Over the past several years I’ve tried out a number of topographic software programs for mapping mountain bike trails and GPS data and they’ve all been seriously flawed in one way or another: National Geographic Topo! (crashes often, expensive), Mac GPS Pro (techy, no built-in maps), Google Earth (limited topo support), Trails.com (slow, limited interface), and various freeware programs, none of which are complete solutions. Recently I purchased Topo USA 6.0 from DeLorme and I must say this is the best program I’ve used yet.
When you first open Topo 6.0 you’ll be overwhelmed by all the buttons, tabs, and data displayed on the screen (see attached screen shot). Each time I’ve used the program I’ve had to consult the help application just to figure out how to import and view GPX formatted data. Once your data is successfully loaded, though, Topo 6.0 really shines.
While most topographic programs use scanned USGS topo maps that have been stitched together, DeLorme has taken the time to save the USGS data in vector format. This means maps are easy to view at any zoom level PLUS many trails and roads are clickable vectors that allow you to see length, elevation profiles, and more. This feature alone makes Topo 6.0 worth the investment. You can even shift-click to link trails and roads together to view overall lengths/profiles while planning a custom adventure.
Topo 6.0 also provides a 3-D view of your topo map much like in Google Earth and National Geographic Topo – definitely entertaining but only mildly useful. All the topo maps are on a single DVD, which is a huge value and convenience over other programs that make you purchase separate data for each US state. Topo USA 6.0 also offers highly customizable printing options for maps and elevation profiles that are great for taking along on your next venture.
No product is perfect and Topo 6.0 is certainly no exception. First, the map controls are not very intuitive, especially when compared to programs like Google Earth. Dragging the map just doesn’t seem to work (despite what the program tips suggest) and the mouse scroll wheel seems to be underutilized as a control as well. DeLorme’s licensing agreement is also pretty strict and states that you can’t publish more than 2 images from the program online or in any other form (man, I used my 1 of my 2 just for this review!). I called DeLorme to see about licensing the images for use on Singletracks but they stated that they won’t license the output for ANY PURPOSES. Seems a bit shortsighted but I’m sure most people will just ignore this warning.
If you’re looking for a good topographic program to use with your GPS or to plot out new mountain bike routes, DeLorme’s Topo USA 6.0 seems to be your best bet. Vector maps, convienient packaging, and great printing options make Topo 6.0 a good value for any outdoor enthusiast.
Note: I purchased my copy of Topo USA 6.0 from Amazon a couple months ago for $99 but it’s now on sale for just $69. Get your copy through this link to show some love to singletracks.