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What GPS map programs are people using? #4021
Back To Discussion List Written: 2013.06.20 by: Robin Tivy

I spent a day overhauling the Author's Resource List so that members wondering what maps to use on their GPS phones or Garmin GPS can see a quick summary of the choices.

What I would really like to know is which map packages are currently being used by certain Bivouac members. For example, I know that Bill Maurer is currently using the Osmand maps on his smart phone, and using an older set of contour data, because he found the new contour data too cumbersome.

And I know that Dieter Kepper just bought a copy of Backroads Mapbooks for Alberta, and is going to tell us his experience with that.

So what we want to hear from are some other people. If you are using a GPS map package with your smart phone or garmin device, can you make a posting to this discussion? This will be useful for all members, and I will use this as a means to further improve the Author's Resource descriptions.


#1842 - 2016.08.31 Robin Tivy - I now use Backcountry Navigator on Samsung Galaxy S4
Just to keep things up to date, both Betsy and I now use Backcountry Navigator on Samsung Galaxy S4 as our main GPS. I've also got Gaia and Backcountry navigator on the same phone, but I find Backcountry Navigator to be slightly better. Gaia seemed to have more potential, since you can click on trails or points and get descriptive information (which I put into the kml20 file), but there were a couple of small but important things which I was unable to get the developer to change. For example, the peak names are not labelled unless you touch them. And the track manager doesn't leave enough room for the road title. For a detailed comparison of Standard GPS Operations.

See also the discussion Buying a smartphone for GPS.

#1772 - 2014.01.17 Robert Ballantyne - MacGPSPro with ETopo maps and Google Maps
For years I've used MacGPS Pro for downloading and uploading data from/to my old Garmin etrex Summit. I have one of the early versions of the ETopo maps for South West British Columbia. The maps are supposed to be calibrated for use with MacGPS Pro, but I've found them so inaccurate that to be usable I need to recalibrate each (a pain). Recently I've needed to have better precision for a trails project on Bowen Island. The etrex works so poorly under the tree canopy, that I borrowed a Garmin 60CSX hoping that its prominent antenna meant that it could better see its birds. Where the etrex became lost, the 60C always delivered between 6 metre and 14 metre accuracy. For displaying the data and producing maps, I am learning to use the tools in Google Maps. Having created a map in Google Maps - complete with tracks and annotation, the file can be exported as a document using Google's Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and that can be uploaded to Google Earth. This combination of MacGPS Pro and Google Maps seems to work well.

#1711 - 2013.09.15 Robin Tivy - Currently using Backcountry Navigator on her Android phone
Here's my latest report on what we are using: The latest thing Betsy is using on her Galaxy S5 (Android phone) is an App called Backcountry Navigator. (See my separate entry for this in Authors Resources). The App costs $12.00, and then you download sections of the 1:50,000 raster maps. So far we have downloaded sections only 20 km wide or so. Raster maps use a lot of memory, so it's not practical to store huge areas such as all of Southwest BC permanently on your phone. But the maps sure look great! Of course, the road and trail data on those maps is often 30 years old or more. For trails, Betsy also has the Osmond (Open Street Map) GPS App that she used for cycle touring in Europe. But the basic maps have no contour data. Supposedly there is a way to get contour overlay, but it's tricky. Maurer has the contour layer on his Osmond maps, but he says the latest space shuttle dataset is too large, and it timed out when he tried to download. So he gave up and used the old dataset he had stashed. (which is no longer available).

Meanwhile my primary GPS device is still my Garmin Oregon GPS. I have two map packages on it, and switch back and forth in the field. I have Topo Canada maps ($99.00), and the Mussio Backroad GPS Map package ($150.00). These are both vector packages not raster, so the data is 10 times smaller. So it is practical to permanently store entire provinces or countries on the device. The Garmin Oregon 450T has all Canada preloaded. And with Mussio maps, I have all of BC on the GPS and don't have to fiddle uploading maps for every trip. The Mussio package has much more recent roads and trails. Especially the roads. The trails can often be in the wrong location, based on where the trail has always been marked on the map perhaps 30 years ago, and without a GPS. Eg: Two trips I recently did, the trails were way off: Pierce lake Trail and Memaloose Creek Trail. So you still have to upload key roads and trails from bivouac before a trip.

The biggest problem with Mussio is that contour lines are unreadable within parks. The parks are colored a dark green, and you can't see the contours. So within Manning Park last weekend, the Mussio package was not useful. I had to use the Topo Canada package. Maybe there's something I don't know. I'll mention this problem to Mussio, and maybe he'll fix it next edition.

Why do I still use a Garmin GPS? One reason is because of the batteries. It uses two rechargable AA batteries, and they last for more than 16 hours, (2 days) in continuous use. So I can easily make weekend track logs without even changing the batteries. Whereas the smart phones have a more limited battery life. With the Galaxy S5, you could buy a spare battery, and easily change it in the field. You can pull the battery out just by popping the back off, which we just did.

I suspect the Garmin has better reception. Eg: Last weekend, it took a really long time for the Galaxy to locate itself in Memaloose creek, whereas the Garmin was tracking all the time. And the Garmin has a built in barometric altimeter, so track log elevations are much more accurate.

#1710 - 2013.09.15 Konstantine Tcherenkov - Use free maps only
I use Northwest Topo and Ibycus Topo on my Oregon 550.

For European trips, I highly recommend Reit- und Wandercarte (, which is fully compatible with Garmin units and BaseCamp software. It proved to be indispensable on my 2-week alpine trek in Italy's Monti Sibillini and Gran Sasso parks.

Recently, I pre-ordered Earl tablet (, it would be interesting to compare maps on Earl with existing Garmin maps.

#1708 - 2013.09.12 Doug Hoffart - Garmin GPSMAP 62 sc with Backroads Maps - BC edition
I've switched from Garmin Topo maps Canada to the far more detailed and frequently revised Backroad Maps - BC coverage. Been very happy with them; they include many/most of the most popular hiking trails as waypoints too.

Highly recommended (and I'm not connected with the company in any way, just to clarify).

The Garmin 62sc has a 5 Mp camera in it too, and automatically geo-tags any photos you take, although photo quality is so-so compared to my pro Nikon cameras.

#1691 - 2013.06.29 Scott Webster - Still just getting UTM coordinates and using paper maps - Dark ages
I'm still living pretty much in the dark ages... My gps just tells me my utm coordinates and I look at a paper map. I don't often take my smartphone in the backcountry. I have tried using it with maps a while ago but didn't find a solution that seemed easy enough. Things may have improved by now though...

#1690 - 2013.06.20 Glenn Woodsworth - Garmin Topo Canada package
I use the Garmin Topo Canada package on my Garmin GPS. I also use it on my laptop. I have a smartphone and a tablet (both Android) but don't use the mapping packages on them.

#1689 - 2013.06.20 Scott Nelson - Ibycus and Google earth
I use Ibycus topos maps on my Garmin GPS and Google Earth at home.

#1688 - 2013.06.20 Betsy Waddington - Using Osmand on Galaxy S4
Betsy has a Samsung Galaxy S4 and so far the only GPS map package she is using is Osmand. She is only using the street maps, not the contour maps. Installed it directly using WiFi connection. Then installed about 10 maps, including BC and also some of Europe. It was a bit tricky to figure out how to actually select the map you wanted to look at. Also there was a trick to getting the GPS working, but once it was turned on, it works well enough.

#1687 - 2013.06.20 Robin Tivy - I use the Garmin "Topo Canada" package
I use the Garmin "Topo Canada" package, which I bought several years ago for 99.00 and I keep using it on my newer units. I don't have a smart phone, but have several Garmin GPS units such as Garmin Oregon 450. It took a bit of configuration to make the contours really clear, such as turning off the stupid topo shading feature, but then the contours are really clear. When I was loading the maps from my PC to the GPS, I used the Garmin MapSource program. Currently I permanently leave all of southern BC and the Rockies on my device.

I do lots of trips with people who have smart phones. The contours on my Garmin are clearer and easier to read, especially in bright sun. The road information on Topo Canada is just based on the 1:50K maps, and so it is fairly out of date. The "open street maps" trails which are built into packages like Osmand have more up to date roads and trails, especially in heavily used areas like around Vancouver. However, the fact that my Topo Canada doesn't have the latest roads doesn't bother me because I usually load the Bivouac roads and trails onto my GPS before each trip. I do this by uploading the bivouac .gpx file from the Guidebook function. There are typically 30 or 40 roads in an area, and each becomes a "track log". Then I usually only turn on the exact road we are following. I usually have looked at the satellite view of the road in advance at home on my computer, so in the field it is just a matter of knowing if we are still on it.

If I'm in the car, and trying to navigate on the highway, I just use the built in roads.

I also loaded free maps from the state of Washington onto my GPS, and have used the 1:24000 scale for US trips, such as our Pasayten trip. They tend to have all the trails on their maps, although as usual, some of them no longer exist.

#1686 - 2013.06.20 Steve Grant - ViewRanger, Nokia Maps, Google Earth, TrekBuddy
I have four gps/mapping apps on my phone.

I use ViewRanger for most backcountry travel, since it has a variety of types of mapsets including satellite views, and has so many user-configuration options that I'll never figure out a fraction of them.

I tend to use Nokia Maps for city use because it includes a voice-prompt street navigation feature. It also has a satellite view that isn't the same as ViewRanger's.

Google Earth is useful while in connection range because it has Street View. Google Earth has a basic gps function and while online stores both street maps and satellite views locally for later use offline.

And I ported TrekBuddy over from my Garmin GPS, with Ibycus maps. I don't use it much any more since it's technically challenging to process maps into it.