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Tip of the Day 11/3:Choosing a GPSr —basemap

In this post on Choosing a GPSr (GPS receiver),we’d like to explain why or why not you may consider using a basemap.

There are two kinds of maps involved in a GPSr purchase. Basemaps live on the PC and store information sent to and from the GPSr. Navigation maps live on the handheld device and guide you around. Some GPSr devices can download maps from the PC,but not all of them can do so. Most PC basemaps can be updated with information from the GPSr,such as the track a person took while walking a trail through the woods. Also,many basemaps can be overlaid with information like geocache locations and waypoints  downloaded from online services.

Garmin’s MapSource is the most widely used basemap. It’s easy to read,although its features are pretty basic. Magellan’s AccuTerra basemap is an excellent choice for outdoor enthusiasts. We also like the DeLorme’s Topo USA series for its rich detail;the problem is that the graphics chew up PC performance.

Desktop mapping software has become less important over the last couple of years,as services like Google Maps have evolved to provide superior utility. Still,the desktop software is often the only means by which to reliablly transfer routes and maps to teh GPSr. Some vendors also make updates to the maps available as free downloads. Keep an eye on Geocaching.com for further developments in this area. As developers take advantage of Google Maps’openness,the service’s utility as a geocaching tool will improve.

Be sure the mapping software you use can import GPX files,which contain all the relevant details about a cache. Incredibly,we found that some products marketed to geocachers didn’t support this basic function. You might also want to see if map updates can be obtained via a subscription. You can also invest in Topgrafix’GeoBuddy software,which downloads maps as you need them. At $74.95,it’s approaching pricey,but still may be worth it for you.

Some basemaps come pre-installed on the GPSr. You want to be very comfortable using the map you’ve chosen,since you’ll be looking at it a lot. That’s why it’s important to test-drive a GPSr before you buy it. Take some time to test different candidates and choose one that feels right to you. In our experience,most retailers will let you take a GPSr outside for as long as a day or two if you leave a driver’s license or credit card.

Lines should be sufficient thickness to distinguish between roads and waterways. Colors should be vivid or user-definable.

Resolution should be good enough to clearly delineate wooded from urban areas and you should be able to display points of interest that can serve as references. You actually don’t want too much detail on a basemap,since too many waypoints can be distracting. A good map should let you clearly identify your target and give you an idea of the surrounding terrain. As we’ve mentioned before,most auto nav systems don’t give you that level of precision,which is one reason they don’t make good geocaching devices.

Be sure the handheld unit you buy comes with an installed map that covers at least a several-hundred mile radius around your home location. If you’re going to be geocaching internationally,check the vendor website for available international maps. These usually come on plug-in SIM cards,which can cost up to $100 each. However,they’re a lot simpler to use than scribbling waypoints on Google Maps printouts.

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How do you use your basemap? Comment on this post to share!

2 comments to Tip of the Day 11/3:Choosing a GPSr —basemap

  • Laurie Steuri

    Hi Paul! You didn’t mention “Base Camp”which is Garmin’s replacement (I believe) for Map Source. It has more features and is much easier to use than Map Source. I’m not sure that all of the Garmin maps that you purchase are compatible –especially those that were bought a few years ago,but I received the software with my NE US map purchase and it’s great!

  • We haven’t tried BaseMap yet,but are always willing to make the planning of an outing easier! Thanks for the head’s up!

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