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Common Geographic Maps and Why You Should Know About Them

Geographic Maps in today's day in age is probably one of the most used yet misunderstood. People take advantage of it every single day via applications such as “Google Maps”, “Apple Maps, or “Waze” just to name a few. However, what many people don’t realize is the different types of maps and their benefits. We have maps from political allegiances to the amount of average rainfall a particular area receives. Want to find a lost pen? Get a topographic!

This article will explain some of the most common maps, what it is used for, its benefits, and why it is important. All the examples you will see is within the state of Florida since that is my current location. Most maps have a “key” that explains the definition of each feature of the map. I will go into the details of a map on a later date.

Road Maps:

When people think of maps, most people think of road maps. You use something similar when you use your smart phone’s GPS (Global Positioning System). Just as the title suggest, it will highlight roads on a map as well as give you key items (depending on the map) such as parks, the capital, and monuments.

Key features of the roads are the red lines which is the major highways and minor roads which usually are thinner and white or have a lighter color. In some instances, they will show much smaller roads or street roads. Understanding these maps is a great way as a fall safe incase you have no GPS signal. I always carry one in my vehicle and you should too!

Thematic Maps

These types of maps are very interesting because it focuses on “themes” or special topics. If one day you want to move to a new neighborhood (such as I did from Queens, NY) is to use thematic maps the way I did: I researched by using a map to finding the crime rate in an area. Then I looked at the map and with the special topic of school rankings. I finalized with researching the cost of living and population. All this I found using different thematic maps. This research helped me on what was the best area to live in. I am sure you can find this useful in your own life as well!

Economic/Resource Maps

This tool is a great form of research to find areas of average household income or natural activity for resources. This is great for those mostly in corporate or government. If you are in marketing and want to market a product in an area or open a store/office, this would help you with where to put your investment in. This is also a great tool if you are researching for natural resources.

Physical Maps

Another very common type of map that people think of when they hear the word “maps”. This map will feature bodies of water (commonly blue), mountains (commonly brown), and body of land (commonly different shades of green). Usually there would be a variety of shades of blue, brown, green to show elevation. This is particular useful for a quick reference since it is normally not very detailed. Great way for a quick reference before you go touring or hiking a unexplored area.

Political Maps

This map is unique in which it does not show topographic features but rather allegiance to a political party. Government officials may use this as a tool to plan their political rallies. Students and researchers may want to use this in a more global view to see what forms of governments are in what countries. This form of map is particularly popular during election year in which you would see most major news broadcasters show this as reference to predict who may or may not get elected. This is useful for you if you are very political and seek to participate with your political allegiance.

Note: Because we are mostly in a two-party system of government, Blue usually represents Democrat and Red usually represents Republicans.

Climate Maps

Want to get information about the climate of an area? Look up the climate map! You can find averages of the climate of any area on this form of map. This is particularly useful if you plan to go on a vacation over seas and want to know the average climate to prepare yourself. Colors usually differentiate itself but the “key” on the map will explain the colors.

Topographic Maps

In my opinion, and to be very honest, I feel this is the best type of map that most people don’t know how to use. By understanding the function of the topographic map, you can find your location almost anywhere in the world, you can find a lost pen in the middle of the woods if you have the coordinates. This detailed map is used extensively in the military, government, and explorers for many reasons. The map usually contains contour lines, shades, elevation changes, vegetation, roads, pipeline locations, key infrastructures (churches, city hall, military compounds, airports, etc.), and bodies of waters. The closer the contour lines, the higher the elevation. Most contour lines will display how many meters/feet they are to show how steep it is.

A perfect example on how this is used: In the U.S. Army, land navigation is a vital skill every

soldier learns. Armed with a protractor, compass, and a topographic map, soldiers must go alone and find key points in day and at night with no flashlight to find key points with letters/numbers on a tree or metal pole in the middle of the woods and write them down to get credit for finding their points.

The benefit is clear, this skill is useful for survival. If you are lost and you have no signal or power on your GPS, you can look at the map and, at worst case, guesstimate where you are located based on key features and elevations. Furthermore, there is no guarantee of electricity, GPS signal, and food/shelter. I am not an alarmist by any means but simply a realist. This skill is used for survival and is vital for movement when there is a need to. If you have hopes to join the military, start learning how to operate a topographic map now rather than later. This skill may save your life.


Economic Map:

Florida House of Representatives:

Florida Natural Resources:

Florida Natural Resources 2:


Just Map It:

Physical Map of Florida:

ProximityOne, Geographic Information Systems:

Road Maps:

Thematic Maps:

Topographic Map of Gainesville, FL:

Types of Maps:

U.S. Army Photo:

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