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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Garmin TOPO US 24K review

Garmin TOPO US 24KGarmin recently finished rolling out their new TOPO US 24K map sets. They are available as downloads and on micro-SD cards, with larger regions available on DVD. All three formats can be purchased directly from Garmin as well as various retailers. The new product offers several advantages including routable trails and detailed highway coverage, and the DVD and micro-SD formats are not locked to a single device, so you can still use them if you buy a new unit.

Let’s go over the different features, one by one:

Accurate and routable roads

Strangely enough for a topo product, this is one of the best reasons to buy TOPO US 24K. Garmin’s 1:100,000 scale topo products utilize TIGER data for roads, which are almost invariably off from the road’s true location. People look at their unit and think it’s a GPS accuracy issue, but it’s just that the road is misplaced on the map. TOPO US 24K maps use the more accurate NAVTEQ road data however, just like Garmin nuvis. So that’s one point in its favor.

The other is that these roads are routable. This means that if you have a waypoint for a trailhead, you can mount the GPS receiver on your dash and get turn-by-turn directions on compatible Garmin handhelds (as shown at right). Sure, you won’t hear audible directions, but you don’t have to transfer waypoints to a second device (like a nuvi) just to navigate to the trailhead. Life just got simpler.

More detailed contour maps

The TOPO US 24K maps give you greater detail, with more closely spaced contours. In the images below, a 100K scale Garmin map is shown at top, with TOPO US 24K below it. In this case, common in the eastern US, the 24K map shows 40’ contour intervals vs. 100’ for the 100K scale map. Still, with plenty of free topos at GPS File Depot, this just doesn’t rank as a reason to buy Garmin’s product.

Topo 100k detail

Topo 24K detail

Trails coverage

Many people have reported that there is less trail coverage in Garmin’s 24K maps than their 100K products, and I have found this to be the case in spot checks of various areas. Indeed, you can see it in the images above. But truth be known, both products are really bad. Those screenshots above? The Appalachian Trail runs that ridge, but it’s missing from both Garmin mapsets! The surest way to get good trail coverage is to download a .gpx file from a trusted source, but another good  option is Jim Bensman’s free MyTrails map (or NW Trails if you live in the Pacific Northwest).

Routable trails

The one thing trailwise that TOPO US 24K has going for it is that the trails are routable. But if you load .gpx tracks onto a newer Garmin handheld, the advanced track navigation feature offers many of the advantages of routable trails. And since many trails are missing, this feature isn’t nearly as useful as it could be.

Unlocked maps

The DVD and micro-SD TOPO US 24K products are not locked to a single device, allowing you to move maps with routable roads from one Garmin handheld to another (downloads are locked to a single device). Now I know most readers probably don’t own an entire stable of GPS receivers, but many of you do upgrade from time to time. And it’s very nice to be able to use them on your new toy tool.

Points of Interest (POI) comparison

In my testing, the POIs (and number of POIs) in this product were comparable to those found in Garmin’s City Navigator product.

Don’t confuse with US TOPO 24K National Parks

The older National Parks series maps have very limited coverage.

Other Garmin TOPO US 24K resources

  • The official Garmin TOPO US 24K Web page lists all the products (states and regions) in this series

Compare prices on the Garmin TOPO US 24K at these merchants:


About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.

Comments

  1. How do these maps compare with the Free maps that are available, for the following:

    Backroads coverage?

    Land Ownership (Forrest, BLM, State, Private etc)

    Stream data?

    back country POIs etc?

    Are there business POIs like in the City Navigator maps?

    thanks

    • Bob, I posted some comparative screenshots with City Navigator here: http://forums.gpsfiledepot.com/index.php/topic,1844.0.html

      I am one of the authors of the free maps at GPSFiledepot, and it’s pointless to attempt to compare them with Garmin’s products. The free maps are created by many different people who have varying levels of experience, different goals and using different datasets. Since they’re free, the best way to compare is to just download the ones that interest you and decide for yourself. Of course, my own maps are better than Garmin’s ;) http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/maps/byuser/282/

      You also need to understand that Garmin considers their map format proprietary and has never disclosed it. They will not provide any support for third party maps, but will help if you have problems with their own products.

      The free maps are made with third party tools that have reverse-engineered the Garmin format. There are some things which we haven’t figured out, such as how Garmin uses DEM (digital elevation model)data. This data provides shaded terrain and 3d views in real Garmin maps, and can add elevation data to tracks.

      • I’ll echo what Boyd says. The free maps are too variable to make a sweeping statement. But to answer your POI question, in my spot check, both products basically had the same commercial POIs, with only minor differences.

  2. One of the nicest things about the TOPO24K series (I have the Pacific Coast DVD) and that you didn’t mention in the review is that it has elevation data in it. This is somewhat useful in the field (seeing elevation plots of ‘what’s coming up’ for track navigation, terrain shading) but really comes into its own if you’re using Garmin’s BaseCamp desktop software, where the 3-D visualization you get is not just pretty, it’s actually useful. The combination of features (good detail, elevation data, routable roads and trails) has turned BaseCamp from an aside into a useful trip planning tool, at least for my hiking trips.

    • One thing I forgot to mention is that the maps are viewable in BaseCamp, so far as I know, ONLY with the DVD format (you might be able to use the micro-SD card form if you hook up the GPS to the computer).

      • You should be able to put the card in a USB reader and view the maps in Basecamp. I do this all the time with the Northeast 24k topo. I gather that there might be some bugs in a couple of the maps in the series which cause problems with this (think it was discussed in Garmin’s support forum), but I think they’re working to fix this.

        Either way, the GPS is not needed by Basecamp, just the map card, or a copy of the map card on a USB thumb drive or other removable media.

    • Doh! Right you are. I don’t use the 3D view much, but I definitely refer to the elevation plot. And topo shading can be helpful, especially on bright units like the 62s.

  3. Look forward to a comparison with Delorme.

    • The Garmin programs that manage transferring maps and data sure seem a lot easier to use, but DeLorme’s Topo USA has some advanced features not found in the Garmin product, like adding routable trails and roads.

  4. Jason Chiu says:

    Previouly Topo 24K DVD has locked on one device. Does Garmin change its policy on the new version? I cannot seem to find related info on its web pages.

    • To my knowledge none of Garmins Topo DVD’s have ever been locked to a single unit, and I’ve owned every topo version since the first ones came out way back when. Are you thinking of the SD card version?

      • Jason Chiu says:

        My understanding is that the newest and previous version of US Topo 24K DVD contain Navteq data so it is locked to only one device. Would you please verify whether your TOPO DVD has the Navteq data? US Topo 100K and US National Parks 24K have no Navteq data can can be loaded into multiple devices.

  5. I can verify that I’ve been able to load the Garmin 24K maps to both my 62s and Oregon 450.

  6. Yes, the NAVTEQ logo is on my DVD package and I have it loaded on two devices. I’ve never been prompted for an unlock code. I was surprised too when this came out, but I have confirmed that it is unlocked.

    • Jason Chiu says:

      Rich,

      Thanks for your information. It’s glad to know I can now buy US TOPO 24K DVD for my fleet of Garmin GPS.

      Thanks!

      Jason

      • Glad to help. If you get it, please come back and let us know what you think.

        • Jason Chiu says:

          I double check with Garmin and confirm that TOPO USA DVD is not locked. However, it seems Amazon still doesn’t have the latest version yet. Need to wait a while, I guess.

          Thank you for contacting Garmin International.

          Topo software on DVD is not a locked map product and can therefore be installed to multiple Garmin devices.

          With Best Regards,

          Robert G
          Outdoor/Fitness Specialist
          Outdoor/Fitness Team
          Garmin International

          • Which region/states can’t you find at Amazon?

          • Note that TOPO USA is a 100K map product and *doesn’t* have routable roads. For routable roads you want the TOPO 24K products, which are just a few states at a time.

  7. I have had pretty good luck with the free maps from GPSfile. I wish I could say the same for Garmin. I purchased the Topo U.S. 24K South Central for my Oregon 450 about two weeks ago. I looks great on my computer, but when I load it into my handheld it only displays water and a tan background. No map data,roads or countours. I contacted Garmin Support and they have been great, the only problem is that I have e-mailed them every day for the last two weeks and nothing they recommend seems to work. I have called numerous times and spent many hours on the phone with them. Had I known that it was going to be this much of a pain I would have saved my $135.00 and stuck with the free maps.

    • There is a bug (or is it a “feature”?) on the new models related to the profile setting. Try changing your profile to recreational on the Oregon. If it is already set to recreational, change it to something else and then change it back to recreational. If this doesn’t work, try resetting the recreational profile to the default.

      The problem you describe sounds like this bug to me.

  8. Curtis Moore says:

    Do I understand this correctly; For Garmin GPS units such as the Oregon 450 the only TOPO software that can be installed has to be a Garmin product such as this Garmin TOPO US 24K? For instance you could not use a product from DeLorme or National Geographic or others? The only other way would be to utilize the Custom Maps application. I have used GPS Depot however, they are limited to some of the areas I am interested in.

    • Correct. Only maps in the Garmin format can be used. DeLorme and NG Topo don’t offer this format. You can however use many mapping programs to transfer waypoints, tracks and/or routes to a Garmin device.

      • Curtis Moore says:

        Thank You. When you transfer waypoints or tracks/routes from a mapping program is the accuracy reasonable? Meaning you will have to deal with the accuracy of the mapping program then again when transfered to the GPS unit and its accuracy….do you think the way point could be off by greater than 30 feet?

        Also, do you think this 24K TOPO will greatly enhance my GPS hiking experience when I am using overlays/transparent hiking trails, as opposed to my current 100K TOPO being used on my GPS?

        Thanks Again. This is by far the best GPS website for information.

  9. Well there’s no way around “garbage in, garbage out”. :) If you’re using a map application on your computer, and it has inaccurate data, then that’s what you will transfer to the GPS. Yes, it would not be at all unusual to be off by more than 30 feet. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to be off by more than 100 feet. Not unusual for roads to be off by 300 feet on Garmin’s 100k topo’s.

    I make maps and think about these resolution issues a lot. Here’s a section of a USGS 100k topo. There’s a 30 foot x 30 foot pink square on it, but don’t bother looking because it’s too small to see:

    http://stephencreek.com/gps/100000.png

    This is the USGS 24k topo of the same area, but you still aren’t likely to notice the 30 foot square.

    http://stephencreek.com/gps/24000.png

    If we zoom in to 3k resolution (8x the resolution of the 24k map), the square is noticeable.

    http://stephencreek.com/gps/3000.png

    Maybe this will help put things into perspective – 30 feet is like a “rounding error” on a 24k map. And it’s also similar to the typical accuracy of your GPS.

    You might want to look at Birdseye imagery. It is typically about 2 feet per pixel resolution. So a 30 foot square would be about 15 pixels x 15 pixels when viewed full scale.

    Also might think about the Birdseye USGS topo subscription since that should cover the whole US at 24k, but as raster images (like my examples) and not Garmin vector maps.

    Also note that Garmin’s vector map format (like the 24k topo products discussed in Rich’s review) is inherently limited by the use of 24 bit coordinates which only provide about 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) of accuracy. Birdseye and custom maps don’t have this limitation.

  10. Great comments from Boyd. I’ll add a couple of other things. There are some great free 24K maps available at http://gpsfiledepot.com. I’d try those before going for the Garmin product.

    Also, I often mark waypoints on mapping software and transfer them to my device. In the field, I make good use of Garmin’s Reposition Here feature (available in each waypoint’s menu). That way I have an estimate of where the feature is before going out, but then I correct the placement in the field.

  11. Curtis Moore says:

    Thanks Boyd, very good information and explanation I will definately look for your maps on “GPSFileDepot”. Plus I think I am going to pass on the Garmin TOPO 24K and look into the new “BirdsEye Topo” product.

    Rich thanks for the repositioning tip, simple but, I honestly do not know if I would have thought of it. In the past I have repositioned trail heads, parked cars and geological features & vistas, But not tracking/route waypoints regularly.

    Thanks to both of you for all your help.

  12. Reviving an old thread. As the NG TOPO! maps don’t work correctly on the newest Macs, I’m thinking of switching to the Garmin 24K. It looks like the CD version will work with multiple Garin GPS units, but I’m more curious about installing on computers. Can you install on two machines? I need it on my desktop for when I’m at home, and my Macbook Air when I travel. Is this possible? Or is the activation code locked to one computer?

    Thanks,

    James

  13. I purchased the Topo U.S. 24k Southwest map for our Garmin Nuvi in Jan 2013, it did not come with any instructions on how to load or find the trails. I spent several hours on the phone with Garmin and several e-mails to the point I just gave up. We did buy a Sim card and got the maps loaded that placed it in the Garmin, I have the Topo U.S. 24k Southwest checked, but still it does not bring up any trails or maps. Is there any thing out there that tells you how to find the trails on your Garmin? We tried typing in the trail names and nothing comes up. I am very disappointed in this product.

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