GPS and topographical map software- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    GPS and topographical map software

    I have recently gotten involved in laying out new trails for a couple of local trail organizations. Designing good trail routes involves a lot of stumbling around in the woods, especially if trees or brush limit visability. I am beginning to think that using GPS and mapping software would make this process quicker and easier. I could layout the trail on a map, plot the waypoints into the GPS unit and take it into the woods. As I found negative and positive control points I could capture them as new waypoints and plot them on the map. A couple of cycles of map waypoints and then on-the-ground waypoints and I would have a good route.

    I have been researching GPS units and mapping software but I am not finding what I was hoping for. The Garmin GPS units look good, especially the ones with digital compass and altimeter, but they only seem to work best with Garmin MapSource maps. However, the MapSource Topo maps that are currently available for Arizona have insufficient detail (160 ft contour lines??). The National Geographic TOPO maps seem to have sufficient detail but do not work seemlessly with Garmin units when it comes to loading waypoints back and forth.

    Any suggestions for a GPS unit and mapping software combination?
    Thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Masher
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    I'm a little biased because I work there (not on this specific product), but you should take a look at the DeLorme PN-20 device... The word is that our map data detail is better than any of them, and we include the map data with the device purchase. You can also view this TOPO detail on the PN-20, along with sat imagery, aerial imagery, and now NOAA charts (all with draw layers overlayed). On our website we have user forums (most others don't) which may help you decide based on comments. We even let users submit data corrections.

    All I'll add is that I've used the device for exactly that purpose to map our local state park, and every trail intersection now has a map placard based on this work: http://bradburymountain.com/page.cfm?pageID=53

    If you want to preview some of the map data (no contours) look at www.eartha.com

  3. #3
    Prez NMBA
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    I dont work for anybody related to the gps industry, but I would agree the the DeLorme stuff is the best with regards to mapping software but the etrex is the best for on bike usage. So if you dont actually plan on riding with the gps unit and can afford the Delorme unit, consider all costs including mapping software, thats what I would suggest, Delorme. Keep in mind that you can use the data from a garmin GPS, in .gpx form, on other mapping software and as long as the software will export in .gpx, which most do, you can go the other way as well, but that is just the route/waypoint, not the background map. but that would involve buying two mapping programs.

  4. #4
    Almost Human
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    GPS doesn't work very well in the trees unless you have a high dollar system with a fixed remote receiver that you can set out in the open.

    You'll want a DGPS (differential GPS) system if your looking for accuracy. Try Trimble, they have some fairly inexpensive post processed recievers. Sometimes you can find a used one on Ebay.
    http://trimble.com/mgis.shtml

    For contours you might try your local government GIS office, assessors office, or local utlity company. You'll want something in the 5' or below range. The USGS stuff isn't very good. Just my opinion. You're looking for something generated from lidar data.

    http://www.gis.iastate.edu/

  5. #5
    Masher
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    GPS doesn't work very well in the trees unless you have a high dollar system with a fixed remote receiver that you can set out in the open.
    Well, thats not exactly true. Modern GPS receiver chips are very sensitive compared to what you could get even 5-10 years ago so this is less of an issue today.

    When mapping trails it really isn't that critical that you get the track EXACTLY aligned with the actual trail. Does it matter that there are 57 tight turns on a trail, or is it more important to know where the trail starts and ends, how long and what the difficulty rating is? We spent much more time making sure we had the trail intersections as accurate as possible (even georeferencing them to the imagery where possible).

    Sure - in the woods with a diminished signal the accuracy isn't as good as with a clear sky view, but If you think about what you are trying to accomplish I think you will find a consumer handheld will provide the accuracy you need. Do you need 5cm accuracy, or is 20 meters good enough? Reality is that planning trails on the desktop is a great way to start, but in the woods you will need to reroute to accommodate terrain features like blowdowns, cliffs, giant boulders, etc. anyway.

  6. #6
    Who turned out the lights
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    Gotta agree with Fishbum here. The 10' contours on a USGS quad are sufficient for telling you where your ridgelines and valleys are. That's primarily what you want it for, along with knowing where you're starting and ending.

    I have an older Garmin GPS V that I got free from a friend. I have used it and a Garmin Etrex to lay out and map 10 miles of trails in the Missouri Ozarks. This "consumer-grade" gps equipment works just fine for the level of detail needed in laying out mountain bike/hiking trails. It's not like you're surveying an alignment for a contractor to build and need everything within 0.5".

    I use a freeware program called USA Photomaps that works well with my GPS V. It pulls down USGS quad maps and aerial photos and tiles them together. I can download tracks and/or waypoints both directions. I recently went down to "my" trail to get an idea of what work we need to do for an upcoming winter workday (it's 3 hours from my house, so I'm not there very often). I transferred locations of requested work by the park naturalist from USAPM to my GPS V and started walking the trail. I then logged in additional waypoints for logs/trees that needed cutting out and other misc. work items. Easily downloaded all the waypoints (old and new) and the tracks to USA PM and generated some quickie workday maps for myself.

    For "fancier" official type maps, I can use any of a number of more expensive programs that I have available to me at work (Photoshop, Corel Draw, AutoCad, ArcMap). At least one of the "fancy" progams would be helpful in making "professional" looking maps for public distribution.

    It can be a bit of a trial and error process to determine what you like, but these are some additional options to consider.

  7. #7
    The Voice of Reason
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    i'm super lucky in that i do autocad for a civil engineering firm. i got gis maps from the county for parcels, contours wetlands, etc. and put them in my cad drawing. then i made a 3d map of the area. then i sketched the trail. then i created an alignment and a profile of that trail so i could manage the slopes. then i put points on the alignment every 100 feet and downloaded my points to the gps. then it was just a matter of going out in the field and flagging that corridor. i could easily manipulate the trail with input from the land managers. the whole layout on the computer took about 4-5 hours but manipulating it takes just a few minutes. i'm using a garmin 76cx and google earth and it works pretty well.
    I'm never gonna be a Rock Star

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by bweide
    Any suggestions for a GPS unit and mapping software combination?
    Hell. I just use the Garmin Edge 305 I use on my MTB anyway I then use topo maps, georeferenced aerial photos, some vector cadastral data overlaid to make sure we say on the right bit of land and run it all via Oziexplorer. Works well enough for raster map images.

    Oziexplorer is a once off purchase with "lifetime" free upgrades.
    http://www.oziexplorer.com/

    Plenty of North Ameriansc use it, with lots of support on the Ozi Yahoo forums

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by bweide
    The National Geographic TOPO maps seem to have sufficient detail but do not work seemlessly with Garmin units when it comes to loading waypoints back and forth.
    Where did you hear that? I'm a little behind the times, running an Etrex with Nat. Geo. TOPO version 3.1.2, but I have no issues importing/exporting waypoints, routes, etc. Perhaps things have gotten worse in more recent Garmin firmware or TOPO software?

  10. #10
    NMBP
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    The newest Magellin units will allow you to down load maps from TOPO. I use an old Garmin XL12 and I haven't had any problems transferring to or from TOPO, I just can't transfer the actual map.
    Riding Fat and still just as fast as I never was.

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