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How to choose a long distance trail guidebook

The more popular long-distance trails, including the National Trails and Scotland's Great Trails, all have several guidebooks – how do you know which is the right one for you? Here’s our short guide to guidebooks for long distance trails.

Mapping

The first consideration is mapping. Most of us don’t want to get lost. Some guides include sections of Ordnance Survey maps or other mapping, some have separate map booklets, and some have hand-drawn sketch maps. Cicerone guides include small sections of Ordnance Survey (OS) 1:25,000 scale maps, but in addition many Cicerone guides have a separate map booklet. These use the OS 1:25,000 mapping, the walkers’ perfect map base that shows field boundaries and public rights of way. These booklets fit easily into a pocket and are, in our mind, the perfect navigation aid. These booklets can be bought separately or bought with the guidebooks. 

Cicerone
Cicerone guides include small sections of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, but in addition many of the guides have a separate map booklet. These use the OS 1:25,000 Explorer mapping, the walkers’ perfect map base that shows field boundaries and public rights of way. These booklets fit easily into a pocket and are, in our mind, the perfect navigation aid. These booklets can be bought separately or bought with the guidebooks.


Browse guidebooks by Cicerone.
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Rucksack Readers
Rucksack Readers use different mapping styles. The spiral bound first edition guides, for example the Hadrian’s Wall Path and South Downs Way guides, have fold out 1:100,000 scale maps showing the trail. The second edition guides include map pages within the text, at differing scales.

Browse books by Rucksack Readers.
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Trailblazer
Trailblazer guides use hand-drawn sketch maps, these show all the key features and are easy to follow. At just under 1:20,000 these large scale maps are more detailed than most. "Drawn by walkers for walkers" the Trailblazer maps include walking times, directions, tricky junctions, places to stay and eat and points of interest.

Browse books by Trailblazer.
Hadrian's Wall Path Aurum Quarto Guidebook
Quarto Publishing / Aurum Press
The official National Trail Guides from Aurum Press, use sections of 1:25,000 scale OS maps and expanded city maps where needed. 

Browse books by Aurum Press.

The Birlinn Long Distance Guides (official guides for Scotland's Great Trails - The West Highland Way, St Cuthbert’s Way and Deeside Way) include a 1:40,000 scale full colour folding map.

For all guides, whatever type, we advise having an alternative navigation aid with you. If you wander too far from the trail you may struggle to find your way back unless you have another map, either a traditional paper map or a digital version.

If you want a paper map we recommend either the A-Z Adventure Atlases, Cicerone map booklets, Guidemaps or Harvey maps. You can see all our maps here. If you prefer to have a digital back up there are lots of options, but don’t reply on Google maps as in rural areas there is little information, certainly not enough to navigate with. We like the Ordnance Survey app.

Level of information

The best guidebooks provide interesting information on places that you pass along the way in addition to navigation advice. All of the guidebooks we stock have a good mix of information. The style varies with the author, so if you enjoyed a particular guidebook it might be worth looking to see if that author has written any others.

Cost

Including Ordnance Survey mapping increases the cost of producing a guidebook, so ones that don’t include this are usually lower cost, for example Trailblazer and Rucksack Readers.

Cicerone National Trail guides vary between £12.95 for a guide with no map booklet to £16.95 for a guide with a map booklet. Aurum Press books cost £14.99. Trailblazers are £12.99, Rucksack Readers between £10.99 and £13.99. Birlinn guides are £16.99.

We sell Aurum Press guides with an A-Z Adventure Atlas map at a 20% discount.

Size and practicality

The shape and size varies between guides. The Cicerone guides tend to be the smallest, and easiest to fit into a pocket, some have a waterproof cover, for example Thames Path and Cleveland Way & Yorkshire Wolds Way. Trailblazers are slightly taller. Aurum Press guides are taller still, and slightly wider, more of a typical paperback and less pocket-sized. Rucksack Readers are larger, but have a user-friendly format and are printed on waterproof paper. Birlinn Guides are the largest and come in a waterproof cover which also holds the map. 

Up to date?

Despite what you might think trails do change over time. National Trails in particular change when the trail managers negotiate improved lines to avoid busy roads or other hazards and of course coastal routes change due to erosion. Because of this is it worth buying the most up to date guidebook you can.

Trailblazer guides are regularly updated – keep an eye on the edition number. The publishers don’t like old versions being sold so you should be able to buy the latest edition. We always sell the most up to date editions. Rucksack Readers also use edition numbers. If you can’t see an edition number it will be a first edition. Birlinn Guides use issue numbers.

With the other guides it can be a bit tricker to see when they were last updated – in our description of each book we say when it was last updated, but not all stores do that. If you see a book being sold cheaply check that it isn’t an old edition.

Guidebook Comparison

Mapping
Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer mapping. Some guides include a separate map booklet (which can also be purchased individually).

Format, Size & Weight
Paperback. Some books come with a waterproof cover. Size and weight varies by book. The Peninne Way book is one of the heaviest (470g), measures 178mm x 120mm and is 20mm deep, including the map booket.

Cost
Prices vary by book. Expect to pay around £15 for one of the newer editions which includes a separate map booklet.

Features
Pocket-sized so easy to carry. Some books include a separate map booklet. Some trails are described in both directions.

Mapping
Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer mapping.

Format, Size & Weight
Paperback. Approximately 130mm x 210mm. Depth and weight varies by book. The Pennine Way book is one of the heavier books and is 12mm deep and weighs 320g.

Cost
Latest editions cost £14.99

Features
The Aurum books are the official National Trail guidebooks. These books are published by the Quarto group, older books use the Aurum brand, newer ones will use the Quarto brand.

Mapping
Hand-drawn style maps. 1:20,000 scale. Maps include walking times, tricky junctions, places to stay and eat and points of interest.

Format, Size & Weight
Paperback. Approximately 120mm x 180mm. Depth and weight varies by book. The Pennine Way book is one of the heavier books and is 18mm deep and weighs 310g.

Cost
Latest editions cost £12.99

Features
Regularly updated with clear issue numbers so you know you’re getting the latest book. Hand-drawn maps. Low cost. Some trails are described in both directions.

Mapping
Use Footprint maps or their own mapping. The scale varies, West Highland Way mapping is at 1:42,500,  Cleveland Way 1:82,500. 

Format, Size & Weight
Spiral-bound books 145mm x 223mm. The Coast-to-Coast guide is one of the heaviest at 320g. Traditionally-bound books are smaller, 220mm x 130mm. 

Cost
Between £10.99 - £13.99

Features
Printed on waterproof paper. Most have a spiral-bound format allowing them to be folded completely back on themsleves, for example South Downs Way, Coast to Coast and West Highland Way. The Cleveland Way and Fife Coastal path are bound more trandtionally and are 'rainproof'.

Mapping
No mapping in the guidebook - instead it is supplied as a separate fold-out map, based on OS mapping, at 1:40,000 scale. 

Format, Size & Weight
Traditionally bound, presented in a waterproof cover with an accompanying fold-out map.
223mm x 140mm. West Highland Way weighs 420g. 

Cost
£16.99

Features
Official guides for the West Highland Way, St Cuthbert's Way and Deeside Way. 

Shop guidebooks by publisher

If you'd like to browse by Trail please head to the 'Shop by Trail' dropdown at the top of the page.