Sunday, March 18, 2012

From the Mailbag

I occassionally get questions directed to my email, so today we inaugurate a new category…from the mailbag. The questions today come to us from Bill Macfarlane, a new geocacher who recently purchased a Magellan eXplorist 500.

"So far I have good luck with it, finding a few caches, but I really think I could be doing more. With this in mind I started to look at Magellan’s other offerings, Mapsend Directroute and Topo 3D, and trying to decide if they were worth the extra. I also have gone through many of the posts on Groundspeak regarding mapping which has added to my confusion…

…While Directroute seems simple enough to understand it usage, the whole sense of 3D mapping and Topo maps in conjunction with the GPSr still seems a mystery to me. Are these programs (Magellan Topo 3D, National Geographic TOPO, OziExplorer…etc) used to help your excursion into the great outdoors? Will they help me find trails that I might not know about in my area or perhaps rank them from a day trip with my Cub Scout group to the extreme hiker? Just where do these programs fit in?"

Read on for my answers…

These software programs are great for trip planning. Instead of manually entering coordinates for waypoints, you can simply click on the map to place one on your PC, prior to your trip. Waypoints, routes and tracks are then easily transferred to your GPS. You might want to mark the trailhead, trail junctions, peaks, campsites and the like prior to hitting the trail. And the more you look at maps, paper or electronic, the more things you’ll see; so yes, these products can help you spot trails. Some programs, like USA PhotoMaps or TopoFusion, also make it easy to switch between aerial photos and topos, and you may be able to spot new trails from these, depending upon the density of tree canopy.

I don’t find 3-D programs to be that useful for trip planning, but they do have the wow factor. They are especailly nice for downloading your track upon return, so that you can see it overlaid on a 3-D topo or aerial photo, to view where you were. Perhaps more useful for trip planning are programs that allow you to see an elevation profile of a particular trail. That can definitely give you some idea of the degree of difficulty in store for you.

The programs mentioned in your question fall into very different categories…

  • Magellan MapSend Topo 3D and MapSend DirectRoute are the only ones you can use to put maps onto the screen of your GPS receiver. If you have MapSend Topo, you can definitely utilize it on the trail. And since you bought a unit with mapping capability, I do suggest the purchase of this or DirectRoute. The latter will generate turn-by-turn directions in your car. Get a mouning bracket for your vehicle and you have a great auto navigation system at your fingertips.
  • OziExplorer comes with no maps. People generally download those from the Internet. This post on free topo maps should give you some insights into its capabilities.
  • National Geographic TOPO! is more user-friendly than Ozi, and its maps are seamless, another distinction. But beware; according to their website, TOPO! is not comaptible with your unit.

Another advantage of all these programs is their ability to maintain a record of where you’ve been. Upon return home, you can download to your PC the actual track that you took, along with waypoints of cool places you marked while in the field.

In conclusion, these programs dramatically expand what you can do with your GPSr. I hope this has helped answer some of your questions.

About Rich Owings

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

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