GPS units can be useful tools for some wilderness trips, and they become more useful when loaded with topo maps. If you own a Garmin GPS unit, high quality free topo maps may be available for the areas you travel. You’ll need a Garmin GPS capable of receiving user uploaded maps, software, and the free maps.
Free Garmin GPS Maps
I remember my first search for free Garmin GPS maps had me pulling my hair out after spending hours trying to download them and getting them to work on my GPS, which is the one I list below, but the good news is that getting the maps is the easy part. You go over to the GPSFileDepot’s Custom Maps page, click on the map you want and then download the executable file. Don’t run the executable file until you install the needed software.
Garmin’s Map Source software is required to load maps downloaded from GPSFileDepot onto your GPS. If you don’t have Map Source, you’ll need to download it by following the steps in this tutorial.
Once installed, run the executable map file that you downloaded. This will install the map into Map Source and your computer. You can delete the downloaded file after you finish installing it.
To install the maps onto your GPS, follow this tutorial.
NOAA Charts on Your GPS
If you’re feeling like tackling a bigger project, in addition to printing your own NOAA charts you can put NOAA charts on your GPS. You’ll need to purchase Moagu and follow the steps written by the Moagu creator in this tutorial.
Boundary Water (BWCA) Portage and Campsites for Garmin GPS
If you like to canoe in the BWCA, don’t forget your Portage and Campsite info.
- Garmin eTrex Vista HCx: One of the lightest handheld GPS units on the market. It gets over 25 hours of battery life depending on batteries. I get 40 to 50 using Lithium.
- Transcend 4 GB Class 6 microSDHC Flash Memory Card : 4GB memory card for the above GPS. It holds a ton of maps, and you can save your daily GPS tracks to the card, which makes uploading to sites like Google Maps (with a few hacks) and Triptracker easy.
- Outdoor Navigation With GPS: Hiking, Geocaching, Canoeing, Kayaking, Fishing, Outdoor Photography, Backpacking, Mountain Biking: Excellent book that explains the basics of navigating using a GPS and translating those skills to a map.