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Discussion: Mapping style and terrain type

in: Orienteering; Gear & Toys

Jul 21, 2017 6:14 PM # 
I'd like to start a poll on both mapping style and terrain type. To prepare for it, I'd like help in getting examples of both different styles of mapping, and different terrains.

For instance, in western Massachusetts are some examples of a few different terrains with a moderate amount of detail mapped in what seems to me to be on the simpler, clearer, "as simple as possible but no simpler" end of the orienteering mapping spectrum, relative to the topography and other features present. Mount Tom, Quabbin, Northfield Mount Herman, all by Peter Gagarin.

For Manitoba sandhills, which are among the more complex terrain in North America, examples have been posted of terrain mapped in two styles, one simpler with 5m contours (Hogs Back), and one with 2.5m contours and quite a bit more detail mapped (Cypress River), including an area where the two maps overlap.

Are there other examples of mapping styles and terrains, ideally with markedly simpler and more detailed mapping styles for given terrain type (and maybe an in-between mapping style)?

I think that it will prove valuable to get examples of each, and to then poll on preferences for both mapping style and terrain type. (Often, mapping style and terrain type get conflated, and I think that it'd be good to amass examples distinguishing the two, and then poll explicitly on the two topics, so that we can understand whether people like highly detailed mapping of detailed terrain, simpler mapping of detailed terrain, detailed mapping of less detailed terrain, etc. Because we've had all of those, and it would be good to hear people's opinions on them, and amass evidence on preferences from a variety of orienteers.)
Jul 21, 2017 6:17 PM # 
Harriman has examples of evolving styles throughout the years, in terrain that's really basically the same from map to map.
Jul 21, 2017 6:17 PM # 
Does this make much sense to do without being able to try out the various maps in the terrain?
Jul 21, 2017 6:49 PM # 
I think that as examples are proffered, posters will come forward who have orienteered on each, and can opine on their experiences. And I suspect that many longtime orienteers will have orienteered on maps of various styles, and may have opinions that they can explain using map examples. In the poll, each orienteer will naturally be answering based on their personal experience on maps they've orienteered on, but the examples will help clarify what's meant by the words. If I asked about simpler versus highly detailed mapping style, it'd make less sense than if there were several examples given, hopefully in many cases examples that many will actually have experience of.
Jul 21, 2017 7:21 PM # 
Over the years, I have learned a few things about mapping styles. The differences allow me to understand the terrain better. This doesn't in any way mean to me that any of the styles are "bad", it just means that they are different. The Harriman maps made for the WOC definitely have different characters because one of the maps did not have the same treatment after the initial mapping phase. Once you see the differences and look at how things are mapped as you look at the terrain, then both maps are good for orienteering. I have run on some maps where the meet notes have said that the mapping criteria for rocks is different in one section of the map as compared to the other. Knowing that, both parts of the map were good even though they were different.
Jul 21, 2017 11:16 PM # 
There certainly are mapper to mapper differences in various ways. There's also a big range in the amount of detail mapped for a given terrain, though, and this makes for very different maps. Some have opined in favor of high levels of detail, others for a sparer mapping style. Often people will express the idea that one or the other is popular or preferred, or better for orienteering. But I'm not aware of the orienteers being asked their preferences. Orienteering does a lot of mapping, so it seems useful for clubs to know which orienteers say they prefer (or perhaps they like either equally), and how much preference for each style.
Jul 22, 2017 9:38 AM # 
Something to consider is perhaps the navigation techniques used at the elite level?How has it evolved with more and more detailed maps? I would say that simplification has become critically important. Perhaps some of you have seen Gueorgiou's race analysis from WOC where he is showing the key features he used and blanked everything else out? It's almost a white sheet of paper. The main skill has literally become how to best ignore all the detail we spend so much effort, love and money to put on in the first place...
Jul 22, 2017 11:12 AM # 
Jul 22, 2017 12:44 PM # 
I agree that many people don't use all the information on a map. Simplification is important but each person may have a different set of "important" things to look for. Also, those new to orienteering need many more points in-between point A and point B than an elite orienteer. Our maps have to deal with all levels. At the same time, a map with too much information may be impossible to read by anyone. If there is lots of black on a map, a small trail may not be seen at all by some sets of eyes.
Jul 22, 2017 2:33 PM # 
With enough rock, a small trail may not be seen in the terrain, either.

Do people out there think there's a limit? Is there a point at which there's nothing more to map? Can it be said that at a certain level, all of the detail has been mapped, with generalization, and there's nothing more that could be added? Or is it always possible to find tinier and tinier details, beyond the point where everyone agrees that it's too much? I'm wondering where the discussion might progress in the future, if it will be a question of everyone agreeing that there's an ideal level, but just disagreeing about what that level is, or if it will stall at some point when maps are considered essentially "complete" (with some of course still maintaining that completeness is not necessary)? It will depend on terrain, of course -- there's terrain where there are ever-smaller pieces of rock that could be added with a large enough scale, but maybe not with contours, and bushes and trees at a certain point are so small that they're just grass.
Jul 22, 2017 4:11 PM # 
One additional issue to consider is mapping time and cost. Both very detailed and very generalized maps are more costly and time-consuming to produce, the latter because it takes more time and expertise to decide what to leave out. So there may be an optimal level of generalization from the point of view of time and cost (dependent on available technology). This generalization level does not necessarily coincide with what is optimal from the point of view of orienteers, but given the shortage of mappers in North America, perhaps it makes sense to compromise. Those clubs that want more or less detailed maps should be prepared to pay more and/or wait more for mapper availability.
Jul 22, 2017 7:59 PM # 
Thanks Rob, I have seen ones like that from other WOCs too, but I was too lazy to google...

Yeah, certainly for those that move slower through the terrain it starts to be possible to take in more of the details on the map, if they can see it on the printed paper at least. We do need maps suitable for all ages and skills, of course, but I don't agree that's an argument to make more and more detailed maps. Beginners, kids and masters were doing just fine on maps 20 years ago with far less detail.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't make maps of super detailed terrain. I'm not even saying that it's "wrong" to map regular-detailed terrain in higher detail than has been done in the past. But I am saying that it's a different skill set, a different flavor of orienteering, suitable for different style of events. And if we do have these very detailed maps then we need to print at higher scales so it's possible to take in at least some of the detail while running.

If I may use the examples from the other thread, I would be very happy run on Rob's style of mapping in a sprint at 1:5, probably even a middle at 1:7500, but most certainly not a 13 km long at 1:10 (1:15 is out of the question). I would take the Hog's Back style in a heartbeat, preferably at 1:15 (if even that map was generalized enough for that? I don't remember how it was at the COCs...) .

However, clubs most likely can't afford to make two versions of the same area and the trend has been steadily going towards more detailed maps. Year after year it was not possible to print newly made maps for the Long at the Canadian Champs at 1:15. I think it's a bit sad... but it probably just means I'm old. Meanwhile I'm getting really good at "seeing" the map, a.k.a. ignore everything but 5% ;)
Jul 22, 2017 10:38 PM # 
A few ideas, not necessarily coherent. They might turn out to repeat points above. This whole thread might repeat other threads on this forum:-)) At worst it might help me develop my thoughts.

Edit: took the words off the discussion. I was right, they weren't particularly coherent.
Jul 22, 2017 10:51 PM # 
The map maker cannot know what a course setter will do with the terrain or what a competitor will do with the course in the terrain. It's easier in retrospect (competitor) to simplify than it is in advance (map maker) to do so. A different course setter also might cause a different result in retrospect. Looking over Gueorgiou's interpretation from the above link leads me to believe that the level of detail there might be correct due to the variety of observations in how he uses the features.

However, the map maker, for better or worse, can forclose possibilities that a course setter might have by simplifying. The progression of maps of the historically used portion of Prince William Forest illustrates this. Each incarnation is more detailed, which made many more possibilities, which were used.

My sense as a competitor is that when a map (at whatever scale) gets too brown or too black it becomes more difficult to visualize and interpret. The density of those colors is as important as is the density of features. Either or both can be an issue. Again as a competitor, the old Sebago Beach map seemed easier to interpret (at 1:15,000) than the new (at 1:10,000) due in part to the difference in thickness of the contours.
Jul 23, 2017 1:08 AM # 

COC Long 2009 on Hog's Back


any links to the maps you mention?

I have seen both the old and new Sebago maps once ( but would be interested to see them again). Prince William is not one i have heard of before.
Jul 23, 2017 4:32 PM # 
It probably was a mistake to use examples without references; but, here is the best I can do quickly.

Sebago Beach - did a Google search; World of O has a 1986 snippet from Lars Palmquist which appears to be from the old map

there are examples there from 2004 which are different, but being unlabeled I can't pin them down;

HVO has nothing, maybe JJ has better versions (and explanations) because he did more recent cartography there; somewhere in my 'archives' I have the old offset version from Eric Weyman's US Champs there and the WHOA map among others, but those won't appear quickly. I did notice on Lars' map that the contours appear to be different colors.

Prince William is in Quantico territory. The old Turkey Run Ridge map started the series, updated in 1991 to Prince William Forest Park for a North American Champs, in 2002 to South Fork for a US Championships ;

and again to Happyland in 2007 for a US Champs

and to another map (name escapes me) simultaneously ;

again, my 'archives' have the earlier printed versions somewhere.
Jul 23, 2017 5:12 PM # 
Concerning style, there was an article in Scogssport (I think) that Peggy showed me about 30 years ago after I returned from the mapping camp at Moneyhole. It had 25 (I believe) of the foremost European mappers do a small square of a map (same terrain) independently. The article showed the 25 results in a 5x5 array on a single page. The differences were quite interesting. Peggy no longer has the magazine - life goes on - however it must exist somewhere. Resurrecting it would be relevant to this topic.
Jul 24, 2017 1:28 AM # 
I'm sure I have Sebago maps at home that I could scan, but I'm not at home tonight.

O/NA reprinted that Skogssport article, but that was in the days when the magazine was B&W.
Jul 24, 2017 4:07 AM # 


There have been several multi-mapper exercises over the years. There was a good one in Czech a few years back that was displayed online but I have no idea where to find it now.

more recently this one in Sweden
Jul 24, 2017 9:33 AM # 
francish>> I still have the #1/1988 issue of Skogssport with the mapping examples you mention above. In addition to examples of field work there´s also base maps from six different companies to compare.

I´ll try and post the article (in Swedish) and the relevant pictures as soon as I can get it scanned.

This discussion thread is closed.