Saturday, April 10, 2010

Buying Maps

If you hike, fish, hunt or just like walking in the outdoors, topographic maps are your ticket to finding great places.  In the past, you had to buy these maps individually at outdoor stores and they were pretty pricey.  Now in the computer age, maps are relatively easy to generate and the cost has gone down.  The National Geographic society has taken the public domain maps produced by the United States Geological Survey and put them in an easy to use program.  These are available for each state.  Still expensive, for covering the west but much cheaper than those old paper maps.

For those of you not needing that kind of detail in a map, I recommend the Back Roads Explorer program by National Geographic.  I have.  I know the Amazon reviews were not too flattering, but I have not had issues with the program.  It is a smaller scale than the state series and users were disappointed.  But, if you do not need the level of detail provided in the state series this is a good compromise.

With both products you can attach a GPS unit and it will give you current location.  This is really handy for traveling back roads.  Mapping is good in some areas and rather poor in others.  It appears that they used the Census maps plus some other sources.  Just be careful when traveling out on the backroads.  NEVER substitute your own judgement for what you see on a map!! 

The National Geographic map series appears to be on the verge of being discontinued.  There are rumors that National Geographic will start selling maps individually.  EXPENSIVE.  Anyway, I am sure that someone will repackage the topographic maps into a computer program.  Hopefully, it will be as easy to use as the Topo! programs.

The other big player in computer maps is DeLorme Company.  This is their national edition.  They also split this program into a Western and Eastern US edition.  It appears this map series is based on the DeLorme  Gazetteer paper maps.  So they offer the entire country in a computer program.

Again, you can connect a GPS unit to these computer programs.  I do not like the DeLorme interface, mileage information was often inaccurate.  The National Geographic interface is much simpler and easier to learn.  However, this is the lastest version from DeLorme; and it looks like National Geographic is exiting the field!

Of course, I can't forget paper maps.  Well, you can buy the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for each state.  These appear to be based on the Census maps.  Great detail in rural areas, very poor detail on National Forest and BLM lands.  Many people carry these.  They are handy in areas of public land that are intermixed with rural areas.  Benchmark Press also makes a similar series of maps.  Take a look at both and see which you prefer.

Ok, so now we are down to Forest Service maps.  You can purchase these from various stores or on-line at Amazon.  Our recommendation is that you buy them from the Ranger Stations or Supervisor's Offices.  The prices are generally better, they carry the Firemen's maps, if available, and you can ask questions and pick up brochures.

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