Since there are some new choices for topo maps as of version 4.8.2, here is some advice on choosing a topo map for your next adventure with BackCountry Navigator.
If you would rather look at this visually, go to this url to compare some of the map sources:
or this one to see some of the premium, accuterra sources.
For more about the new and old topo maps from USGS, see this article:
Traditional Topo Map
The most common type of Topo Map used by BackCountry Navigator users look like the ones you may have bought as paper maps from the USGS or at a participating store.
As of version 4.8.2, you can choose CalTopo as a map source. This map source isn't significantly different than USA Topo Maps in its main features, but is, in my opinion, a clearer view of the same maps, and image quality and resolution do matter to most.
Please note: CalTopo Maps, which include US Topo Imagery, US Topo Imagery with Markup, and US Forest Service Maps, costs us money to host and deliver. You can try out all of these in the Map Sources Menu. If you do plan to use them in many travels, you are asked to go to the "Purchasing Addons" menu to purchase a yearly subscription.
Are there any disadvantages to this style?
Well, these topo maps haven't been updated by the USGS much since the 1980s. Nor will they be ever again as far as we can tell.
The terrain itself hasn't changed much. Neither have most of the natural features. Certainly it is a common complaint that these maps do not contain a new shopping center or road. In addition, roads and trails depicted may not be the currently maintained routes.
Those who may claim that these maps are therefore useless are missing out on a lot of the fun ways to use topo maps. Although at one time, they had roads and trails from multiple agencies, this was never their main purpose.
These USGS Topo Maps are not generally as detailed in Alaska. As of version 4.8.5, there is a separate option, Alaska Topo Maps, that covers Alaska.
Farther down in the maps menu. These are newer maps published by the USGS, and look a bit like Google Earth. They come from the USGS National Map Viewer, courtesy of the Federal Government.
They do not map trails for the most part, but they do contain most roads.
Forest Service Topo Maps
As of version 4.8.5, you also have the option of choosing "Forest Service Maps".
These are based on Forest Service Data.
They are very similar to other topo maps, except maybe in color scheme, but they might be useful if they cover:
- forest boundaries
- road numbers
- trail numbers.
The New USTopo
If you go to the USGS store on the web now, you will find a new form of topo maps. It is actually composed of aerial photography with an overlay of streets, feature names, and the 40 foot contour lines in red. At the USGS store you will find this in GeoPDF, a convenient format to view and print, but not as useful for mobile. But you can now choose a source like this from the "More Map Sources" dialog.
This can a very useful map with much current./
Are there any disadvantages? Well, these new maps have no trails on them. Zero. Zilch. I talked to the USGS about this and they hope to add *some* trails within the next few years. They acknowledge that the mapping of trails involves thousands of state, federal, and local agencies.
The AccuTerra Topo Map
The AccuTerra Topo map comes from NeoTreks, Inc, and is a terrain style map much like Google Terrain.
Some of the advantages are that it has many of the newer roads and trails. It displays trails in a very readable way.
Be aware that there is additional cost to use these maps. This does not make them automatically better. The maps do take millions of dollars to produce, and we pay licensing fees according to use. At the present time, about 15 percent of US users have chosen to use these maps. I expect that will be higher after the enhancements that have been made for 2013, but I don't expect that it will ever be 100%.
Does it have disadvantages? Well, it doesn't necessarily have all trails. Many users note that it fails to include old logging roads, railroad tracks, and even some of the trails they find on the older topo maps.
For that reason, I do get negative comments and occasional hate mail about them. Some users ask why the heck do i even offer such maps and how dare I charge money for them, since the "free" ones are what they find better.
I do think it is right to give people a choice.
Please go to http://gpstopomaps.com/ to see if this map source is right for you before buying.
Changes in 2013
As of 2013, the Accuterra Map Source is becoming a single layer source, for greater performance and ease of use.
It will also have full data for the continental US up to zoom level 16, which is a plus.
It has roads and trails as a separate layer that can be used on top of other maps, as discussed in the next section on hybrid options.
Can you combine some of the advantages of several maps? You can with a highly requested option: Hybrid views as of 4.8.5.
You do not have to do anything complicated to use these hybrid maps. You choose them from the 'More Map Sources' like any other map source.
With "Hybrid: CalTopo with Accuterra" has the topo map with paths drawn on top, you have twice the chance of finding your favorite trail or road.
You can also see paths on top of Aerial Photography - "Hybrid: USTopo with AccuTerra".
Both of these options are available to Accuterra subscribers.
What do they cost?
Accuterra Map Source is available as a yearly subscription. Most of the maps mentioned above cost us money to license, host, and maintain. If you use Caltopo, Us Forest Service, or US Topo Imagery (with or without markup) actively, you are asked to sign up for a CalTopo subscription. Go to Menu-Purchasing Addons and choose CalTopo Yearly Subscription.