Online mapping tools to stop getting lost!

There has been a discussion lately on the outdoorbloggers forum discussing the best tools to use for mapping routes and sharing them online.  Even if you don’t want to use them on a website, they become really helpful for simply planning your route, seeing how far you have walked, run, cycled or traveled, checking the terrain in advance or for checking out the satellite views of the beautiful countryside!

The Best Route Planning Tools

What makes the best route planning tool, is in the eyes of the beholder.  For instance, if you are sent insane by incessant advertising on the web then some of these tools might not ideal for you simply on that criteria alone, but here’s a brief comparison of tools that help you plan your next trip, whether by foot, bike or car…

Google Maps

Google Maps has to be one of my favourite tools for map and amenities integration.  Once you have a Google account, you can take advantage of their masses of data.  So as you can see in the maps image below, you can see that it is perfectly easy to search for an Indian Restaurant nearest to where you are going from Google’s database, as opposed to pre-designated point’s of interest (POI).

Many maps already include POI’s on their maps, but in my opinion is that they can clutter them up.  I have used Google maps plenty of times on my mobile phone to great success too, helping me finding the nearest petrol station in a place I didn’t know too well!

You can also do directions with this tool and the Gooogle API allows you to also build and develop other applications with it’s data if need be too.


Multimap (now Bing Maps) is a bit like Google maps in that it tries to integrate a whole host of information an presenting it as a map. Great for getting directions, looking up amenities, businesses and local weather forecasts in one place.

Ordnance Survey

Nothing beats Ordnance Survey Maps, the real kind anyway, but they also have a free service online too where you can look-up a location of your choice. You can even use it to find 6 figure grid references.

Legal bit: Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Ordnance Survey maps are always good for walkers and riders, but you would have to screen capture the image to mark on your route and take much more of a manual route with the map as opposed to it calculating all the bits for you.  Still good though! (Tip: press the pink button on the right to get an ordnance survey map of your choice).


UMapper is powered through MSN Virtual Earth (another great application, similar to Google Maps but with 3D applications too).  UMapper though is a great tool for plotting journeys and sharing with friends.  It’s specifically good for round the world travel in my opinion as it’s much more geared up for manipulating world maps, unlike some of the other which are on a more local scale.  Like Google, you can also easily embed the file, which means you can move the map around in the browser…really user friendly too…it’s the kind of thing you can lose a day t oplaying with.

Map My Walk

Map My Walk, and other map applications such as Google, UMapper and Virtual Earth, is that they way you add details to them can make them shareable, but the difference being is that this is shareable with with like-minded outdoor people – folk who like walking, cycling and running.  It’s a chance to share routes where you might go mountain biking, hiking or jogging, or even pinch the odd idea!

One of the best aspects of this tool is the function to mark on way-points on your route, including warm-up spots, rest-stops, amenities and more…take a look…

Map My Walk Run Ride Cycle


One of my favourite things about Open Street Map is that it is an open source framework where people contribute to building this resource as an editable map of the world.  The idea is that people use GPS (Global Positioning System) trace data to follow the route of GPS.  There’s a load more to read about in their FAQ’s page, but it’s a fascinating project.

Open Source Map

As the project is ongoing, it isn’t quite as comprehensive as it would like to be, but certainly working towards it.  In more built-up areas, the project has clearly captured a lot of detail, which is of course editable to include your own details.

London Open Source Map

The right’s of this project allow for people to open re-work the data without restrictions that many of the other route planners require.  Create an account and off you go.  Certainly one for the techno-geeks out there…me included!


Mappy is clearly laid-out with amenities searchable too.  It does have an ‘aerial’ and ‘city’ view apparently but at the time of testing this failed to work.

Route Planner Maps


MapQuest is a little limited in it’s use in my opinion.  It might be handy for getting a general feel for the terrain and finding a route by road, but wen you go to zoom on a more detailed scale (around half way down the zoom scale [not accurate description of the scale either], when I was looking at Bowness-on-Windemere).

Map Quest Route Planner Maps

Route Planning By Car

Some of the tool described above can also be used when planning routes

For route planning by car, you might also appreciate the RAC, AA, Greenflag and Map 24 (a great tool that let’s you visualise your route via a ‘route flight’ – certainly worth checking out).  I personally use the AA route planner but that’s more because of habit than anything else.

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