If you own a Garmin GPS receiver, you can save yourself a chunk of change by downloading and installing the free user contributed maps available at GPSFileDepot.com which has an excellent collection of US topographic maps, as well as maps from all over the world. The site also provides an excellent set of tutorials that describe how to load their maps onto a Garmin GPS device as well as advanced tutorials on how to make your own GPS maps, which you can redistribute.
I got turned onto GPSFileDepot by my bushwhacking buddy Kris, because the repository has maps that contain unpaved forest service and abandoned logging roads that aren’t drawn on the commercial GPS maps available for the region we hike in. I’m also a frugal hiker and would rather not pay for commercial GPS maps.
Despite being user contributed and free, the quality of the GPSFileDepot topographic and transparent maps we use is outstanding. The maps are all reviewed and rated by an editor so you won’t waste your time loading less complete maps.
Here are the three maps I use on my Garmin eTrex 30 GPS Receiver and in Garmin Basecamp, Garmin’s desktop route planning tool:
- New Hampshire
- Data Sets included:
- Transportation – Census TIGER (2010 Nov.- 2011 Feb) – enhanced
- Hydrology – USGS NHD (2010 Sep)
- Contours – 20ft – created from USGS 1/3 arc sec (about 10m point spacing) NED (2011 Feb)
- POI’s – USGS GNIS (2011 Feb) – enhanced. NGS benchmarks
- Boundaries: State & County from Census TIGER (2011-Feb)
- BLM surface management data (2011 May)
- Data Sets included:
- Northeastern United States (part 1 of 3)
- States: All of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania
- Map Features:
- Topographic Data
- Street Data
- Roads – Interstates, highways, arterial roads, residential roads, limited unpaved roads
- High resolution water data – lakes, rivers, streams, and washes
- Federal Land Usage – Wilderness area, national parks, and military bases/ranges, native american reservations
- Borders – County and state boundary lines
- Elevation contours – 20ft intervals
- GNIS Points of Interest – summits, mines, falls, dams, cemeteries, towers, populated places, etc.
- My Trails, which has tens of thousands of trails obtained from numerous sources and points of interest data for 37 states including all of the Eastern US, that are transparent and overlay the current map you’ve selected on your GPS. This map also includes parking, restrooms, water, campgrounds, showers, scenic areas, boat ramps, buildings, picnic, etc. It also has also lots of unpaved roads (particularly in the National Forests) and boundaries of things like Wilderness, Recreation Areas, etc.
The maps you download from GPSFileDepot are packed into PC and Mac installers that you run on the computer you use to connect to your Garmin GPS receiver. Once run, the maps are installed into Garmin Basecamp, which is the tool you use to create waypoints and routes that get transferred to your GPS Receiver. All of the map authors that publish maps on GPSFileDepot package their maps up using the same installer software, so downloading new maps and installing them on your computer is the same across different map authors.
GPSFileDepot provides excellent tutorials that explain the map download and installation process as well as how to transfer the maps to your GPS device. I didn’t have much experience using a modern Garmin GPS when I installed these maps on my eTrex 30x GPS Receiver, but I found the process very easy to follow and use.
Here are a few example tutorials that illustrate what’s involved:
- How to Open Maps in Garmin Basecamp: This tutorial instructs you how to open the GPSFileDepot maps you have downloaded in Garmin BaseCamp.
- How To Load Maps On My Garmin GPS Unit: A tutorial detailing how to load maps to your map capable GPS unit such as the Gpsmap 60x(s)x, Etrex, Legend, Dakota, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, 62 series, and even the Nuvi.
- How To Change Which Map Is Displayed On A Garmin GPS: With so many maps to choose from on this website and available from Garmin you’re likely to have multiple maps loaded on your GPS receiver and you’ll need to turn some on or off to show or hide different maps.
Some of the maps distributed on GPSFileDepot are transparent, meaning they get superimposed as overlays on top of topographic maps. That’s the case with the MyTrails map listed above, which contains detailed trail and point of interest information. Garmin prohibits transparent maps from being displayed over topos in Basecamp on your computer, but they can be displayed on your GPS device. Simply “enable” the transparent map and the topo you want to use on your GPS and you’re good to go.
This is what the combined maps will look like on your unit:
I’ve been using GPSFileDepot maps on my Garmin eTrex 30 GPS receiver close to a year now. I think they’re great and I really don’t see any need to purchase commercial maps for the regions that I frequent. If you’re interested in using free GPS maps, or in creating your own custom maps for Garmin GPS devices, I’d encourage you to check out GPSFileDepot.com. It’s a fantastic navigational resource and a great way to save money on GPS maps.
- The Essential Wilderness Navigator
- Caltopo: A great Online Planning Tool for Hikers
- Gazeteers for Backcountry Planning and Navigation
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