Best topo software?

1:01 p.m. on October 19, 2003 (EDT)
37 reviewer rep
747 forum posts

I know I can buy an excellent custom topo from this site printed on great paper, but I like to use topo software because of the 3D views and the ability to interact with my GPS. I had Topo USA 2.0 but since I have upgraded my computer to Windows 2000, it doesn't seen to want to run.
I can get the western region Topo USA 4.0 at REI for $50. Is this nice software? Anybody have a recommendation for a better package?
Jim S (:->)

6:11 p.m. on October 19, 2003 (EDT)
4,260 reviewer rep
5,952 forum posts

Jim -

I know you are trolling, but, ....

The nice thing about the maps you can get through this site is the size of paper, and hence the coverage - carry one map that covers the area for a moderately long weekend outing, and it is waterproof paper at that.

For personal use, though, I have found that National Geographic's Topo! is far ahead of the other available map programs, like MapTech and Delorme's Topo USA and Topo 3D (all 3 use scanned 7.5 min quads for the close-in zoom levels). NatGeo's does not had the 3D perspective draping at this point, although frankly I do not find that any loss. The big problem with Delorme's approach is that the draping is done with DEM files (Digital Elevation Model) from USGS. These files are a grid of elevation points, and the draped surface is done by interpolation in the grid (don't think it is linear, but it certainly is not a very high order polynomial). Over most of the US, the grid is something like 100 meters, with some areas being 30 m and some being 1 kilometer. In steep terrain or where there are large cliffs, the shape of the terrain is very different in the displayed model and in reality. Yosemite Valley is perhaps the most inaccurate of the areas, with very little resemblance to the real Yosemite Valley. One of the most objectionable features of using DEM files instead of the plotted contour lines is that since the DEM files are on a much coarser resolution than the contour lines (100 m vs 40 feet), you find many places where the contour lines run up and down hill instead of being what they are by definition - constant elevation lines.

In terms of usefulness for actually getting out there, NatGeo's Topo! has more tools of real usefulness and better stitching of adjacent quads. For some reason, it is also much faster to use. Even on my 2 GHz machine, the MapTech product is painfully slow in re-drawing. Topo! may not have the 3D draping, but their shaded relief is quite nice, adjustable in its shading, and (most important) set up using the convention that map makers have found over the years gives the best appearance of looking at real terrain. I generally do not like shaded relief for maps I am actually using out in the field, but the NatGeo ones are acceptable. The Delorme TopoUSA shade relief is more difficult to use in the field.

The big problem with NatGeo is the price, something like $99 for a state CD set. But when you consider what you have to pay these days for the soon-to-be obsolete paper maps, this is really cheap. And when you add in that Topo! has lots of tools, it becomes a bargain. Some of the tools are the same as other programs, but some are unique. Pretty much standard are drawing a route, getting route profile, descent and ascent, and mileage, automated generation of waypoints for GPS receivers, up/download to the GPSR of waypoints, routes, and tracks, distance measurement tools of various sorts, quick switching among coordinate systems, links to your photo files, up/download to your PDA (especially useful if your PDA has an attached, built-in, or linked GPS receiver, lots of other things.

10:43 p.m. on October 19, 2003 (EDT)
37 reviewer rep
747 forum posts
Thanks Bill


Jim -

I know you are trolling, but, ....

Nope. But I did coerce my Delorme Topo USA 2.0 to operate. The site that topo 2 sends you to is inactive but there is an apology note there and a space to click on for more service and another bunch of files one of which is a download for Windows 2000, which Delorme says it does not support. After downloading this file and uninstalling Topo 2 and then reinstalling it in 2D only - no 3D with W2000, I was able to get the topo software up and the route profiler up and running. I had such a good time with it that I charted most of the major trips that I have taken in the sierras in the last 35 years! And then printed a profile!

But no 3D and not so much detail as on a regular topo - missing names of lakes and mountains. So maybe I'll have to get a Nat;l Geo CD for California for Christmas.
Wow -2 GHz huh - not the old Bill I knew...
jim S

July 28, 2017
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