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Nothing can stop you with good maps ... but where to get them ?


Maps are often hard to get, especially for for ex-USSR area and not many people know where to get them. Maps used to be accessible for military use there only and you may even be suspicious of having them for some strange reason like a support of mujahedins or spying.
It may seem funny, but I was interrogated in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (area of Fergana valley) in year 2000 for having a copy of generally a accessible tourist edition map (1:100 000) of Ak-Su region, where fighting with mujahedins was taking place at that time. Older people especially were raised in the Soviet spy-mania times. If you finally manage to get good maps, it is better to take copies only, because there is a chance, that they may be confiscated.

It is almost necessary to have good maps for trekking before going to ex-USSR territory (and it is often the only possibility). They can be bought at only one or several places there, if they can be bought at all (as it is with military maps).

For information where to buy maps of specified regions when you are in that country already , see my pages giving info about individual regions. Digital versions of maps, that are not very reliable, but can be used for organizing and planing (when nothing else is available) can be found at Expedia website for whole world (quite an advantage !!!). I used these maps for describing routes of my journeys on this website.

Soviet (Russian) military maps are still best for many countries in the world (where "friendly" governments once allowed Russians to make them), but they are hard to get. I've seen them in different scales from 1:100 000 to 1:1 000 000. To my surprise, about half of the world is covered e.g. Ethiopia, Sudan etc. Although these maps are sometimes more than 30 years old for foreign countries, they are often the best what exists (especially for trekking - mountains don't change in short time). Even local governments/armies still use them. Several possibilities to get them outside Russia are listed below. I currently don't know where to get a complete coverage in Russia and I welcome any information about it.

  1. Some www map shops (such as OMNI map or East View Cartographic ) sell Soviet military maps, but prices are very high, e.g. 50-100 USD for one map sheet.
  2. Various University of California libraries hold various military maps covering whole ex-USSR territory plus many other countries . Although they are not much willing to provide copies (copyright business etc.), if you live in USA and especially if you are from the academic community, you can try to get a copy for a small fee (10 USD for a color copy of 1 map sheet from UCSB). Try to contact individual libraries, some emails could be found easily on their pages. Some areas are even in digital format e.g. Caucasus area (superb 1:100 000 maps of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan !!!).
    There are sheet coverage maps from some areas on their page, but not for e.g. Russia - you look at see sheet coverage of western and eastern Russia. Don't forget to look to the lower right corner of these quite large images, where you can find numbers of individual sheet according to map scale.
  3. Many maps digitized from private collections (including my, I don't have so much space here) or downloaded from various internet sources can be found at Czech map server . The main focus is on ex-USSR area, because many Czechs travel there and bring maps from there.

If Soviet military maps are not good for you or you can't get them, you can check internet map shops for anything other. The last options always remains - all world is covered by generally accessible Tactical Pilotage Charts (TPC)  in scale 1:500 000. Look at the coverage for eastern Russia for example. These can be bought quite cheaply (about 7 USD per sheet) at OMNI map webshop. Although the scale is not good for trekking, better something than nothing.