Open source maps on Garmin GPS?

I got a Garmin GPS for Christmas, a hand-held one ideal for backpacking. Pretty neat. But then I looked closer, and had a “what the hell?” moment. It has no topo maps. Not even regional low-res 100k maps. Nothing. A few political outlines, major roads, major water obstacles like Lake Washington. You have to buy topo maps as extras. I thought the whole point of a GPS was not to point at a spot in a blank area and say “you are here.” Heck, I can get that with pencil and paper, and know general direction with a compass.

So I went to the Garmin site. They want a hundred bucks for a Northwest 24k topo map. Another hundred for a CA/Nevada topo. Another hundred for “mountain west.” Another hundred for Alaska. Another hundred for 100k US. And so-on. Holy COW! If you get around much, you could easily spend far more on maps than on the GPS unit itself. The unit I received had been bought on sale; any two of those are more than the unit cost.

I dug around a little bit online, and there are some references to using open source (USGS, TIGER, or whatever) topo maps, but nothing very specific or detailed that seemed like the right path. Anyone know any good sourses for free open source 24k topo maps and directions for putting them onto Garmin handheld GPS units? If I can get pointed to some that look like they will work, I’ll try it and let readers know how it goes.


16 thoughts on “Open source maps on Garmin GPS?

  1. I know my state game fish and parks (SD) has some fairly good maps plus they show state land for hunting

    • At those prices it’s like they want you to. Guess I better read the fine print if I ever decide to buy one of those.

      • Some of their models do include some maps. I think their Rino series have the whole US 100k maps, but those cost in the $500 range. Others may have other options. This particular one doesn’t have anything.

    • Cool. Didn’t see this earlier when I was looking. Now I just have to see if the directions for Garmin-supplied maps works with these. Thanks.
      UPDATED: Slick. I downloaded their Washington Topo map, ran it’s installer. I downloaded and installed Garmin’s BaseCamp software (free). I ran it, plugged in the GPS via USB. Selected “Install Maps” from the Maps menu. It listed Washington Topo as an available map. I hit the “install” button, and it whirred for a bit transferring data. Unplugged the GPS, let it catch a few sat signals, and poof, it showed proper topo maps of the area. Very nice, just the way I’d like it to be (well, if it isn’t pre-loaded).

  2. My cell phone has a gps application, OruxMaps, that allows me to download open source maps, though I have to do it on my main computer and transfer them to my cell phone. It is not particularly intuitive or user friendly, but, having gotten used it, I love it.

    It works fine when out of contact with the cell network, since the maps are stored on the cell phone.

    I can also construct route files in Google earth and, after text editing the kml file a little, transfer them to my cell phone, and use them off the cellular network. The routes show up on top of my downloaded maps.

    • Part of the reason for GPS is that it’s pretty global, cell signals are not. But if I ever get a cell phone, I’ll keep that in mind. Yes, I’m a freak. 🙂

  3. For what it’s worth, USGS has much of its data available in digitized form. For example, there is a digital elevation database, nice if you want to build 3d models of terrain. And there is digital map data both in image form (essentially scanned maps) and vector form (the roads, rivers, contour lines, and whatnot in the form of lines and points). All these are, by law, in the public domain, so anyone is free to make them available for download. USGS has a bunch of them available, though the website is not all that user friendly. And some state universities have their state’s databases readily available.
    Conversion to the form you need is another matter, but at least the base data can be had at no charge, with some digging.

    • But that whole “usability” thing is the critical element. Most of the stuff at the GPSFileDepot appear to be based on USGS data, some enhanced with other sources, then put into a very convenient container for Garmin users. The “BirdsEye” maps data from Garmin (they scatter little “free bits” here and there look like good old fashioned paper maps digitized cleanly and well.

  4. So, did Garmin hire the marketing director from Gillette Razors? This “Sell the razors give away the handles (or sell at a low price) seems to be a policy from King Gillette himself.

    • Dunno. It never even occurred to me that a hand-held GPS wouldn’t include little incidentals like topo maps. It’s certainly not in the advertising; “this is cheap but the maps are extra” doesn’t quite make a catchy marketing slogan. The higher end ones like the Rino 650 include some maps, but they don’t seem to make a big deal about it, like “get this and get all possible maps you’d have to pay extra for with our cheaper models.” I won’t say it left a bad taste in my mouth, but it certainly didn’t exactly help build brand loyalty.

  5. The Wenatchee district of the USFS has very nice geotiffs of multiple quads east of Stevens Pass. I’ll dig up the URL and post it later.

  6. If you are hiking / backpacking in the Northwest (WA, OR, ID, and parts of MT) don’t forget to look at Jon Stanley’s map sets.

    He has Topo’s and Trails and I would recommend his over any other maps I’ve seen. His trail maps are based on several years of collecting actual GPS Track logs from himself and other hikers and mountain bikers.

    • I found a link to that site from the GPSFileDepot site. Look interesting, downloaded one of them, but haven’t had a chance to look at the yet. Need more memory on the GPS (one of the files is 1.2 GB!) to play with them properly. Thanks for the recommendation.

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