GPS Software Guide

Reviews and Recommendations for GPS Mapping and Support Software

I won't tell you which GPS mapping software is the best. I won't grade or provide ratings for the packages. These choices are highly dependent upon your needs and requirements. But I can and will provide you software recommendations based upon popular product features which may be important to you.

EasyGPS

You can use the free EasyGPS by TopoGrafix to upload, download and manage waypoints and routes on your GPS in GPX format. EasyGPS provides support for multiple GPS platforms which is a huge plus. Currently, Brunton, Eagle, Lowrance, Magellan, MLR and Silva GPSs are supported.

GPX or GPS eXchange format is an open XML data format developed for the interchange of GPS data between applications and Internet services. The open file format is big advantage; it provides a conduit to share your GPS waypoints, routes, and tracks between software packages and websites which support GPX.

Cartography is provided via the web and includes support for both topographic mapping and an aerial photographic viewing of your waypoints and routes. The EasyGPS version is crippled, however, in that random map grids are omitted thus giving your maps the "jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone" look.

Another limitation in the free version is that it will not read GPS tracks from my Garmin eTrex Vista. TopoGrafix software, including the premium ExpertGPS, handles routes and tracks the same internally. Since the eTrex Vista and other GPSs support fewer route points than track points, you won't be able to micro-navigate the trail as closely. I actually prefer to use routes on trails I've been on, but a track is best for navigating a trail for the first time.

All in all, this is a terrific piece of software which TopoGrafix has made available free. Obviously they want you to buy their premium version, but there isn't anything else out there that provides multi-platform support and cartography for your GPS without costing you a dime!

ExpertGPS

ExpertGPS is TopoGrafix's premium version of EasyGPS with expanded capabilities. It has all the features of EasyGPS without the hobbles AND can read tracks from my Garmin eTrex Vista. I absolutely love being able to switch between the topo and aerial views. The two coordinated views provide visualization of the terrain that cannot be obtained with either view separately. Priced at $59.95, it's an exceptional value. However, if you still live in the prehistoric era and don't have a broadband Internet connection, new maps will load slowly -- you may be better off using a CD-ROM based cartography product.

MapSource

MapSource is Garmin's PC interface software and is, according to Garmin, "compatible with all Garmin GPS systems except the GPS 100 family of products and panel mount aviation units." With it, you can upload, download and manage maps, waypoints, routes and tracks AND keep your GPS software up to date. Without it...I don't even want to think about it.

MapSource also provides the engine for Garmin's cartography products. I highly recommend the United States Roads and Recreation package. Given the list price of $116.65, it's not cheap, but it is worth it. Many of Garmin's GPS units come loaded with a U.S. base map containing major roads and highways, but with the Roads and Rec, you can download all the highways and byways you would ever care to visit. It even has names to many roads that don't have street signs. The data is so detailed, it even shows my Dad's driveway on his farm in Minnesota. One caveat though, newer roads or construction modifications are not shown. As an example, we live in a new development -- the Roads and Recreation CD does not contain the roads in our three year old neighborhood.

If you are looking for topography software, consider Garmin's United States TOPO CD-ROM. This CD contains topographic maps for the entire U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii). You can overlay your GPS tracks onto topographical maps on your computer or download the topo data to your GPS. The contour lines take up a lot of memory even though the scale is large (1:100,000), so you want be able to download data for as much area compared to road and feature based formats.

eTrex Mountain Bikerís Flavor

If you have a Garmin eTrex GPS and would like some MTB specific screens and symbols, try downloading the Ido Bar-Tana's eTrex Mountain Bikerís Flavor to your GPS. A word of caution though, this is an unofficial user's hack of the eTrex firmware version 2.11 (as of this writing, Garmin's current firmware version for the eTrex Vista is 3.50 released October 2, 2003). The idea is intriguing, but I've been hesitant to try it. If YOU do, please be sure and let me know how it worked!

Topo USA

Topo USA is a full featured topographical mapping program by Delorme. I have not used this product myself, but here is a good Review of Topo USA 4.0 from the editors at Amazon.com.

For step by step instructions on producing your own maps using Topo USA software, see Wavelength Studios How To Make Mountain Bike Track GPS Maps tutorial.

Wissenbach Map3D

Dave Wissenbach is an Idaho software engineer who has written his own mapping program. WissenbachMap3D is a 3D GPS Mapping and Terrain Visualization software package.

While I have only performed a preliminary assessment of the program at this juncture, I am impressed. In addition to providing track overlays common to GPS software, e.g., topographical overlay, Dave provides a view which I had not seen in any other GPS mapping package -- a triple overlay view of your GPS track with the corresponding colorized Terraserver aerial photo and the USGS digital elevation model data.

That is a mouthful, but basically what you see is your GPS bread crumb trail superimposed onto a virtual picture of the vegetation and terrain (topography). You'll "see" what you hiked or biked! Not impressed? Look at this view of the Yosemite Falls Trail.

You want to know how much this futuristic power is going to cost you. I know you do. Nothing, natta, zip. You can even download the source code for free under the terms of the GNU General Public License and play with it to your heart's content. You gotta try it, what do you have to lose?


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Last modified 21-October-2005.