Sunday, 2 December 2012

Review: AZ Adventure Map Series

The Geographer's AZ Company , the people who, in the days before before SatNav, helped us navigate to around cities with their incredibly useful AZ street guides, are now publishing a range of OS 1:25,000 scale maps in book form.  Marketed as A-Z Adventure Series Maps, there are currently 12 titles in the series, covering The Peak District (Dark and White Peak), The Lakes (Northern and Southern Fells), Snowdonia, The Broads, Dartmoor and The South West Coast Path (in five parts).

AZ Adventure Series (SW Coast Path not shown)

I'd seen these in one of the outdoor shops in Hathersage a couple of months back and thought that they looked a useful format, so I was happy to accept an invitation to review one, when in came last week.  I chose The Dark Peak title, as that covers my local area for walking and cycling, including the western edge of Sheffield, though is 6 houses short of mine (but I think I'm unlikely to get lost on my own street)

It covers roughly the same region as the OS Explorer Map OL1, though not going quite as far west, stopping at Mottram (which is as close to Manchester as anyone needs to venture, in my opinion).

The AZ is the same size as the OL1 in two dimensions but is noticeably thinner and easier to fit in the map pocket of a walking jacket. 

AZ next to OL1 for size comparison

In terms of weight, the AZ is 140gms (approx) compared to the OL1 which is around 220gms for the laminated version, which admittedly adds considerably to the weight and bulk.

The AZ looks to be printed on slightly lighter weight paper than the OS use and it has a slightly shinier finish, which I initially thought might be waterproof (like a Harvey's orienteering map).  I ran the corner of one page under the tap.  It dried flat, which is good, but I don't know if pages would stick together, if the book was closed when wet.  Opened and folded back on itself, it just fits nicely into an Ortlieb A5 waterproof map case and with much less faffing than it takes to fold and stuff an OS Explorer into the same case.

AZ in Ortlieb A5 map case

The AZ provides a lot of additional useful information.  Pages 2-3 have a full OS 1:25,000 legend and pages 4-5 offer an index, presented as a 1:200,000 scale map, showing map pages for the region covered.

AZ Index Page

In the rear of the atlas, is a double page of useful information for walkers and mountain bikers, along with 8 QR Codes, which you can scan into your smart phone or other mobile device to bring up the websites of the local national park, the Met Office, MoD danger areas, mountain rescue, The Ramblers, the OS and Natural England.  This is great for armchair planning but probably less useful when you're lost on the hill and can't get a 3/4G signal.  The QR codes give abbreviated URLs off the AZ site, which redirect to the target websites.  One must assume that AZ will maintain these redirect pages.

Information pages at rear, including QR codes

Another nice feature are the fold-over tabs on the front and rear covers, which form useful bookmarks as well as repeating some key sections of the OS legend for walkers and mountain bikers.

Fold-over tabs act as bookmarks and show parts of OS legend most useful out on the hill

In terms of price, an AZ Atlas is £7.95 (but see below for discount offer until end of year) and an OS Explorer is £7.99 from the OS online shop.

So what's it like to use?  Well, it's an OS map, so the experience is pretty much what you'd expect.  We walked from Fairholmes up to Alport Castles today, a place I'd never visited in 30 years of living in Sheffield -so I did actually need to use a map on a few occasions.  Fairholmes falls right on a page edge of the AZ, which if course highlights the perennial problem with map books, as opposed to sheets.  On the other hand I usually walk with a 1:50,000 and leave the 1:25,000 at home or in my rucksack, because it's too much of a faff to wrestle with (especially the laminated one, I have).

I like the AZ.  It's easy to get in/out of a jacket pocket.  It's compact.  You can bookmark your page, to find it easily.  None of that always opening the map upside down or on the wrong side for your walk. In a high wind, you don't have to wrestle with a big sheet of paper to stop it blowing away.  I'm not sure how it will stand up to wet weather but unless you have a laminated sheet, it's the same problem with a standard OS 1:25,000.  Perhaps the most serious concern of using a map in book form, is when you need to take a compass bearing on an object that falls over the page.  Personally, I don't think this would be a big a deal for me.  I'm always going to take a 1:50,000 out with me as my main walking map and only use the 1:25,000 if I need to identify any specific detail, such as a wall or fence or hole in the ground.  Normally I leave the larger scale map at home for all the reasons I've given above.  The AZ is so compact, light and easy to use, I'll just always keep it in the rucksack.  I love it!

SPECIAL OFFER until 31 December 2012

Up until 31st December 2012, if you buy any A-Z Adventure Atlas from the AZ web site and quote the code TRTB250 at the A-Z checkout, you'll be able to get them for £5.45 each, including free postage.  That's a discount of £2.50 (or just over 31%) off the normal price.

Alport Castles

Oh and was Alport Castles worth the 30 year wait?  Well, yes, actually.  It's a really interesting bit of landscape.  Apparently, it's a landslip feature, said to be the biggest landslip in the UK.  300 million years ago, there was a massive river delta here, flowing into shallow tropical seas, out of which came the reef limestone of the White Peak.  This of course was in the days when we were considerably closer to the equator than we are now.  Today, despite being sunny and with no wind, it was chuffin' nithering.  I'll go back and appreciate it when things have warmed up again.

The Tower - Alport Castles

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