Identifying Mountain Features

August 24, 2017 by
Alex hiking in Connemara
POSTED BY August 24, 2017

At Hillwalk Tours, we know that identifying mountain features and landscape features is a very important and useful skill to have when out in the hills.

The ability to identify your physical surroundings to mountain features on the map will go a long way to prevent you from getting lost or disoriented.

Identifying Mountain Features

Firstly, it’s important to understand what a mountain feature looks like in both the real world and on your map.

Below are some definitions to help you identify these landscape features.

Summit, Top or Spot Height

Stand still and look around you. When every direction around you slopes downwards, it means you at the top or summit of a hill/mountain.

The highest summit in Ireland is Carrauntoohil (which can be found in Kerry), standing at 1,038 metres (3,406 foot).

Physical Landscape Feature

Carrauntoohil's spot height - a mountain feature

A spot height on a map is usually surrounded by the smallest ring contour on the mountain.

Map Landscape Feature

A landscape feature on a map - the spot height


A valley is characterised by rising up on three side and sloping down on one. Looking down a valley, the land behind and to each side of you will be sloping up and in front of you will be sloping down.

Glendalough Valley on the Wicklow Way is a great example of this.

Physical Landscape Feature

Glendalough Valley's Mountain Feature

This is what a valley looks like on a map.

Map Landscape Feature

Valley Mountain Feature on a Map


A re-entrant has identical features to a valley – just on a smaller scale. A re-entrant will have three sides sloping upwards with one side sloping downwards.

Physical Landscape Feature

Re-entrant Mountain Feature

Map Landscape Feature

Re-entrant on a map - a landscape feature


A spur is like an inverted valley – it is sloping down on three sides and uphill on one.

Physical Landscape Feature

A spur mountain feature

Map Landscape Feature

Spur mountain feature on a map


The ridge is also called the backbone off a mountain. It is a line feature which connect summits of a mountain range.

Physical Landscape Feature

Ridge Mountain Feature

Saddle or Col

The saddle of a mountain literally looks like a big saddle. It slopes down on two sides and up on two sides.

If you were a giant, you could literally sit on this mountain feature like a saddle.

Physical Landscape Feature

The Saddle Mountain Feature


Knowing the above feature will help you greatly when locating yourself on the map.

Use landscape features from your physical surroundings and locate them on your map, and vice versa.

This will allow you to know where you are on the map at all times.

We hope that you found this guide helpful – at Hillwalk Tours, we provide maps, detailed route notes and 24/7 support on waymarked trails in Ireland, the UK and on the Camino in Spain.