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Topo Maps on CD
for Greater Flexibility

For a great number of options and flexibility, topo maps on CD, sometimes called digital maps, should be considered. Here we will report on the two most popular brands of topo maps on CD. We give the pros and cons of each and compare the two with each other.

DeLorme update: (March, 2009) The topo product is currently Topo USA 7.0. There are quite a few improvements including geocaching and geotagging features. Customer reviews of the DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 are mixed. There are some complaints about the software being difficult to use. You can read some of those reviews at Amazon.

A Note About Printers and Paper

The quality of a map printed from a CD can vary considerably depending on the type and quality of the printer. Paper is another important factor. Both of the two most popular topo maps on CD, the National Geographic TOPO!® series and the DeLorme Topo USA 5.0®, each have their advantages and disadvantages when printed.

Generally speaking, an inexspensive ink jet printer will make a map acceptable for most uses. The result is somewhat fuzzy and fine details are lost. The same map printed on a mid-to-high-priced color laser printer is significantly better. But even that is still one notch below a standard USGS quad. National Geographic offers a waterproof, tear-resistant paper called Adventure Paper®. It is actually a product called Teslin® and can be folded without damage. Adventure Paper used to print topo maps on CD in an ink jet printer yields a fine-resolution result that is somewhere between the National Geographic TOPO! CD (printed on regular paper) quality and the quality of a USGS quad.

DeLorme Topo USA 5.0

Available in USA Eastern region, USA Western region,
and the entire USA

Delorme Topo Maps on CD

Screen shot from a DeLorme Topo USA 5.0 CD ©DeLorme

Find, Draw, Profile, and Printing

With the DeLorme USA 5.0 topo maps on CD you can search by address, ZIP Code, place names, and coordinate positions. If that fails to find the location, an advanced search is available. Topo USA 5.0 lets you add draw objects, such as roads and trails, tracks, text, waypoints, and symbols. With the tools offered, what you can draw includes circles, rectangles, lines and line highlights, arcs, and polygons. There is a lot of flexibility regarding printing. You can print the map currently viewed and print routes and/or route directions. Paper sizes up to 11" x 17" can be printed and you can assemble maps into a composite as large as 3 pages high by 3 pages wide. The Profile feature lets you generate a cross-sectional profile elevation graph of map features or linear objects. You can also trace routes and profile those.

Route, Map Display, and GPS

The Route feature allows many options. You can create routes and calculate a route's distance. You can also display routes by project, view route directions, and set routing preferences. For GPS units that have downloading and uploading functions, you can transfer routes from the GPS to your maps and send waypoints and directions from Topo USA 5.0 topo maps on CD to the GPS. You can customize the appearance of certain map features and create a set of custom features to meet your individual preferences as well as setting your own units of measurement.

National Geographic TOPO!

Available individually for each of the United States except for the
Northeastern USA, which is comes as one region.

National Geographic Topo CD

Screen shot from a National Geographic TOPO! CD ©National Geographic

Routes, Navigation, and Measuring Distance
and Direction

National Geographic TOPO! topo maps on CD has a handy tool you can use to measure distance and direction between any two points. The maps can be navigated in many ways. If you know the place name or coordinate, you can jump to that location instantly. You can zoom in or out to see five different levels of mapdetail and scroll seamlessly across map boundaries. Routes can be drawn freehand and then measured for distance. A drawn route can be made to create a profile and also used with a GPS unit.

Profiles, Waypoints, and Grids

As noted above, elevation profiles can be created for any route you trace on the map or any straight line between two points. The nice thing about this feature is being able to show statistics including gain, loss, grade, and actual overland distance. Waypoints marking such significant features as trailheads and junctions can be plotted anywhere on the maps and can be labeled. Gridlines can be added to any map and set to longitude/latitude or the UTM system.

GPS, Customizing, and Printing

Routes and waypoints created within TOPO! can be uploaded to your GPS. And, information collected with your GPS unit can be downloaded and seen on TOPO!ís maps. Custom maps can be created by adding symbols and text, and with the drawing tools you can mark an area of any shape. Since the topo maps on CD cover an area much greater than any printed page, there is a tool that allows you to select an area of the map for printing. Maps can be printed in color or black & white, and will automatically include any custom symbols, text, routes, grids and GPS data you have added.

Comparison: Cons and Pros

DeLorme Topo USA 5.0

  • Cons:
    • Some roads and trails not accurately placed
    • Some waterways not accurately placed
    • Not as much detail as USGS quads (don't show buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc.)
  • Pros:
    • Slightly better print quality
    • Clearer road and trail detail
    • Less expensive

National Geographic TOPO!

  • Cons:
    • Print quality not quite as good as USGS quad (however, a mid-to-high-line laser printer is very close)
    • More expensive
  • Pros:
    • These topo maps on CD are direct copies of USGS quads - they show all details (buildings and houses, bridges, tunnels, etc.)
    • Easy and flexible navigation across maps

Conclusion

As you can see from the above cons and pros, each product would come out about equal if rated on a numerical scale. What it boils down to is your particular needs and your budget.

The DeLorme Topo USA 5.0 is $49.95 for the Western USA, $49.95 for the Eastern USA, or the entire USA for $99.95. If all you need is basic back road and topographical information for a certain state or region, the $49.95 Topo USA 5.0 regional version is a good value. And if you need two or more states that don't fall in the same region, you can get the entire USA for the price of the two regions.

The National Geographic TOPO! Western states come separately. Midwestern and Eastern states come two or more states per CD set. They are normally $99.95.

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