Mapping software is a handy tool for use in outdoor navigation. Gone are the days of spending hundreds of dollars for stacks of USGS topographic maps. Now, for a fraction of the cost of paper maps, you can own an entire state library of 1/24 or 1/100 scale topographic maps. The features are also a great tool in mapping software. You can print the map, annotate, convert to three dimensional (3d), plot waypoints and routes, do elevation profiles, and numerous other handy features. Most mapping software comes on compact discs and are used on your personal computer or laptop. Some software manufactures offer mapping applications on personal data assistants (PDA) or even cell phones.
There is some very expensive and sophisticated mapping software available both for personal and professional uses. However for general outdoor use, software like National Geographic Topo! and Maptech will to the trick.
Mapping Software and GPS Units
Being able to use your mapping software in tandem with your GPS unit is a very handy tool and can really enhance your outdoor navigation experience. To use mapping software on your GPS unit, make sure you understand the abilities of your unit and what type of mapping software works best with your particular unit.
Maps and charts that can be down-loaded to your GPS unit are only available from the GPS unit manufacturer. Maps downloaded from the manufacturer's software can be seen directly on the GPS unit screen. Examples of these types of software are Garmin Mapsource, and Magellan Mapsend.
There are several companies that also make mapping software that is GPS Compatible. GPS compatible means that you can use the mapping software on your PC to plot waypoints and routes and down-load them to your GPS unit. However, the maps on the software WILL NOT down-load and be seen on the unit's screen. With GPS Compatible software, only the waypoints and routes will be seen on the unit screen. Examples of these types of software are National Geographic Topo! and Maptech.
Several sites have on-line topographic maps.
Maptech Mapserver Free
Microsoft Terraserver Free
Google Earth Free
Mapquest Free street maps
Check this link (USGS) out for more sites that provide maps for a fee or are free.