A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, people apparently used the metric system.
The climax of the original “Star Wars” movie hinges on a weak point in the evil Empire’s greatest battle station: The Death Star. According to General Jan Dodonna of the Rebellion, all that’s required to blow the whole thing up is a proton torpedo fired directly into “a small thermal exhaust port.”
How small are we talking? “The target area,” says Dodonna, “is only 2 meters wide.”
That might be a little hard to visualize if you grew up measuring things in feet rather than meters.
As most of us know, the meter is a unit of length. Like the kilogram, it’s part of the International System of Units (abbreviated as the “SI”). The metric system is another name that this goes by.
The foot is an alternative length unit. Used in the United States Customary system of measurement, it’s decidedly less popular at the global level. But considering Uncle Sam’s fondness for the foot, being able to convert feet into meters — and do the reverse — is an important skill.
Let’s go off-world and return to the Death Star. If the previously mentioned exhaust port is “2 meters wide,” how many feet is that?
There are two different ways to figure this out. The first one’s a little bit easier, but it comes with an asterisk.
Here’s a piece of information that’s critical: 1 meter is equal to 3.28084 feet (for simplicity, we’ll call it 3.28 feet).
Converting Meters to Feet (Quick and Dirty)
Remember, the Death Star’s exhaust port was 2 meters wide. To figure out what that means in terms of footage, we’re going to multiply 3.28 by 2. Here’s the calculation:
2 x 3.28 = 6.56
Boy, that’s — not a lot. Evidently, the target General Dodonna wanted someone to hit was only 6.56 feet wide. Good thing Luke Skywalker had the force on his side.
If you’re out in the real world and need to do a quick conversion, then multiplying the number of meters by 3.28 will give you the answer you’re looking for.
You could make this process even easier by rounding 3.28084 up to 3.3.
So, in a pinch, all you’d need to remember is:
- 1 meter is about 3.3 feet.
- Multiply the number of meters by 3.3 to get an approximate answer.
- Therefore: 2 meters x 3.3 = 6.6 feet.
If you’re trying to do this in your head, use a conversion of 3 and add 10 percent.
- 2 x 3 = 6
- Add: 0.6 (10 percent of 6)
- 6 + 0.6 = 6.6
Converting Meters to Feet (the Textbook Way)
Before we proceed any further, it’s time to finally acknowledge the asterisk. If you’re taking a math class and the teacher expects you to show your work, then the technique we outline above is a no-go.
Know why? Because strictly speaking, it doesn’t change the units.
Remember, we started out with 2 meters. And multiplying 2 meters by the number 3.28 technically gives you 6.56 meters — and not 6.56 feet.
Here’s the teacher-approved strategy for converting meters into feet.
- Take the number of meters you wish to convert.
- Multiply that number by the following fraction (which you’ll put in parentheses): 3.28 feet divided by 1 meter.
- Abbreviate the word “meter” as “m” and the word “feet” as “ft”
Time to write out the actual equation (for simplicity’s sake, let’s reuse the same “Death Star” example). Here she is:
2 m/1 x (3.28 ft/1 m) = 6.56 ft
The division by 1 might seem pointless. But we need it to do our conversion. Because of their placement within this equation, the two m’s will cancel each other out. That leaves us with only one unit notation in the entire math problem: “ft” (i.e., “feet”). Therefore, our final answer will have to be written in feet, rather than meters. Which is exactly what we wanted.
All right, now that we’ve figured out how to exchange meters for feet, let’s do the exact opposite.
Who’s up for another pop culture memory jog?
Converting Feet to Meters (Quickly)
The 2005 “King Kong” remake finds the giant ape on his native Skull Island, where he lives out his days behind an enormous wall. Lumpy (a ship’s cook played by Andy Serkis) claims this structure is 100 feet high.
Tell us: What’s the wall’s height in meters? We’ve got to find out what poor Kong’s up against here.
As you know by now, there are 3.28 feet in 1 meter.
Outside the classroom, the quick and painless method for converting meters into feet is as follows: Divide the relevant number of feet by 3.28. Or, if you’re cool with rounding, divide it by 3.3.
Here’s that formula:
(Number of Feet) ÷ 3.3 = (Number of Meters)
100 ÷ 3.3 = 30.3
So, the hairy monster is confined by a 30.3-meter wall. That’d be a much bigger target for our buddy Luke Skywalker, but we digress.
Note: Once again, we’ve gotten the answer we sought — but neglected to change the units. So, now we’re going to do it the way your math teacher would love.
Converting Feet to Meters (the Textbook Way)
To cover your bases on a final exam and make your math professors happy, you’d have to execute something similar to the three-step process we outlined before. This time, your equation would look like so:
100 ft/1 x (1 m/3.28 ft) = 30.48 meters
In an inversion of what we saw last time, the “ft” unit appears twice, while the “m” shows up only once. Therefore, it’s the ft‘s that will be canceled out.