Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Digital Mapping Tool Overview

Until we could carry them with us on mobile devices like phones, digital maps were for planning outdoor routes before printing these off for taking them with us. Now, the data and the routes can be entirely electronic so long as your device has the battery life to support the desired activity and there are plenty of places to recharge it along the way.

That world is very different from one where digital map data came in CD or DVD format and was expensive enough to stop a technophile like me from seeing what was on offer. This was how things were nearly twenty years ago and it took the introduction of web delivery of digital maps to get me to take the plunge.

Anquet, now riled by many, was my starting point before unstable software led me to look at Mapyx Quo. SityTrail, Memory-Map, Routebuddy and Outdooractive have been added to my collection since then. While some look at the route planning functionality on offer, these apps are no use if the mapping data is not available in the first place. With all of these, I get to survey maps for the U.K., Switzerland, France, Slovenia, Norway and the U.S.A. This collection of tools also offers maps for Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands too so there is good coverage all around.

For a time, the OSi had their Trail Master series for parts of √Čire but that seems to have gone by the wayside to leave Mapyx Quo and Viewranger as options for displaying Irish digital maps. That illustrates how much has changed in the world of digital mapping with providers coming and going. Now, we are seeing the national mapping agencies and other publishers themselves embracing digital delivery.

Walking maps are being made available on the web by others too. For instance, Bing Maps have 1:50000 and 1:25000 data from the Ordnance Survey while SysMaps also can do this along with maps from the likes of France and Germany so you can broaden your horizons if the need arises. Also, Joery Truyen has a list of online hiking maps on his adventure website. On occasions, the available maps are better for outdoor enthusiasts than those on a national agency’s own portal. That from Germany’s BKG comes to mind here as does the one from Italy’s IDN and the Czech Republic’s Tourmaps.cz so there is a growing number of such national portals.

As good as Google Earth and services that work from its data like Mapcarta have become, they do nothing to take from maps created by national mapping agencies so it is encouraging that we see so many ways of getting and working with their data. It just goes to show how important maps are to outdoors folk and the newfound ability to have them with us on devices that can locate us as well only underlines that.

AllTrails

When I first found this, it must have been a place to source hiking ideas because that is where I once put it on this website. However, there now is an app and a variety of subscriptions. The map data are web viewable too as are various hiking trails, even with the free subscription and there is a premium version too. It has a lot of uses when it comes to looking at hiking possibilities in North America.

Anquet

Founded in 2001, Anquet started out selling sets of disks containing OS digital map data. Since then, the business has moved more and more to online delivery. In the early days, you needed to install Anquet v06 but Outdoor Map Navigator has taken over that role now. Both tools will work on Windows and there is an app for Android too (the one for iPads does not work with iOS 11.0 at the time of writing) so your maps are available on your tablet or smartphone. As well as Ordnance Survey maps, the range now includes those from the Isle of Man Survey, Harvey Maps and France’s IGN. Though it is not my main tool, I still have Anquet for sake of exploration as much as anything else.

Avenza PDF Maps

It was my perusal of National Geographic’s hiking maps for North America that led to my discovering this. The viewer is an app for iOS and Android while there also are plans for a Windows Phone one. Maps are, as the name suggests in PDF form and you can zoom in and out of them. What can cause some confusion are the number of map providers whose wares are on offer. Some of the maps are free while others attract a fee with enhanced versions of USGS map tiles going for $0.79 each at the time of writing. Others will cost you more and National Geographic falls into this category. Intriguingly, so does Harvey Maps on this side of the Atlantic so this is more than a North American mapping range.

Gaia GPS

This app offers National Geographic maps as part of an annual subscription and it is that which drew my attention to its existence. While the focus is on maps of the U.S.A., others like France’s IGN also see inclusion and there is an online map viewer on the website. However, the main focus is on apps for Android and iOS devices and that is how the mapping data will see a use for activities as disparate as hiking and hunting.

Garmin

Though it is not a digital mapping tool per se, it is possible to use Garmin’s BaseCamp software to view maps stored on a Garmin GPS device. The range of maps is extensive with dedicated country coverage including Britain, the U.S.A., Canada, Austria, Norway and Spain while there are base maps that also cover any countries for which dedicated mapping is unavailable.

Mapyx Quo

Some now decry Anquet’s customer service yet it was not that which caused me to look elsewhere. Anquet v06 had become troublesome on the machine that I was using so I went looking at Mapyx Quo after hearing some good things about it. Again, internet delivery is the mainstay for buying maps though an offer led me to buy Ordnance Survey 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps for the whole of Great Britain on USB sticks, a move that involved a wait for the media and then for stabilisation of the software afterwards. It was just as well that the software is free and that it is just the maps that you buy. Even with some jerky movements on Windows 10, I still stick with it for the range additionally includes 1:50000 maps from OSi and OSNI for the island of Ireland. Slovenian maps once were available but that now seems not to be the case anymore though previous purchases continue to work largely as they should.

Memory-Map

There was a time when all digital mapping packages came in shrink-wrapped boxes and some have moved away from this model faster than others. Memory-Map made the move into the downloadable map business more recently than others and also has apps for iOS and Android as well as its Windows mainstay. Its range has extended beyond British maps to include those from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and the U.S.A. The latter includes DeLorme maps as well as those from USGS, which contain 1:63000 data for Alaska as well as those at the 1:24000 scale for elsewhere. Usefully, there is a try before you buy feature that I wish that I had tried earlier because it might have had me looking at maps before picking only those that I really needed.

My Trails

It was the Discovery Walking Guides website that brought this tool to my notice. It is an Android app that allows the use of maps from Britain’s Ordnance Survey and France’s IGN along with the aforementioned other publisher’s maps of Spain and Portugal. The selection may be more limited than some and it is becoming a crowded market these days but there must be some who use this app to serve their needs.

MyTopo

This Montana outfit specialises in U.S. maps but they offer custom printed maps as well as a software package containing USGS data and it is the latter that gets them added here. Usefully, there is a viewer on the website that allows us to view USGS maps too.

Outdooractive

Following a business merger with Viewranger, this is now my go-to app for use when hiking overseas. As well as offering a free tier, it works on a subscription basis with two paid tiers. The more expensive tariff gets you maps of more countries and more features. Given that I want to restart overseas trips again as we get used to living with COVID-19, I went for that option and it certainly has performed well for me on Irish excursions.

RouteBuddy

Routebuddy started out with support for OS X (Apple Mac) and iOS (iPhone & iPad) with a Windows version coming later, a refreshing change from the usual state of affairs. Maps using data from USGS (the U.S.A., without Alaska), Ordnance Survey (England, Scotland & Wales), IGN (France), Harvey Maps (the U.K., Isle of Man and Ireland), Kartverket (Norway), Lantmäteriet (Sweden), GST (Denmark) and LINZ (New Zealand) are included in the range it offers. Some advocates claim it offers a better experience than Anquet but it is the range of available maps that gets my attention.

SityTrail

This came to my notice in its previous guise as GeoLives when it was the best way to get Irish digital maps from OSi. GeoLives is no more and the emphasis is on apps for Android and iOS devices. Maps are available for Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.A. on an annual subscription basis and the prices are very reasonable for what you get. The maximum scale for those countries who have it is 1:25000 scale maps while 1:50000 is the largest one for others. Magnifying a map changes its scale so you can go from 1:250000 to 1:100000 to 1:50000 to 1:25000, a very handy feature. Planning tools are available too and there is one app per country on the mobile platforms while the web app has the necessary switching functionality together with planning tools.

Topo Maps+

This is another app that I found when looking at what National Geographic Maps has to offer. It however is limited to Apple devices so think about using it on your Watch, iPhone, iPad or Mac if you have any of these. Premium membership is what you need to buy for getting to use maps from a variety of publishers. The website may be US-centric but international maps are available too with Canada and New Zealand featuring on their list.