This post may contain affiliate links.

Out of Date Maps in Digital Mapping Software

The first thing I do when I evaluate digital mapping software is to look at the accuracy of the maps provided or available with the software. You can have the best user interface or software features in the world, but if the maps you provide are inaccurate or out of date, I’m not going to use your program or application.

I’ve come across this issue time and again when planning trips on the Appalachian Trail and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and it really irks me. Call me old school, but I prefer using paper or waterproof maps for planning because they tend to be updated much more frequently for backcountry locations than digital maps. Crazy as that sounds, it’s true.

Let me give you a few examples for the hike to Bondcliff Mountain, Mount Bond and West Bond Mountain I took earlier this week. These mountains are one of the most popular hiking destinations in all of New Hampshire, so you’d hope that they’d be accurate.

First, the waterproof paper version of this area from the 4th edition Map Adventures White Mountains Trail Map.

The Bonds from The Map Adventures Waterproof Map
The Bonds from The Map Adventures Waterproof Map

This is the map I primarily use for hiking in the White Mountains. Here are a few things to note about its representation of The Bonds.

  • Bondcliff, Mount Bond, and West Bond Mountains are all correctly labelled
  • The Bondcliff Trail and the West Bond Spur Trail are shown and labelled
  • The Guyot Campsite and spur trail are also shown
Now let’s compare this against several different software based and online mapping tools.

Gmap4 from

Gmap4 from usually has pretty superior maps because they combine multiple digital versions, including historic maps to enrich their map data. The program is freely available online for non-commercial use and covers the United States and Canada. It doesn’t have all of the capabilities of higher end software-based route planning tools but it runs in phone and tablet browsers, lets you mark waypoints, create tracks and routes, share maps online, and save maps to GPX files.

The Bonds by Gmap4
The Bonds by Gmap4

The Gmap4 version of the Bonds region is not bad in comparison to the Map Adventures map. If you knew where you were going, this map could get you there.

  • The Bondcliff and West Bond Trails are shown, although the West Bond Spur is not named
  • The elevations of the three Bonds peaks are all shown, although West Bond is not named
  • The Guyot Shelter and spur trail are shown but not named
  • The archaic (old) name of BondCliff is shown (The Cliffs) instead of current usage


I find that National Geographic’s TOPO! maps are often out of date for New England, especially when it comes to reflecting more remote  trails that I know exist. This is from version 4 of TOPO! New England program from 2010.

The Bonds by TOPO
The Bonds by TOPO

So far, the TOPO! map is the most out of date:

  • While the Bondcliff Trail is shown, the West Bond Spur is missing
  • West Bond Mountain is not labelled
  • The Guyot Shelter and spur trail are shown but not named
  • The archaic (old) name of BondCliff is shown (The Cliffs) instead of current usage
West Bond Mountain received a name in 1957, so one could conclude that this data is at most that old.


Like TOPO!, RouteBuddy is mapping software that you install on your computer. The maps are sold separately (by state) and, as noted at the RouteBuddy Store, RouteBuddy versions of the USGS Topo maps “are very different to the free ones available elsewhere as none of the free maps have been corrected for safety.”

The Bonds by RouteBuddy
The Bonds by RouteBuddy

Unfortunately, the RouteBuddy maps for the Bonds are as out of date as TOPO!’s.

  • While the Bondcliff Trail is shown, the West Bond Spur is missing
  • West Bond Mountain is not labelled
  • The Guyot Shelter and spur trail are shown but not named
  • The archaic (old) name of BondCliff is shown (The Cliffs) instead of current usage


What’s this post tell us? At least in the case of The Bond Mountains Of New Hampshire, desktop based digital mapping tools such as National Geographic’s TOPO and RouteBuddy have out of date maps that are missing trail data and place names, while paper maps and on line mapping software are more up to date.

In practice, this means that you should use multiple sources of information to plan hiking trips in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, including ones that you know are updated annually such as the AMC’s White Mountain Guide and the US Forest Service’s White Mountain web site,which  has up to date trail closure information. Personally, I’d also recommend that you get yourself a good waterproof map to carry instead of your phone or GPS, if only because it’s likely to be more accurate than commercial applications that you can purchase from software makers, and it doesn’t have a battery.

Call me old school.

 Disclaimer: RouteBuddy provided Philip Werner ( with evaluation software for review. Philip Werner purchased TOPO! with his own funds.

P.S. If you think this is an isolated example, compare the route from Mt Waumbek to the York Pond Trail and Bunnell Notch along the Kilkenny Ridge in all of these programs/applications.


  1. Wow looking at those maps just shows how lucky we are in the UK to have the Ordnance survey. The amount of detail we get in the UK is great. For example how do you tell what the vegetation is like on the maps above / any outcrops of rock etc?

    • James – Yes the OS maps in the UK are really good. I used them in addition to Quo mapping software from Mapx to plan my 2010 TGO route and was very pleased with the entire experience, despite the fact that the maps are not available on waterproof paper. Still they’re fairly up to date and impressive in the amount of detail provided.

      The only really issue I had was whether certain towns or structures were modern and inhabited vs. “ancient” and uninhabited. In that instance, I gained a lot from having the Challenge route vetters review my plans.

    • “…how do you tell what the vegetation is like …

      Especially note the symbol for Mangrove, which may be unfamiliar to you.

  2. Yes, I agree that most mapping software is less usefull than I would prefer. It is often difficult to trace a route, especially the herd paths or unmaintained trails in the High Peaks of NY. Especially after Irene, there have been some changes to the trails that even the paper maps do not show, though they are better than the the electronic versions.

    Most of the mapping is older. Even paper maps are rarely up to date. I have some that simply do not list the trails to some of the peaks or to general hiking elswhere. Perhaps, the main focus of these companies was getting the software out there. They need some sort of updating, verification process for their maps. One of my favorite fishing holes is no longer accessible due to the trail being on private land and closed. I found out the hard way several years ago… A clearing house or other central repository for this info would be real nice.

    Anyway, a map and compass still rule IMHO. My computer can print out maps I can use. Generally they are lighter, and, far more reliable. Even a dropped compass usually does not break them. And, like you say…NO BATTERIES.

    • I’ve developed a set of reference locations I check first when I get a new package to see if their maps are reasonably up to date. Perhaps that would make a good QA set for the software makers . But it’s probably all moot – they can’t make a business out of enhancing digital maps for the entire USA – it’d be too expensive, and focusing on specific parks or regions would not generate enough revenue to run a software company.

      Seems like the regional mapmakers have a competitive advantage this time.

  3. I have found places off and on where the ordinance survey maps are less than stellar (mostly in Wales, but even in pretty popular places like around Avesbury), but they are much better than what I can get in the states.

    The accuracy of the Topo4! maps is laughable in the southern US. Some of the other GPS map databases haven’t been updated since the 1940’s. It is gradually getting better, but there are places where blindly using them for planning or navigation could lead to disasters.

    • The American equivalent of the Ordinance Survey maps are the USGS 7.5 minute quadrangles, which can be downloaded for free as a .pdf from

      For recreational areas, though, the commercial maps are better. In the west we use Green Trails and Tom Harrison.

      I think a big paper map is much better for getting a perspective on the overall hike, the terrain, and the route. I wouldn’t like peering at a map through the tiny window of a phone display and scrolling like a madman.

      • True, but The quality is certainly not equivalent to the OS maps in the UK. The USGS maps for the Bonds are exactly like those used in TOPO and RouteBuddy above. If you tried to plan a hike to West Bond using them, you’d be preparing for a bushwhack.

      • I’ve seen the latest pdf’s from the USGS and they are truly excellent. They come overlaid with aerial photography and are current. They aren’t what come on the topo4 dvd or cd’s. For trails in the US I tend to look for someone’s GPS track (& make mine available) because those tend to be the most reliable.

        There isn’t the same kind of public right of way access in the US that there is in the UK with public footpaths (but then it’s a lot easier for us to “wild camp”). One of the nice things in the UK is following these public footpaths and making your own route. Some of the rights of way are ancient (the ridgeway for example was old when Caesar visited). The Orange OS maps tend to be more up to date, and most importantly show more of the pubs.

  4. It’s really amazing that the online versions of the maps can’t be kept more up to date. I checked the current version of Trimble MyTopo (my favorite for use on my iPad and smartphone based GPS) and they had exactly the same issues with the Bonds as the ones you listed. Disappointing.

    My favorite mapping option for the Whites is the WMG Online ( It is kept up to date with the current AMC maps and it’s great for route planning since the trails are all clickable to create routes and you can produce a report that has all the trail segment descriptions from the WMG include. Also exports routes in GPX and KMZ/KML format for viewing in other mapping programs and Google Earth. Unfortunately when you get outside the Whites there doesn’t seem to be a similar option for other New England locations.

    And yes, I agree that carrying a paper (or better yet, waterproof) map and compass is the only way to really be covered out there.


  5. Very interesting, I just purchased the Nat Geo Topo! and I’m still trying to figure it out a bit, will definitely keep an eye on this. We did notice a trail missing on one of our last hikes versus the paper map we already owned.

  6. In the Pacific NW, my favorite paper maps are the Green Trails. They provide trail numbers, maintained trails are outlined in bright green, are generally up to date and also place names not found on USGS maps. They’ve also become rather spendy – $7-$8. They apparently have finally made an app (at least for Android, I don’t recall for other platforms), but it is very bad. It “works” but isn’t very useful and you’ll likely find it frustrating. I have been using Gaia Topo app ($10 paid app for Android and I think Iphone, good support from the developers), which uses the same lame digital maps, all based on the USGS maps. They have a feature called MapWarper (doesn’t work for Android, only Iphone right now) in which you can scan a paper map and use MW to orient it and digitize it for using within Gaia Topo on your Iphone. I don’t have an Iphone so I can’t test it out, but it’s a neat idea.

    Some years ago I played around with OziExplorer – a free (open source?) map program which you can use to scan/import your own maps. The technical parts of it were more than I had interest in learning about, though maybe it’s time to look at it again and see if the user interface is easier to use now.

    I contacted Green Trails several years ago and asked if they had plans to digitize any of their maps. They said no. I imagine these map companies have a very real fear that if they digitize them, people will copy them (like mp3’s did to music) and they will have to drastically re-create their revenue stream. Not a job I would want to take on. I’m happy to pay for the maps, paper or digital and one of each is ideal!

    • EDIT: OziExplorer used to be free, now it is $109, plus additional fees for optional add-ons. Will have to read more about this and try the demo to see if it might be worth it. They do have an Android add-on for $25 (you need the full program $109 for the add-on to work).

  7. I love the Map Adventures White Mountains Trail Map. It’s always in my pack.

    On in May we loaded up the WMNF GIS trails dataset. The dataset is free to download on their website. The Bonds trails for comparison are here:,-71.531&z=13&type=Terrain

    So far I have noticed many small or spur trails are missing. Guyot Shelter spur trail is missing, but West Bond is not. I’m keeping track the missing trails I find and will provide an update to the map later this summer. If you notice a trail is missing please email me. Kimball @ T r a i l s N H . c o m

    • Kim – I really like the trail overlay you’ve added to You have an awesome site – I tell everyone I know about it!

    • I hadn’t noticed the trail overlay until now. Nice! I clicked on the link and still didn’t realize what was new until I zoomed in. Great stuff! Thanks Kim – this resource just keeps getting better and better.

  8. I’ll share what I learned about USGS maps this week. If you go to their site, you can see several editions are available as PDFs for any given location. Older editions, from the early 20th century to the early 2000s, are just scans of the paper map. The latest editions are digitally generated and have layers that can be made visible or hidden, so you can show or hide aerial photos, vegetation tinting, contours, roads etc.
    I was comparing map editions from the 90’s and from the last couple of years, and noticed that the newer maps didn’t have trails marked on them! So I contacted the USGS for an explanation.

    me: “Hiking trails seem to be missing on new quads that have been downloaded as pdf. For example, the Mt. Townsend, WA 7.5 from 1999 clearly shows a trail up the Big Quilcene valley roughly in the center of the map. It’s absent from the 2011 edition. I understand that the newer pdf is layered, but I don’t see how to make trails visible.
    That’s not the only thing that’s missing. Where’s green tint for forest?”

    USGS: “Thank you for contacting USGS. We learned that in 2013 the trail layer will begin to be added to the US Topos.
    The green tint for forest is being added to many US Topos this year. “

  9. There just aren’t any maps that seem fully up-to-date — at least for where I hike. Your idea of checking multiple sources is the right approach. To that, I would add: check internet forums. Nothing beats a first hand report. There are many trails in my area that are still carried on maps, and perhaps the FS plans to rework them “some day,” but in reality they’re no longer followable.


  10. I like the MyTopo products but one thing that annoys me is they use solid blue for both perennial and seasonal water sources. In our southwest relying on a water to be there when it may not be could be life threatening. Minus points for them

  11. Hi Philip,

    would you mind if I made a response to this post?


  12. Hi Philip,

    I’ve been meaning to respond to this in-depth post of yours for sometime and now would like to clarify some items.

    As you know, we supplied you with RouteBuddy desktop software and a sample map to review, this was after your contact with your friend (and one of the UK’s well-known long-distance hikers) Andy Howell . What I can’t understand is how this became a review of maps rather than our software! Here’s why – and I’ll try (as briefly as possible) to sum this up in points:

    1) Software vs. Maps
    To say that the software (RouteBuddy) is ‘poor because of the maps’ does not, with all due respect, make any sense. That’s the same as saying “this expensive car has poor tyres on it so the car is rubbish” when all one has to do is put decent tyres on. To take it to another level RouteBuddy also loads Ordnance Survey Maps, arguably the best nation-maps in the world and so, by extension of your argument, RouteBuddy then becomes the best map software in the world.

    Now really the issue is with USGS updating their maps, and those guys have a tough time because you have such a large country! Yes they are working on a revision project but even these ‘new’ maps have their issues, frankly speaking the revisions are not what they could be. So if the USA had modern topo maps, like there are in the UK, we would have been able to obtain and ship the latest data for you to use.

    2) ‘The Map Adventures’ map in comparison to a USGS map.
    – I agree, the Map Adventures maps are truly excellent. However, and here are the key points, not everyone lives in this particular area of the United States (it should be said that the area you use as an example is a fractional percentage of the vast US landmass) and RouteBuddy are, after all, expected by customers to supply topo maps right across the USA (and Map Adventures don’t cover the whole of the USA). Plus – there are thousands of cartographers all over the USA who make great maps, in different styles, shapes and sizes and, to take all of those cartographers on board any map software, would require some serious investment in time and monies – as you can imagine!

    Additionally Map Adventures Maps are not digital, so they lack the advantage that comes from planning and printing from desktop software as well as benefitting from a direct, in detail, satellite image overlay, which RouteBuddy does offer. With, of course, a GPS location ability on the digital map in our iOS GPS software RouteBuddy Atlas.

    3) Maps ‘in or out of date’
    There are a number of paper maps out there that can be used (for ‘some’ areas) and, as always, the man on the ground, if there is a cartographer specialising in an area, will most likely be able to offer the best map. As you say, this map will likely be updated over time, but will purchasers really buy a new copy each time an updated map is released? I don’t think so because, generally speaking, if the map is in decent condition then people just carry on using them.

    That said, when comparing with other maps, we’ve often found that there is useful (and extant) data on the USGS maps that is missing from new maps (especially those built with SRTM data) so the grass really isn’t always that greener the other side of the fence – especially across the whole country. It’s just different.

    4) Competing products.
    – Gmap4 – As you say Gmap4 doesn’t have the capabilities that RouteBuddy does and using it is really pretty much labour of love; it all depends on whether you want to save time when using professional map software and make a better job of route creation (and be able to print off maps, edit routes and so on) or just plug away at the job. Gmap4 is free but as the old adage says ‘cheap is what cheap gets’ and users will pay for this with their time. Nor can you use these maps on a GPS phone to locate yourself!

    – Topo! – Ceased production.

    In your comments you say this below:
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Call me old school, but I prefer using paper or waterproof maps for planning because they tend to be updated much more frequently for backcountry locations than digital maps.

    Personally, I’d also recommend that you get yourself a good waterproof map to carry instead of your phone or GPS, if only because it’s likely to be more accurate than commercial applications that you can purchase from software makers, and it doesn’t have a battery.

    Call me old school.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Phil, it isn’t anything to do with banging on about old school at all. I’ve been around a few years too but do see that to not take advantage of old and new technology starts to smack of Luddism which, frankly, is absolutely pointless when out in the wild, as both paper maps and compasses have their good points, as do GPS phones with digital maps. Yes they both too have negative points but it is always best to have two options as, one day, in an emergency, you might need one or the other.

    I hope that helps explain a few things. :)



    • I’m glad you finally responded.

      But my original point still stands. If you supply out of date maps with your software, it doesn’t really matter if you have the best wiz bang planning tools available, the end result is the same: you’re still sending people to bridges that don’t exist and into wilderness areas that have been closed to grievous hurricane damage and landslides. Come on man – these maps are over 50 years old! – that’s just laziness, as far as I’m concerned. You can certainly license better.

  13. Phil,


    It is not laziness (which may I say is a little rude) it is the fact that we are dealing with what data there is available. Pay more US taxes and you may well get better maps in the US. Sorry mate but you can’t expect a mapping company to step up for the shortcomings of your own national budget for the USGS.

    As for licensing better then read my post again, there are thousands of independent map makers out there for sure, but creating maps from all of their excellent data is a gargantuan task; if you are a rich man then perhaps you’d like to fund it?

    Sure some areas do change but c’mon Phil not the whole continent, that is a little outrageous for a statement.

    Now we certainly do licence better, the Ordnance Survey and Harvey Maps for two great examples, load these into RouteBuddy then they work really well and look superb. But you get what you pay for – these maps have had investment, and that is what counts.

    The USGS maps belong to your nation so if you want better ‘nationwide maps’ then you need to take action.

    Read my post again and you will see that there is no perfect answer to the topo map issues you have in the USA.


    • At the time I did this review, I believe you sold the digital New Hampshire maps. You still do, I see. So you admit to selling defective and out of date maps and have the audacity to blame it on the United States government! Since I doubt you can import 3rd party maps into your software, like GMap4, you force people to use out of date proprietary data that you control.

      In other words you sell the razor and the razor blades, but the only razor blades you sell to US consumers are dull and rusty and can’t give a clean shave.

      When I undertook this review in 2012, I made it very clear that I would be reviewing your software product(s) in the context of an extended New Hampshire hike. I judged them inadequate to that task, and if you are still selling those same maps, they still are.

  14. Phil,

    You are twisting my words and the facts.

    It’s now the Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK so I’ll respond later next week


    • routebuddy, clearly, you have not hiked in the Adirondacks or the North East of the USA. GPS systems are often inaccurate, often bouncing off mountains, shadowing signals, and other physical problems. Good ones sometimes fail spectacularly between peaks (I was on Mt Haystack in the ADK’s and it said I was on Mt. Marcy.) I quit using them. Even SPOT and other emergency beacons and others are lucky to get you within a couple square miles of where you want to rescued. Look up the recent reports of deaths and lost hikers this winter.

      There is no substitute for a good paper map and compass. This is the lightest and most reliable system I have ever used. Yup, sometimes I don’t know exactly which landmark I am looking at without a lot of figuring. On occasion, I have encountered iron deposits in the ADK’s that will make even a compass act a bit squirrely. But from a map, I can usually figure the geography out, hence my directions, or watch the sun, or “north” star. Often it is just a matter of holding on to some handrail till I am by the deposit. But, the compass was getting bad data, should I no longer use it?

      Software is exactly that. It is software, it cannot interpolate, nor see what is around it. All it can do is read the data it is given. Even the best of software can do no better than that. If old, outdated data is given, it wont know. It will send you down a trail that is now a deadly “slide”. Your software may indeed be good stuff. But you cannot do a thing with bad data, except complain there is better data somewhere else, basically saying “don’t hike there.”

      For myself, I continually use as many paper maps as I can, then put them together on one “travel” map…often only of the route I plan to take. I have pretty much memorized the surrounding area, if no details, making my “travel” plans.

  15. Phil,

    Thank you for your replies but the points I made seem to have been misunderstood; indeed I was trying to present an analysis of available topographic mapping in the USA as it now stands, and how it affects online and offline map software providers and, by extension, our customers

    To more clearly illustrate the issue let’s just look at just New Hampshire, where you live and walk in the mountains. You say that there are better topo maps for the White Mountain area from Map Adventures and, I do see from their store, that they stock three titles for the State of New Hampshire. Plus we are both agreed that their maps are excellent.

    Now, it is always a possibility that we can work with independent cartographers and bring digital versions of their maps to the RouteBuddy Store, for use in our desktop and mobile map software which, I’m sure you will agree, is an ideal answer to your needs.

    However, from what we see, New Hampshire still has a vast hiking and outdoors area not covered by Map Adventures maps; so the question is ‘who does’? In other words – from which cartographers can RouteBuddy source better maps to convert in digital maps that would cover the whole State of New Hampshire?


    • Neil, you’re going to have to license this data. When I was a software company product manager, I would assemble a list of all of the companies that have or license all or part of the digital data I required and get on the phone to negotiate licensing contracts. If you don’t have this expertise at Routebuddy, I can give you a referral to an excellent person who’s quite experienced at this sort of thing.

  16. Phil, that’s good advice and a great offer – thank you.

    So where do we get these topographic maps for the rest of New Hampshire from?


  17. Hi Phil,

    it’s been a couple of weeks now since my last post and I was hoping you’d be able to come back to me with information on the best topo maps for New Hampshire?

    I realise you’ve been busy with posts but, as you say, you want the best topo maps in planning and navigation software. Some help would be appreciated so that we can speak to the relevant cartographers; then we can work on engineering to get these titles into our RouteBuddy map software on mobile, Windows and Mac OS X.


    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    • Neil…We’re the customers, remember? It’s your job to figure out how to make your product useful, not me. I mainly use and Why don’t you just figure out what maps they use or gasp, try contacting them!

  18. Hi Phil,

    thanks for that.

    CalTopo uses USGS map quads, as we do; Trails NH uses Google Terrain.

    I’m just politely asking for some help here, as you are the New Hampshire hiking expert. We’d sure like to get it right so that you can approve our digital maps for your state; all we need is the names of the map companies you consider to be the best so we can get this right the first time, rather than going around in circles… Thanks.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  19. backpackingbongos

    After some good experiences of using Routebuddy for UK maps I made a mistake of purchasing The Colorado Trail map from them. The map does not even have the Colorado Trail marked on it! Have emailed a couple of times to ask for a refund but the answer from routebuddy has been no. I now have a map on my computer that is next to useless (and of a very poor quality). I just wanted it to examine the route of the Colorado trail and see what it looked like. Just written a blog post on it as so annoyed.

  20. Well well, this is been a pretty lively discussion!

    To get back to the original topic . . .
    People might have a look at open source mapping to get some of the most up-to-date information.

    For example, Cal topo has an open source a layer called “open cycle”.
    It’s much more than a cycling map, it has basic took the lines and trails drawing in, often more accurate than the US geological survey maps.

    There’s also an open-source map called (I think) open hiking, but at present Cal Topo does not have it available.

    If using Gaia GPS (which is in my humble opinion the best iPhone GPS back country app available) you can use the open hiking player, which most of the time is pretty terrific.

    The idea behind open-source map thing is that individual users can edit the maps, sort of like Wikipedia. If you see an error in a trail, or something is rerouted, or whatever, individual peeps make the changes, rather than waiting for the government to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *