Garmin has begun a map project of the United States creating 24K high
resolution maps. The project is moving from the west coast of the
U.S. toward the east
coast and so far involves two states at a time being released.
The maps are only available on SD and microSD cards and cannot be
viewed on a computer. Overall these maps bring a major
improvement to what TOPO maps have been available for Garmin GPS
receivers and add autorouting features and improved terrain shading, as
well as better accuracy. They are selling for $99 per card (only
two states included.) Check discount prices here.
The first map
card was released in July 2008, for Washington/Oregon,
followed by California/Nevada and Utah/Colorado. More
cards featuring a two state combination are expected to be released
about every two months until there is full coverage of the USA.
What Garmin is not advertising, is that these cards are a hybrid
detailed TOPO maps, but also have Navteq City Navigator data with
capabilities. What it means is that this TOPO card will work the
same as City Navigator maps for autorouting. The cards are copyright protected with an unlock
but can be transferred between any compatible Garmin unit, without
having to register the card to a specific unit. The biggest
this, is that you cannot view these maps on a computer, only on a compatible
Garmin GPS. While the map cards will work in any Garmin unit
capable of using a microSD or SD card, the terrain shading feature
makes these maps most effective, when used on the Garmin Oregon or
The memory card is a San Disk brand and is a 2GB microSD. It
comes with an SD adapter and a brief instruction. There is no
manual or anything else included. My version is the Mountain
Central card and its map file is 1.4 GB, leaving about 600 MB for
storing digital photos or .gpx tracklogs on the 60CSx or eTrex HCx series. (The map
file is in a folder called GARMIN and there is a small unlock file and
the gmapsupp.img file) You
cannot put another mapset on the card, in fact, if you try to send
additional maps to the card, it will erase your 24K mapset for good.
We strongly suggest you send no maps to your GPS unit's internal
memory, without first removing the memory card as a precaution.
The maps provide contour lines at both 20 foot and 40 foot
intervals, depending on the terrain.
Here are the features of these cards, according to Garmin.com
The Garmin U.S.
TOPO 2008 product
terrain shading and 100K maps, but our experience has been that roads,
trails, and streams can be as far off as 300-400 feet. These
new 24K maps, offer
much better accuracy, more detailed terrain shading and more
contour lines. The images
below offer a comparison
of TOPO US 24 K vs. US TOPO 2008. The screen images are from a
Garmin Oregon 400t, unless noted, are at the same location with identical
map scale. Note better stream coverage with 24K maps, as well as
roads and trails.
- Topo 24K coverage
- Points of interest with thematic icons: parks, campgrounds, boat
ramps, airports and others
- 3-D terrain shading on compatible units
- Elevation profile of routes on compatible units, so you can
estimate terrain difficulty
- Routable roads and trails
- Searchable points of interest including visitor’s centers,
camping and picnic areas, wilderness campsites, and more
- Detailed hydrographic features, including wetlands
- National, state and local parks, forests and recreational areas
including conservation areas
- BLM Township and Range Section overlay; USGS quad name
TOPO US 24K
US TOPO 2008
US TOPO 2008 (100K)
Images below are on the state border. The Top half shows US TOPO
2008 (100K) and the bottom half shows US TOPO 24K. Note better
detail with 24K maps.
Images below show a screen grab from a Vista HCx, a 60CSx and an
Oregon 400t. All the screen grabs are from the same TOPO US 24K
maps at the exact same location, with the same map scale. Note no terrain shading on the HCx or 60CSx images.
While the map cards will work in the eTrex HCx units, the Rino HCx
units and the 60Cx series, you can see the maps really shine in the
Oregon and Colorado series.
Oregon 400t with US TOPO 100K
with US TOPO 24K
The 24K maps will autoroute and give you turn by turn directions, not
only in the backcountry, but streets and neighborhoods. Includes
full Points of Interest file, including restaurants, hotels, shopping,
hospitals, transportation, etc. You can also input street addresses
and get turn by turn directions. Will provide both 2-D look with
terrain shading or 3-D automotive mode. See screen examples below.
Freeway use in 2-D flat view, with
Street use in 3-D auto
unpaved road in 2-D flat
hiking trail in 2-D flat view
Another benefit from the autorouting for trails, is that instead of
getting a distance as a crow flies, you can get an actual hiking
distance and in the HCx and 60Cx, it will offer an elevation profile,
showing your elevation climb as well. So far this feature of
elevation profile is not available in the Oregon or Colorado series.
We can hope!
The maps will give you a listing of the USGS paper map coordinates, see
map with red letters below, the T18 s corresponds with the screen shot.
Here is a photo looking south of two hills and then a screen grab of
the map of the same location. Note north arrow in upper left hand
Alternative 24K maps
There is an alternative out there for 24K maps we have found, which you
may want to consider as well. It is a project of creating
24K maps which are compatible for Garmin. So far there are a few
western states available for download and we think it is worthwhile to
make a donation for these mapsets. They load into Garmin's MapSource and
can then be downloaded to a GPS. They do not offer any
autorouting capabilities, but our experience has been that they have
similar accuracy to the Garmin 24K maps. We have only seen a
couple of issues with accuracy problems with these maps, and they
appear to be a great alternative. They do not have as many trails
or streams or rivers, but otherwise do provide good 24K contours.
Better yet if you have a Oregon or
Colorado with Garmin's US TOPO 2008 loaded, you can leave
that product enabled and these alternative maps will overlay on top,
giving you terrain shading too! Here are a couple of screen
comparisons with the alternative map on the far right.
US TOPO 2008 100K no shading
100K with shading
TOPO US 24K
with shading from
US TOPO 2008 100K
Note the trail detail in 100k, improved trail detail and stream data in US 24K and no
trail or stream in miscjunk.org map. It superimposes terrain shading from
Garmin US TOPO 2008. You can find out more on these maps at www.miscjunk.org by clicking here.
Here is the a breakdown of the pros and cons of Garmin's TOPO US 24K as we see them:
The detail is much better than any other Garmin TOPO product we have seen so far
The availability of Navteq (City Navigator) road data is a
real plus, including address search and autorouting capabilities
Terrain shading is more detailed than 100K product
Better water and trail data
Can easily switch cards between Garmin units and if you buy a new handheld, you don't have to buy new maps
Limited to two states at a time, you can't pick which two states you
want. If you live in Oregon and also want California maps, you
have to buy two separate cards.
No ability to view maps and plan routes on a computer
There can be too many contour lines in steep terrain which can make the map difficult to view
No raster (aerial photo) imaging available
Currently you can't preview these maps with Garmin's Map Viewer, before purchasing
Not as many geographic POI locations as US TOPO 2008. However,
keeping the US TOPO 2008 product enabled, will supplement the 24K maps with more
The price is high for just two states of coverage
While these maps do support autrouting, we should warn everyone that
while you may get a route showing you to a destination, it doesn't mean
you can drive a car there. Some roads on the map indicate a
solid gray line, but these roads can be dirt and in some instances, a
4X4 vehicle may not be able to travel on it. Some dotted line
trails may also not even support an ATV and are only for hiking.
You must also change your routing in the GPS setup from off road
to on road, for either distance or time, to get autorouting. Also
remember you can set in the routing of your GPS preferences,
whether you want the unit to calculate routes for a car/motorcycle, a
bicycle or pedestrian. So make sure which type of route you want
calculated, is set in the routing preferences. There have been
several cases lately of tourists who are following their GPS unit's
directions right into the middle of nowhere, just because the unit says
'turn here.' We suggest everyone carefully consider where they
are being routed.
seem to have more streams shown, but it doesn't mean they actually have
water. We have found many streams shown on the map, are actually
dry creek beds.
The higher detail maps will take longer to draw on the map page of the
GPS. Different map scales appears to handle it differently, so
you can experiment to see which scale is faster and which is slower in
your particular unit.
Garmin's National Park's 24K series
is a similar product, however these new maps may be better, since
they are not limited to areas in and around national parks.
These 24K maps are the best TOPO maps for general coverage we have seen
from Garmin yet. They appear to be much more accurate
and have improved terrain shading. Hopefully when all of the
United States is released, Garmin will sell a DVD of these
maps for use on a computer as well. Until then, the maps are
limited to GPS use only. The price is steep for two states, especially
if you travel frequently. But if most of your outdoor adventures
are close to home, you will benefit from these maps. Remember you can
accidentally erase these maps from the memory card, so be careful when
plugging your GPS into the computer and using MapSource. Check Garmin's official product page here, to see which states are currently available.
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