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Old 05-06-2017, 10:13 AM   #1
EagleCrag
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Topo Map Software

I'm looking to purchase some topo software for my computer and am seeking advice on what the latest and greatest software might be. I have done searches of previous threads but suspect some of the advice therein is dated. Any suggestions or recommendations? I'm also considering purchase of a GPS and am wondering if the maps that come with that is fully downloadable to my computer as well as the GPS.
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Old 05-06-2017, 10:49 AM   #2
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There's no need to buy topo software for your PC. A large selection of maps is freely available online along with capable online applications (that run in your browser).

I suggest you explore the capabilities of http://caltopo.com (free and paid accounts available). Browse through its many features and maps (topographic and aerial). You may discover it is all you need.

Garmin has the majority of the market for consumer GPS receivers. Its devices work with either its online Garmin Connect service or with Basecamp (PC based software). Garmin sells maps that work exclusively with their products using a proprietary map format. However, the format has been reverse-engineered (mostly but not entirely) and so you can download free maps that work with Garmin products from places like https://www.gpsfiledepot.com/. However, the breadth of available free maps, in this format, is limited.

A competent alternative to purpose-built GPS receivers is the ubiquitous smartphone. You may wish to read this thread where I suggested to buy a used smartphone instead of a dedicated GPS receiver (like the Garmin etrex or GPSMAP series). The navigation apps available for smartphones are far more sophisticated (and flexible) than what you get in an etrex or even a GPSMAP device.
http://www.adkforum.com/showthread.php?t=23768
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Old 05-06-2017, 11:19 AM   #3
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I purchased a Garmin Etrex 20 for last year's Adirondack Trail Ride. What I immediately found was that the 100k included maps were so-so... I bought the 24k Northeast and I think these are much better... So what I like is that I have Garmin Basecamp on my Mac and then I overlay the 24K from my Etrex and have the same maps loaded at home as when in the woods.
For me this was the easiest and cheapest (even though I bought the 24K) way to go.
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Old 05-06-2017, 11:34 AM   #4
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For driving and paddling, activities where roads and waterways don't change (much), Garmin's 24K Northeast maps are fine.

For trails ... no. About as good as using USGS 7.5' Topo and that's not saying much (trails surveyed decades ago). You can get free versions of NY or Northeast US from gps filedepot that are equal to or better than Garmin's paid version.
https://www.gpsfiledepot.com/maps/state/ny

You can also download a free Garmin-compatible version of OpenStreetMap (OSM). OSM is the "Wikipedia of maps" where the general public can contribute to the map's content. The result is a "living map" with greater accuracy ... but only where people bother to contribute.
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Old 05-06-2017, 11:43 AM   #5
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Hey TB,
Now I'm confused... is the 100K better than the 24K? Maybe I have them backwards...
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Old 05-06-2017, 12:05 PM   #6
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No, your first thought is right. A map drawn at 1:100000 scale (1 inch = 1.6 miles) will show less detail than at 1:24000 (1 inch = 2000 feet).

Map scales: http://www.library.illinois.edu/max/...phic_maps.html

Old discussion about Garmin's 100K and 24 K maps:
http://forums.groundspeak.com/GC/ind...owtopic=226325
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Old 05-07-2017, 08:20 AM   #7
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I'm not a fan of using my smartphone for GPS. Admittedly, I do have Gaia on it, and the screen size can't be beat, but always reach for my GPS.

At least with my phone, the battery drains very quickly. There are alternate solutions but my eTrex 30 will last forever with two fresh and two extra batteries.
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Old 05-07-2017, 09:58 AM   #8
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FWIW, if you're accustomed to carrying spare batteries , you can bring an external battery pack (USB connection) for your phone. They're​ so ubiquitous nowadays that they're even sold at the dollar store. I saw a 2800 mAh battery for CDN$4. Amazon sells a broad range of capacities, even 20 and 30 thousand mAh, for a few bucks. That's enough to recharge the average phone several times.
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Old 05-07-2017, 07:07 PM   #9
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THanks for the info Trail Boss and Rio. I have one question about the use of cell phones for GPS when hiking. They require line of sight to a tower to function and I find big gaps in coverage all over the Adirondacks. A GPS utilizes satellites which provide much better coverage I believe. I'm interested in your comments/experience regarding coverage.
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Old 05-07-2017, 08:08 PM   #10
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You're right on both counts. Cellular coverage can be spotty (or worse) in the Adirondacks and GPS uses a different system that has much broader coverage.

When hiking, I never count on getting a phone signal. In fact, I usually disable the phone's cellular radio to reduce battery consumption. Apologies if you know this already but this mode of operation is typically called "airplane mode" because it disables the phone's wireless radios (cellular and Wi-Fi) to comply with regulations aboard an aircraft. Funnily enough "airplane mode" doesn't automatically disable the GPS receiver (or the Bluetooth transceiver).

Signal strength for GPS is usually fine but it's possible to temporarily degrade or outright lose the connection or, to use the right lingo, lose "GPS fix". If you're in a canyon or in very dense woods (bushwhacking in spruce hell) or if you buried the phone at the bottom of your pack, the GPS receiver might calculate a position that's less accurate than normal (like indicate your location is tens of yards from where you really are) or tell you nothing at all because it has lost GPS fix.

Here's a perfect example of what I mean: Rainbow Falls is in a deep gorge on the Ausable Mountain Reserve. You walk upstream into the gorge to observe the falls. I've seen several GPS tracks showing hikers as having climbed up the northern side of the gorge and standing at about 50' from where they actually were, the bottom of the gorge. Why? Because the GPS signal got muddled in the bottom of the canyon and the receiver calculated an incorrect position. To be fair, that gorge represents "extremely unfriendly GPS conditions" and typical Adirondack hiking conditions aren't nearly as challenging.

I've had my phone lose GPS fix once (once in dozens of trips). When recording a track, it appears as a straight line where you know the trail is anything but straight. That's because it only recorded the two ends of the line and everything in between the two was not recorded. Full disclosure: I also own an old Garmin Rino 530 HCx and it also lost GPX fix (twice) and I had to reboot it to get it to work again. All this to say, it happens (but not often enough to be a problem).

I've used my phone's GPS in gawd-awful conditions and it worked splendidly. However, I don't want to generalize and claim all phones are fantastic GPS navigators. That's like driving one model of car and then claiming all cars are equally impressive. I just know I don't own a lemon.

Having said all this, I do want to say a few words about a phone's drawbacks. Phones are tough but not nearly as rugged as purpose-built GPS receivers which are rugged by design. They're shockproof, waterproof, come with big buttons that can be used with gloves, and have larger antennas. They're built to survive the outdoors whereas phones are designed to survive ... being sat on.
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Old 05-08-2017, 09:15 PM   #11
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Thanks Boss, your comments are much appreciated.
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