So I was reading this review by Catherine Redfern, aka London Hiker (@LondonHiker), and picked up on the point that these atlases include OS 1:25k mapping, which we all know is the best kind possible. I’d been vaguely aware the atlases existed but somehow this had passed me by. I had a look at A-Z’s own site for a bit more detail and the only potential flaw I could see with them was that the paper’s not waterproof. I happened to mention this on a tweet to @LondonHiker and all of a sudden A-Z were offering me a map (and case) to try out. Clearly they wanted to change my mind about these.
I gave AZ a bit of guidance on what would be useful to me (Lakes or Dartmoor), and sat back to await the surprise. A package turned up with a Lake District Southern Fells book and a map case with lanyard. Seeing the size and weight of the atlas, I’m rather glad I got a Lakes one – first impressions are that it’s light enough to be a genuine alternative to my Harveys Lake District Atlas, on which I’ve depended for a decade.
Now I really love my Harvey’s atlas, and the best thing about it is that it’s printed on waterproof and tearproof paper. It’s stayed intact over the course of 30+ trips to the Lakes in the decade I’ve had it – and I’m someone who tends to be quite hard on my gear. It’s been my backup on every trip: I usually just print out OS 1:25k sheets on A4 from my Anquet digital mapping, and take the atlas as back up in case my plans evolve whilst I’m in the Lakes. Rarely do I take a full OS map, because time and time again I find myself needing at least two of them, sometimes 3. I’ve even been known to alter walk plans to minimise the number of OS maps I need to take.
Map coverage and usability
So this is what the AZ atlas has to contend with. It starts out well as only two are needed to cover the Lakes. For the Southern Lakes book, it stretches from Beacon Tarn in the south to a line passing through Buttermere, Grange and Glenridding in the north. So it covers pretty much all of the Western Fells, Southern Fells, Central Fells and Far Eastern Fells, along with the majority of the Eastern Fells. The main omissions are the south-western Outlying Fells south of Yoadcastle and the Outlying Fells around Wet Sleddale. It also cuts off on the outskirts of Windermere and were it not a simply well-signed route from Windermere Station, you’d never even find Orrest Head using this map. Finally, the far south of the map is only two double pages worth – enough to cover Caw and much of the Grizedale Forest.
So it’s fair to say that there has obviously been some compromise in terms of the number of map pages included. I presume this is largely to bring the map in at a competitive price (RRP is £7.95) to an OS map. The atlas covers the most popular central parts of the Lakes, and only really misses out some of the lesser known, but no less special, outlying fells.
The overlap with the Northern map does, however, look pretty respectable – in effect the whole top row of pages on the Southern map overlaps with the Northern map. Not that it would be a huge hardship taking both books. The two AZ atlases are pretty much identical in total size to my Harveys Atlas, and about the same bulk as a single OS Explorer map for the same area. The Southern book weighs 131g on my scales, with the Northern book coming in at 129g. So we’re talking 260g total for the AZ and 224g for Harveys. That’s not the sort of difference I’d worry about personally. A single OS map (I weighed an OL7 Lakes South East Explorer map) was 128g on my scales. In other words each AZ Atlas is twice the mapping of an OS map for about the same weight, and a little less bulk.
The atlas itself has fold out endpapers with map symbols and measuring scales on, and which can also help keep your place in the book. There’s an overall 1:220k road map showing the page coverage, that’s more than adequate for someone who knows the rough layout of the Lakes to use to find the right page. A less familiar reader may struggle a bit with the amount of detail on this overview page. There’s a decent index which includes fell names and key water features such as major rivers and streams, tarns and lakes as well as the usual settlements. Each item is referenced with the page number and page grid as well as the 6-digit OS grid reference. As every map seems to have nowadays, there’s a couple of pages of safety guidance too.
As for the map pages themselves, there’s not much to say – they’re OS 1:25,00 maps printed to high quality. The paper’s a bit thin so I’d be worried about picking up a few tears along the way. I also wouldn’t want to get it wet, unless the book was safely ensconced in the map case AZ also provided me with (sold separately). The case is a decent plastic map case and like all map cases subject to a key design constraint – to turn the page the map has to be removed from the case, thereby exposing the map to risk from the elements.
To see how much of a problem this would be I flicked through the book to see what reasonable length walks could be done without turning the page – here’s a selection:
- Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike from Buttermere.
- Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson fromthe Buttermere/Honister side.
- Helvellyn from Thirlmere, but not a huge amount of the ridge – just between Raise and Dollywaggon.
- Scafell Pike, Lingmell, Great Gable etc from Wasdale Head – indeed I reckon this is one of the best double pages in the book, although as always this area cries out for an enlargement, due to the complexity of the contours in that area.
- Fells west of Grasmere.
- Pike o’Blisco, Cold Pike and Crinkle Crags from Langdale or Wrynose.
I reckon most other walks would involve one page turn only. So the inconvenience of the map case rather than waterproof pages may not be all that much.
[Incidentally, I went out and bought with my own money the Northern Lakes book, and this doesn’t compare quite as favourably in terms of avoiding page turns. For example, if you wanted to walk any of the Helvellyn ridge from the Patterdale side, you’d need a page turn on the way up and another on the way down. When I walk the 10-in-10 in June, it’s going to need 4 separate double pages, although to be fair that is effectively two day walks in one. These are just a couple of examples, but the overall sense is there are far fewer single page walks in the Northern book.]
For me another plus is that being in book form, the faffing about of opening and re-folding a large single sheet map is completely avoided. Obviously this comes at the cost of the “big picture”, but in an area you know the overall geography of reasonably well, this isn’t going to present any problems. Clearly, if you had the map in the case and had to keep turning back to the summary map to get the overall context, this would be irritating.
Keeping it dry
Of course, this whole product review started out because of a Twitter discussion about its performance in the wet. So having been supplied with a map case, I need to say a few words about it too.
The case is designed to take the book so is pre-folded and hence with the book in it sits neatly closed with a couple of velcro tabs to hold it. I did find it a bit of a faff sliding the book in the first time, partly because I’m simply unused to using a map case, and partly because I had the book open near the start so the bit going in first was quite thin and hence harder to push through. I think it could be tricky to do this out on the fell in wind and rain, or if wearing gloves. Apart from that the case itself seems reasonably sturdy. It has little fold out loop to attach the lanyard, or potentially a compass. That aside, it’s a map case – there’s not much else to say.
There are a lot of positives to this product, although clearly some of these are a very personal view based on how I use my maps:
- The Lakes is covered at the same scale in 2 maps instead of 4 normal OS Explorer maps.
- The weight and bulk: each book is about the same weight as an OS Explorer, but two books are about the same bulk as one OS. A single book in the map case is about the same as an OS map without a case.
- The Southern book contains quite a lot of instances where I could keep the map open at the same page for most of if not the whole of a walk. This is a huge bonus in the wet, given that changing pages risks getting the map wet. The Northern book isn’t quite as good in this respect though.
- The book format avoids the faff from re-folding a large single sheet map. In the dry, this is great.
- The index is good.
The first two positives above are the key ones for me – maps that weigh less and take up less space are an absolute winner.
There are some negatives though:
- Geographers’ did send me a map case to go with the map, but even so I’d still prefer waterproof paper. With this it would be an absolute killer product, but I guess the price it would have to be sold at would make it unviable, as it would then start to look unfavourable compared with the Harveys Atlas which covers a bigger area in a single volume.
- Clever folding of an OS map in a map case gives you twice the amount of visible map at a time compared with this book. So the book will need removing from and reinserting to the map case more often. For me having a map that’s easy to view and doesn’t need frequent folding or page turning means I’m more likely to look at it often and less likely to go wrong.
- The paper’s a bit flimsy, so some care will be needed to make it last.
- The omission of the Outlying Fells from Yoadcastle down to Black Combe.
Like many outdoor products, this atlas won’t suit everyone. Many will like the book format, and many will prefer the overall view gained from using a bigger fold out map. I come down in the “like it” camp overall. Indeed, I was so impressed with it on receiving it that I immediately bought the Lakes Northern Fells and the Dartmoor versions. I also popped into Stanfords yesterday and looked at the whole range. I think I may well be picking a few more of these up.
I will definitely be taking these maps as at least my backup in case I change my plans on future Lakes trips, and depending on the walks planned will intend to use them as the primary map on those walks, supplementing them with Anquet printouts for the fringes where needed. Use of them in the field in preference to other maps is likely to be a decision dependent on the weather.
Disclosure: Geographers’ provided this map free of charge for review purposes with no obligation to write a glowing review. Indeed, there was an element of challenge when I pointed out the virtues of waterproof paper…