Part of the fun of a long walk is totting up the miles afterwards. However, what was once a laborious task involving a ruler, piece of string and a paper map can now be completed with a few mouse clicks – or taps on a smartphone screen. Here’s how to measure distances in Google Maps.
It isn’t just hikers who stand to benefit: the tool will also appeal to cyclists, drivers, joggers and people who have always wondered what the exact distance is between Slough and Staines (10.44km, as the crow flies).
But there’s a small caveat before we begin: the measuring tool is very much designed for short(ish) journeys. So, if you wanted to calculate the length of a grand European road trip, everything would quickly become quite fiddly. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, though…
How to measure distances in Google Maps: Desktop
By far the easiest way of calculating distances in Google Maps is via your desktop browser, as it doesn’t involve any finger gymnastics.
To begin, head to google.com/maps and type the name of your start point into the search box. Alternatively, if time isn’t of the essence, you can navigate there manually by scrolling and “grabbing” with the mouse.
Once you’re in place, it’s time to right-click on the start point to generate the following menu. As an example, I’m going to measure the distance of a stroll along Camber Sands beach in East Sussex…
Select “Measure distance” and a little white circle will appear where you right-clicked. This is your start point. If it’s not quite right, you can reposition it by dragging it.
Once you’re satisfied, it’s time to set your first distance marker by left-clicking on the map. In my example, I’m walking the 625 metres to where the beach meets Lydd Road.
A helpful labelled bar will appear to measure the distance. You may find that switching to the satellite view (by clicking on the box in the bottom-left of the screen) gives you a better overview of the local landmarks.
Now it’s just a case of mapping out your whole walk by clicking on points along the way. Obviously, the shorter the distance between those points, the greater the accuracy – especially when you’re going around corners. Similarly, the further you zoom into the map, the more accurate your total distance will be.
As you can see, a white box at the bottom shows the overall distance travelled and, if you make a mistake, you can delete the points by clicking on them.
And that’s it. Every time I use the “Measure distance” tool, I’m impressed by just how easy and useful it is – for everything from complicated urban walks to off-road hikes in the countryside.
How to measure distances in Google Maps: Smartphone
If you’re already out and about, you can still measure distances in Google Maps via the smartphone app (if you’re an iPhone user, you can upset Apple by downloading Google Maps from here).
The process is exactly the same as above, but with one crucial difference: instead of right-clicking to bring up the menu, “long press” on the start point until a red pin appears.
Then tap on the box at the bottom – in this case, it says “Unnamed Road”, but, if you’re in the countryside, it may simply be “Dropped pin”. The following page will pop up, on which you should select “Measure distance”.
Once that’s done, manoeuvre over the map and add drop points, by tapping “Add point”, as you go.
If you’ve used the desktop version of Google Maps, you’ll notice how much more fiddly the app is to use. Still, it’s a decent option if you’re out on the road – or footpath.