May 10, 2011 at 12:14 am #1273577
I recently landed on the following approach to route development-oriented mapping in TOPO! After way too many years of creating "artwork" with text and mileage balloons on behalf of the Grand Enchantment Trail project, only to start half-way from scratch every time something changed out there, I decided to abandon free-form label editing in TOPO! in favor of building an exportable, cross-referenced POI database. It's not art, and it isn't all about carrying maps and nothing else into the field, but in general I like it better. I also get more accurate mileage figures this way…
Techniques in National Geographic TOPO! & MS-Excel to build a cross-referenced, mileage-corrected, easily-updated resource for your own extended hiking routes
"National Geographic TOPO! is a powerful program for mapping your own long-distance hiking routes. One of the drawbacks to creating detailed .tpo files by hand, though, is all the time required to label the map with relevant information in order to make it useful in the field. In particular, manually adding in mileage labels tends to be very time consuming, the information isn't easily updated if the length of the trail line needs modifying later, and the mileages themselves – as calculated by TOPO! – are often suspect, coming in shorter than actual mileages in the field by 5 or even 10%.
"Here is a method for avoiding these common pitfalls. It's a detailed, step-by-step process that will allow you to take a trail line that you've created or imported in TOPO!, and then label the map with points of interest and mileages – corrected mileages accounting for TOPO!'s underestimates – and to do this in a much faster and largely automated way that is also far more flexible should you need to make significant changes down the line."May 10, 2011 at 12:33 am #1734878
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
Brett, does your technique apply to a particular version of the TOPO! program?
I have 2.5.0.
One small help that I found for getting a more accurate mileage estimate is to use the magnifier tool when I am "drawing in" the route line. I think that magnifier allows me to see more squiggles in the route. The problem there is that (I think) it limits me to a lower number of detail segments per mile along the route.
–B.G.–May 10, 2011 at 1:12 am #1734880
I'm using v4.0. The techniques should for the most part work across all versions, although some steps may vary, esp. under the Handhelds / GPS tab. In some cases I believe NatGeo will let you upgrade to a newer version for free or perhaps a nominal cost.
Even zooming in to 300% I find it's impossible to get accurate mileage figures. The problem is partly just existential in terms of mapping vs. reality, and partly that TOPO! doesn't fully account for the way elevation change affects mileage in three dimensions. In any case, my sense is that the program underestimates mileages by around 5%, assuming a decently drawn route line, or perhaps 10% (or more) if the route line is very angular (not smoothly drawn or recorded) or you just can't draw it accurately due to base map inaccuracies or whatever.
Anyway, my goal isn't to get mileages exactly right, but to extend the length of a particular segment, ie between resupply points, to something more realistic, for the benefit of planning and execution. And then the technique presented here will apportion the extra mileage evenly across all POI's in the segment.May 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm #1735102
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
I seems like my version is ancient. I've been using TOPO! since before it was National Geographic. First it was by Wildflower Productions.
–B.G.–May 11, 2011 at 8:01 pm #1735617
I think that TOPO has a driver that is a free download that will update your version to the 4.0 ver.May 11, 2011 at 8:08 pm #1735621
this is fantastic ! I spend an enormous amount of time in TOPO, have used it to publish my guidebook, and use if for all trips. I've got 6 states right now, LOL
Ive been struggling with multiple issues trying to make up data books, and this really will help tremendously. Thanks for spending the effort and then sharing it!May 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm #1735655
Thanks for sharing your techniques and making that great step-by-step guide.
I have a few general questions about TOPO! that I can't find answers for that maybe you guys could help with.
1) On a route I'm currently working on, I have several off-trail waypoints (water sources, resupply points, campsites). I noticed that in your instructions you mention that the best way to incorporate these is by marking them in the comments portion of an on-trail waypoint at the place where you'd depart the trail to go this point. This seems fine, but can I also include the waypoint on the map in its actual location? I assume I can. I suppose this would be useful for getting a visual representation of where the POI is when you're in the field, looking at the map.
2) Is there a way to format waypoints (ie change their colors or change them from little diamonds to other symbols)? I can't seem to figure this out but on your sample maps they look to be blue, whereas mine are always purple.
3) Is there an easy way to change the direction of a route? IE, flip everything around if you're traveling in the opposite direction?
Finally, and this is my biggest question. If you have a long route that spans many (pages worth of) maps, do you have a strategy for printing them out? Do you overlap a certain amount of terrain? I really wish TOPO! would automate this process… This is a classic example of software that is a complete mess. And yet it's so indispensable.May 12, 2011 at 7:08 am #1735717
Another major problem I have is that symbols on my maps loose their color (turning white and impossible to see) after a save. I can't get the color back in them even when I change their color manually. Anyone else encounter this bug?May 12, 2011 at 9:08 am #1735746
@halfturboLocale: Northernish California
Hi Mister Goat,
I don't have Topo! in front of me, but I can answer the last question by memory. In the print function you can flip the map window along any of the four sides (N,E,S,W) and print the adjacent map. The edges line up perfectly. I think you access this feature by right-clicking but that could be erroneous. Poke around while in the print function–it's there.
Not every waypoint need be part of a route, so you should be able to add off-route destinations to your maps and upload them to your GPS. Once in the GPS you can navigate to them all. Remember: a route is simply a waypoint string in a particular order. IIRC there's a way to reverse a route in Topo!, but I don't remember how to do so. Regardless, the GPS should allow a route to be reversed. I know Garmin and Delorme can do this, and presume others do as well.
To Brett: Thanks for the resource. It's going to be fun to dig through!
RickMay 12, 2011 at 7:07 pm #1735985
1) Probably the easiest way to add off-route POI's, using the method here, would be to put them all in another .tpo file and then merge them into the main file with all the on-route POI's when you want to print.
2) Not that I know of. My diamonds are blue with blue lettering on white backdrop. The font size cannot be changed, to my knowledge, but the size is good for squeezing a lot of verbage into a small area on the map. Incidentally, sometimes the waypoint labels can run into each other, esp. where the route line runs more horizontally than vertically. When you're all done making changes to the csv and Data Book you can manually move any of the waypoints on the map in TOPO! so they're more visible. Although the waypoint coordinates will change in the program, they'll stay the same in the other resources, which is where you'll reference them anyway.
3) It's a lot easier to get the direction set before starting on this, by simply breaking the trail trace in two and then reconnecting it by clicking first on the broken portion that should come first in the new alignment (and then clicking on the other portion to reassemble). That's standard TOPO!-ese. If you've already run the process and need to rework both the labelled map and Data book, it's a little trickier. Honestly I haven't really thought through how best to do this, but would assume you could use Excel formulas on the csv file based on known section length in order to flip all the mileages and then reverse the order of the rows. Then in TOPO!, delete all the existing POI's and import new POIs via the csv. Ditto the Data Book changes, in terms of using formulas.
4) You can overlap map coverages for printing purposes, which helps to error-proof things as you move the selection box around. What I find helpful, though, is first to zoom out (reduce) to 50% (level 5 map) so you can see most of the selection box. In the dialog at right, under More Options, Magnification, I generally use 40% to 50% of original to minimize the number of printed maps while still preserving enough visual detail. Under Marginalia, select Grid Labels. Under 'Additional Settings' choose Lock Selection to One Full Page, and optionally, Snap Selection to Grid, which will avoid the need to overlap your maps by insuring that the edges are perfectly aligned.
I don't actually use TOPO! for printing, but just to save Bitmap images for later manipulation in PhotoShop (RGB to 16 colors, map numbering in the corners, etc.) So I'm not familiar with Rick's technique for printing consecutive maps. Normally you want to toggle between portrait and landscape printing modes based on the trajectory of the trail trace in a given area.
Keep in mind that the methods described in the PDF aren't really compatible with uploading to a GPS unit, since the POI labels on the map are intended to be descriptive (long). (And there will probably be many of them.) But you could build a parallel file in Excel that uses truncated versions of your waypoint names, maybe eliminating any characters that your GPS can't handle. Or perhaps some GPS units are able to 'take what they get' and just deal with it, I don't know. In any case, the waypoints probably won't be spot on, so plan to use them in a GPS with full awareness of the inherent inaccuracies that comes with software-derived (rather than field-recorded) waypoints. Not only that, but the POI's are just approximations anyway, tied to the nearest incremental waypoint in the TOPO!-created route. In any case, rather than uploading to a GPS, I would just plug waypoints manually into the unit as necessary (grab them from the data book entries).
All of this is fairly new-to-me, too, by the way, as I wrote the PDF as I was playing around with the possibilities. Hopefully there will be improvements to the workflow forthcoming, or somebody will point out something obvious that I'm missing. For one, it'd be nice, under "step 6" in the PDF, if there were a way to keep only your custom POI's and ditch the ream of additional waypoints without having to ctrl-click on each of the POI's individually.May 12, 2011 at 9:10 pm #1736031
All of your info is super helpful. I have an unwieldy trail here and I really appreciate all the help. Regarding reversing the route – I figured out how to do it in TOPO!, but I haven't worked with the Excel document yet. Regarding printing, I think a lot of the settings and functionality you guys have described is not available on the Mac version of the software (4.5) – grrrr. I don't have any right-click (control or option click) options at all, nor do I have all those options you described when adjusting print settings. This is really frustrating.
For my particular trail I have roughly 130 legal-sized maps if I print them out. No big deal if I send sections to resupplies, but I'm still not convinced it's the most efficient way for me. On the other hand, I figured out a cool way to load all the maps into my ipod touch – it provides crisp, amazing detail – I'm pretty shocked by how good it is actually. I've used maps loaded onto my ipod for navigating popular trails before (think the JMT) but I'm nervous about using it on this long, off trail route that will most likely require intensive navigation. Partly because taking bearings off the ipod is tricky, partly because a technology failure in this case could prove catastrophic. On the other hand, it would be pretty nice to not have to deal with a phonebook's worth of paper maps…May 12, 2011 at 9:33 pm #1736038
I'm not sure if Gaia GPS app is available for iPod touch, but you might be able to use a navigation app like that and upload a GPX version of your TOPO! trail line (export a GPS route) that would then show up on the screen map. Gaia uses MyTopo 7.5' quad data which you can download and store for offline use. The iPhone GPS works independently from a cell signal, so the app can show you where you are vs. your GPX trail line, and you can drop in waypoints on the fly and navigate to them. It sounds like your approach might be better, though, if you already have your custom TOPO! maps with labels, waypoints, etc., and your iPod Touch has the storage to hold 'em all.
I agree it'd be risky to put all your cartographic eggs in the electronic basket. ;-)May 13, 2011 at 3:34 am #1736079
Well, I finally sat down with the first section of my map and your step-by-step instructions. Everything went great until Step 4 when I went to open the "Export Wizard" which doesn't exist on the Mac version of TOPO. Ugh. So, I just selected all the waypoints and right-click copied them, then pasted them into Excel. It seemed good… except the Lat/Long data had degrees north and degrees west after each numerical value. I was able to do a find/replace to get rid of all those units.
Moving on, I got through Steps 5 and 6, but then went back to TOPO to try to import the CSV file and, predictably, there's no "Import Wizard" to bring the data in.
I guess your method, Brett, only works for Windoz :(May 13, 2011 at 5:22 am #1736088
My version of Topo for Mac does have the import/export feature located under the handhelds in the toolbar.May 13, 2011 at 5:39 am #1736089
Ken, do you mean you click the "gps" button and then you can choose import or export to GPS? If so, I have that too, but I can't use that to import or export csv files. Can you?
I think I have figured out a workaround though, using GPSbabel to convert to and from csv/gpx files (the latter being one that I can use with my version of TOPO). Data is not formatted properly by default though which is a pain.
Brett, question about the 5-10% margins of error you're seeing in your maps… The manual to TOPO states that displayed mileages are horizontal distances and do not account for terrain. However, by building an elevation profile you can figure out the exact distance traveled by foot. Wouldn't it make more sense to use that number rather than multiplying your original mileage by an arbitrary percentage? Or, did you know this and you *still* are seeing errors?May 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm #1736222
.csv is basically a text file (with comma separated values). TOPO! probably won't mention csv but should hopefully have an option to import a text file and will take and interpret the csv as such.
The profile-derived mileages can produce somewhat better results, but in talking with folks who do DEM modeling and also use TOPO! the feeling is that the latter just isn't capable of accurate calculations. In the real world it probably doesn't matter a whole lot unless you have a really long resupply, a must-follow itinerary, or are simply striving for accuracy. But since it's so easy to recalc the mileage before dropping in waypoints and POIs along the route, why not do it? The 5-10% upwards adjustment would just be one way to recalc. Another would be to trust the profile mileage. A third would be to work with known mileages for the trails in question, as calc'ed by USFS etc. (For the Arizona Trail, I've found the 5% rule holds well, TOPO! vs officially stated mileages.) And a fourth might be to focus on "areas of known weakness" in the trail trace, estimate sub-sectional mileage increases for these and tally them up.May 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm #1736231
Nope, I've checked every menu I can find and there's no obvious support for csv files. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but in using TOPO its very clear that it is one of those applications that was designed for a Windows environment and actually feels quite unwieldy on a Mac. There are lots of little things that are annoying, but it does create pretty sexy maps.
However, like I suspected, I've been able to export data from TOPO to .gpx, use GPSbabel to convert it to .csv, then paste into Excel. From there I have to do a fair bit of manipulation of the data to get it to work, but it's working (the main problem is that the Waypoint "names" and "description/messages" info gets all mixed up.
Once I have the set of mileage waypoints in Excel, I prefix each waypoint with incremental mileage using the formula you provided, pare them down to the way I like them, then save them as .csv and convert back to .gpx. Prior to importing the .gpx file into TOPO, I erase all my way points from TOPO and then bring in the fresh, updated ones that I like. I end up having a trail with just the POI's I want marked.
I've been noticing that, even with the elevation corrections, mileages don't correspond to known points along my route… I've been multiplying values by 1.03 and that gets them closer… Like you said, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. For example, when I go out and hike this thing and I arrive at one POI and my map says it's 10 miles to the next POI, if it's off by 5% I'm really not going to notice that while I'm on the trail. The bigger problem is working backwards: For example, someone tells me "there's a reliable water source exactly 15 miles down this canyon…", I plot that on the map, and then I go and hike the trail. When I get to the spot where the water should be I can't find it (that being because it might be +/- 1.5 miles from where I'm standing – or even more if this happens late in the section and I miscalculate the actual distance of the trail). This kind of thing is frustrating – but I guess that's part of the adventure of creating and traveling trails off the beaten path.
I don't use a GPS… but I'm tempted to bring one just to error check my routes!May 13, 2011 at 2:09 pm #1736245
Bob, there is a free update to version 3.4, but after that they want you to pay for the version 4…
here's the link for all the drivers
cheers!May 13, 2011 at 5:29 pm #1736318
I think Excel will only export a comma-separated text file with the .csv extension, but you could then change the extension manually back to .txt outside of Excel and TOPO! should recognize that. All that matters, once TOPO! isn't choking on the file extension issue, is that the file includes the commas between fields, so you can import those fields under your chosen headings.
Anyway, cheers guys… If anyone has ideas for improvement, please give a holler.
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