Wind River Range

Land Navigation: Terrain Features

The American Backpacker

When looking at a Topographical Map you need to be able to identify terrain features to effectively navigate through a Wilderness Area. There are 5 Major and 3 Minor terrain features you need to know. This article will discuss those terrain features.

5 Major Terrain Features


A Hilltop is an area of high ground from which the ground slopes down in all directions.


A Saddle is a low point between two areas of high ground.


A Ridge is high ground where the ground slopes in three directions and high ground in another.


A Valley is low-lying ground that has three directions of high ground and one direction of low ground.


 A Depression is a low point of ground or a sinkhole.

Topographical Depression



A Spur is a Ground that Slopes downward and it protrudes out from the side of a ridge or hilltop.


A Draw is where ground slopes upward on each side and toward the head of the draw.


A Cliff vertical slop or drop off.

Topographical Cliff

Knowing the above terrain features allows you to effectively understand and navigate using a Topographical map. Before you head into a wilderness area get a topographical map review the area you plan on exploring. Below is a video on the above terrain features that will give you a better explanation of terrain features on a Topographical Map.

Terrain Features (Video)

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