edit it, print a copy of the map and route (up to A3).  But if you look at the left-hand sidebar you can also Export GPX, Send & Share or Start Fly-Through.


The fly-through function allows you to see what you have planned in a 3D aerial view.  This is a handy tool in your early days of route planning as it will highlight any very steep sections that you may wish to avoid.

I have only just scratched the surface of what is available from the OS Maps package.  It is not just an App on your smartphone, that is a very small part of it.  It is a very powerful and adaptable tool that still turns up surprises for me after 3 years of constant use.

You can start with the Free Trail then select from different packages if you want the full suite.  The list below shows what features you can expect from OS Maps, and of course it is constantly being added too and redeveloped at no extra charge.


If you want to save yourself some money on your first year’s subscription, then please contact me via the ‘Contact Us’ page at the top of the blog for unique code.


All the images on the page have been taken from the OS Map package or the OS Leisure website © Ordnance Survey and © Glyn Dodwell
os champ logo

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