Jan 7, 2013 at 1:12 pm #1297749
So I have been using the national geographic topo software for the last couple of years and it has worked well for me. For me it essentially extends the utility of the USGS quads so that I can easily add waypoints to the the map so that they are synced with my GPS and I can pan the maps to include my entire route instead of the frustrating situation where your route skirts right on the edge of two or even four USGS quads so that you have to take several maps and arrange them carefully together to get the whole picture. I also like that you can scale the UTM grid lines however you want, that you can easily mark the locations of things using waypoints and symbols, and that you can produce an elevation profile for a specified route. Although I still use the standard USGS quads much of the time.
Unfortunately when I tried to purchase the TOPO software for a new state for an upcoming trip, I saw that this software has been discontinued and I can't find it for sale anywhere. I did some research and apparently nat geo has launched a new web based mapping software that is incorporated with the website alltrails.com
So my question for the BPL community is this: what mapping software or navigation system do you recommend now that the topo state series is being discontinued?
I am not really interested in mapping software that incorporates some kind of social media or trail reviews or stuff like that, which is what seems to be the case with the alltrails.com website. A decent portion of my trips occur off trail and to be honest I am skeptical of the utility of this online trail based system although I can see the appeal in terms of discovering fun new trails. Does anyone have experience with this new system? I am also not really interested in using a mapping GPS. For me the best navigation system is still just a good map and solid navigation skills (never runs out of batteries). I have yet to see a GPS map that has enough detail on a small screen to replace a true 7.5 minute quad. My GPS (garmin etrex HS) is really just something that I use in case of emergency and I want to turn it on to find my UTM coordinates or in the case of very low visibility and I want to navigate to some preset waypoint.Jan 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm #1941517
Ryan BresslerBPL Member
To shamelessly self promote have you tried my site http://www.hillmap.com with the caltopo scans of usgs and forest service maps?
I wrote the site with a bunch of input from BPL and other online forum users (there is an old thread in the on the web forum). I am also committed to keeping it free (we may accept donations at some point)…that makes this post not SPAM right? ;)
My main motivation was frustration with the other available options for off trail and winter use. Hillmap tries to makes it dead easy to draw a path on a topo map, analyze it, download it print it etc and has advanced features like avi slops overlays.
Printing of high res topos works by rendering a giant webpage which produces better results then any other mapping site once you figure out how to scale it with your printer. Using a browser plugin that takes a screen shot of the whole page helps (for chrome try Screen Capture by Google https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/screen-capture-by-google/cpngackimfmofbokmjmljamhdncknpmg?hl=en there are similar options for other browsers).
I'm also working on the next version which will include a bunch of upgrades and bug fixes:
There aren't currently any social features beyond posting links to sites like BPL of facebook and I need to add UTM grids and things (I'm mostly a map and compass navigator and only got a gps recently). I'm also very open to feature suggestions though my time to work on the site is limited by my real job and time I spend in the mountains.Jan 7, 2013 at 2:00 pm #1941523
spelt with a tBPL Member
@speltLocale: SW/C PA
I love hillmap–have been using it since it first launched and can vouch for the progressive improvements. (I really like the layout of the new beta, Ryan.) I never used NatGeo TOPO so I can't compare, but for checking out an area, plotting and saving paths, and printing, I've been more than satisfied. It's easy, there's a lot of optional information there if you want it, and there's no DVD to buy. :)Jan 7, 2013 at 2:13 pm #1941529
Hillmap.com is great. Between that, mapper.acme.com, and using the NOAA website for accurate declination (or magnetic-declination.com/), there's not a whole ton of need for nat geo's topo anymore. I have the California version, and while it works, I've never thought it was as user friendly as it could be. I still use it to print maps, but more and more use what's available online to scope out trips, etc.Jan 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm #1941553
Thanks for the suggestions guys. I'll definitely have to check out hillmap. I agree that the nat geo software could have been designed better, but it worked well for me in that it had all of the features I need in one place. Although I am also still a map and compass person, the lack of UTM gridlines may be somewhat of a dealbreaker for me, since I would like to retain this feature so that I can use my GPS in emergency situations. I suppose I could always supplement with USGS quads, which have UTM lines. I also just found out that this alltrails thing is $50 a year which seems absurd.Jan 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm #1941579
Is there any reason why you can't just buy a used state and keep using TOPO? I've done that for multiple states. Once you have the maps, thats all that matters… Ebay was a great source for them.Jan 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm #1941620
I think looking around for used copies is a great idea if I can get them for cheap, but I haven't been able to find a copy for washington state yet. Although I am wondering what my long term solution is going to be.Jan 7, 2013 at 5:12 pm #1941624
Mary DBPL Member
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
At some point your computer's operating system will either be outmoded or, if kept up to date, will no longer function with TOPO! software. This has already happened to me–new iMac for Christmas, with mountainlion O/S, won't work with TOPO, although I'm told that older Mac operating systems will. As a result I am keeping my old iMac in order to print out maps for the three states for which I have the software. For other states I'll have to find something else–ditto if the old computer gives up the ghost while I can still hike. I never could figure out all the ins and outs of TOPO!, but at least I didn't have to worry about places where three or four maps join together which would require carrying 3 or 4 hard copy maps!Jan 8, 2013 at 7:26 am #1941773
Jeff McWilliamsBPL Member
TOPO North America is okay.
It lets you do most of the things you were able to do with the Nat Geo software. The DVD has coverage of all of the US for $99.00, but the detail and contour lines are not as good as what you got on the Nat Geo states series. I think for $30.00 per year, you can have unlimited access to download the 1:24,000 imagery off of the DeLorme servers.
However, I still found that printed output of the Nat Geo software was better, especially at 1:50,000, than the Delorme TOPO NA software. 1:50,000 was the scale I liked best. On an 11×17 map, it was the best compromise between area coverage and detail.
I'm preparing for a trip to the Wind River range in WY next year, and couldn't find the WY DVD, even on E-Bay, and was not happy with the Delorme printed output.
Here's what I need and can't get out of Alltrails.com or hillmap.com. Maybe some of the features are in one or the other, but not both:
Draw routes, measure distances along the route, and generate printable elevation profiles and stats (vertical climb, vertical descent, elevation gain, distance).
Export the routes to .gpx format. I then transfer them to Google Earth and Google Maps to view and discuss during the group trip planning discussions.
Print at a scale that I specify, so that I can use a UTM plotter in the field.
What I ended up doing is creating my own map using the free USGS 1:24,000 imagery. I had to manually stitch four quads together in a "Photoshop" like application, then scale and crop out the section I needed. I then drew in the UTM grid and added the reference numbers along the border. I also drew in my route, planned camp sites, and also added trail distances between key trail junctions, similar to what the Trails Illustrated maps do.
I still used TOPO North America to calculate trail distances, generate elevation profiles and route stats, and to save the route as GPX files for viewing in Google Earth.
My resulting map is 11×17, at 1:62,500 scale, containing all the detail from the 1:24,000 USGS maps. Some of the detail is a little hard to read, but fine using the magnifying "bubble" on my Suunto compass. They look good printed at the local FedEx/Kinko's. I'll print final copies on waterproof paper.
This was a very time consuming project. It took me hours to generate the map.
It is sad to see Nat Geo's DVD's get turned into "Software as a service" that requires a monthly fee. I don't feel alltrails.com is as good as the DVDs were.Jan 8, 2013 at 7:35 am #1941781
Hillmap and ACME Mapper are both great tools that each provide some unique features. But speaking as another software developer, there are so many different features that potentially can be put into a map program that it might be doubtful that any one program will have all the features that a user would like to see.
I think the moral of the story is that heavy map users might find themselves using more than one map tool in order to meet their needs.
For example, those wishing to use an online map that shows UTM coordinates are invited to look at Gmap4. The current production code lets you display a UTM grid. You can also rightclick and get a popup that shows UTM coords for the point you clicked. The current beta version includes UTM support for the 'Search' and 'Make a map'.
Gmap4 can also display most TPO files even though NG has declined to make that file specification public. Simply put your TPO file online and point to it with the 'q' parameter. The Gmap4 Help file has some important info for those working with TPO files.
For example, the following link displays a TPO file and a UTM grid. If the grid labels are not visible along the left and top edges, then drag the map to the right and/or down slightly.
The Gmap4 homepage has links to the beta code, the Help file and other useful info:
Joseph, the Gmap4 guy
Redmond, WAFeb 13, 2013 at 8:04 am #1953894
Tjaard BreeuwerBPL Member
@tjaardLocale: Minnesota, USA
Topo had most features that outdoor users would want. What product can offer these currently:
-Good maps(7.5'quads, plus current info like trails and etc)
-Draw a route and download it to a GPS
-Print a map with UTM grid, route and other notes as desired
If I understand correctly Gmap4 does not print a map, right?Feb 13, 2013 at 8:37 am #1953905
The following link starts Gmap4 and displays a topo map with a UTM grid. The map is centered on part of the Mille Lacs Kathio State Park in Minnesota.
Printing works best with Firefox.
In the browser control bar, click File ==> Print preview.
Then use the controls at the top of the screen to select 'landscape' and adjust the 'scale' so the image nicely fills the page.
If you first use Gmap4 to display a data file, then that data file will appear on the print.
Edit: Printing with Gmap4 is handled 100% by code from Google and your browser. The code in Gmap4 has nothing at all to do with printing.
Joseph, the Gmap4 guyFeb 13, 2013 at 9:23 am #1953928
So I recently came across Mac GPS Pro:
It has 7.5' quads for sale for direct download from their website at reasonable prices and there are even some nice USFS maps as well. It seems like it is also capable of importing a number of other maps but I haven't tried that yet. The baseline software is kind of pricey at $59 but after debating for a while I decided to try it out. The software is similar to TOPO and it works well but it's not the most intuitive or easy to use sometimes. However, I would say overall it is pretty good. One drawback is that the topos come as a series of files that must be chosen and loaded according to where you would like to plan your route. This is kind of a hassle but it is manageable. Hillmap and gmap4 are good but are very limited in what they can do, most notably they are configured poorly to print out maps and the route planning options are minimal. Mac GPS pro will print out nice maps with a scale and compass correction much like TOPO did. It is easy to plan out a route, display a bunch of information like bearings and distances between waypoints on your printed map and load these waypoints into your GPS. It is also possible to come up with an elevation profile for your route, which is very helpful. Moreover, the list of things that you can do with Mac GPS Pro and a GPS is quite extensive, including options for geocaching, you can upload routes to google earth using a kml files and you can pull a plethora of items from your GPS after your trip such as your exact route, speed over various sections and bearing. I can't really comment on the more in depth GPS features since I do not use my GPS all that much expect for emergencies so it is almost always turned off but it is neat to know that the software has these capabilities. I am mostly interested in printing customized maps with routes, which the software seems to be able to do reasonably well.
Hopefully this helps. I think overall it has been a decent replacement for TOPO for me. If there was a way to make the map loading more automatic then it would be fantastic. Right now it has a feature where you input coordinates and it opens the map, however it would be nice to have an intuitive zooming map function like what is used in TOPO and gmap4. Hopefully the ability to load other kinds of maps will be good, but I haven't tried that yet.Feb 13, 2013 at 10:08 am #1953941
Mark HurdBPL Member
@markhurdLocale: South Texas
I've used this service a time or two and they produced good maps at a reasonable price.
Basically you create the map you want ( not unlike Nat. Geo TOPO) by selecting the area on the screen. You can then customize it and they will print and send it out within 24 hr. an 18×24 inch map is $9.95 on waterproof paper. You can order 36×48 size too ( use as a shelter :^)
This service is online , but I think they have a downloadable program with unlimited map printing for $30/yr, but I haven't used that, so not sure.
Anyway, nice custom maps and probably worth it for the occasional trip to a new spot. (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with this company other than satisfied user)
-MarkFeb 13, 2013 at 10:21 am #1953948
@sschloss1Locale: New England
With a simple download, Google Earth will display USGS topo maps for the whole US. You can create routes on Google Earth, view elevation profiles, and even export the routes to GPS. See more here: http://soleadventure.com/2012/02/how-to-add-topographic-maps-to-google-earth-2/
For more sophisticated computer users, there are several free GIS (Geographic Information Systems) programs (like GRASS GIS). GIS programs will display any kind of map data that you want–elevations, topo maps, property boundaries, etc. Almost all of that data, including topo maps at all scales, is available for free download.
Compared to Google Earth, with GIS you will have more control over displays, data, etc., but the learning curve can be steepish.Feb 13, 2013 at 11:08 am #1953965
Kyle MeyerBPL Member
@kylemeyerLocale: Portland, OR
Gmap4 and Hillmap are great tools for planning backcountry trips.
Alltrails is actually a venture-capital-backed ripoff of a site I built a few years ago, http://wenthiking.com/. The idea of the site is to allow people to write about their trips (on a trail or off), which then become searchable and indexed to build a catalogue of hikes. It might not be terribly useful for you though Trevor because there aren't many folks in the SW on the site yet.
Like most on this site, I rely on map and compass for offtrail travel instead of a GPS.
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