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National Geographic TOPO! Outdoor Recreation Mapping Software - California

in Navigation Gear & Accessories

Average Rating
3.67 / 5 (6 reviews)

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b d
( bdavis )

Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
National Geographic TOPO! Outdoor Recreation Mapping Software - California on 11/30/2006 16:04:51 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

On a whim I bought the California Nat'l. Geo. USGS quad map DVD/CD package one day. I was too cheap to buy 3 USGS quad maps of the area we wanted to hike in for $15 each at a local gear shop.

It was so worth it. The Topo package contains over 2,800 USGS quad maps -- the entire state of CA. It is easy to use, all you do is click on the area you want to see and then zoom in.

But the real killer is that you can draw trails on the maps, then produce an elevation profile. They will give you the GPS coordinates for any point or the longitude and latitude, elevation, and other info by clicking the mouse. They also give you trail distances, like if you draw a trail then it tells you the distance. You can make notes on the maps and save the maps to your harddrive so you have them stored. They interface with GPS units too (I don't use one, but my partner is really wanting one so I guess Xmas present is taken care of).

Then, to top it off you can print your own maps with top lines, elevations, notes, distances, etc. on your black and white laser printer or use an inkjet or laser color printer to print out copies. These can then be plasticized (I've never done that yet because I just print out new ones and cut the paper to reduce weight -- isn't that nuts, cutting the edges off of a sheet of typing paper? Oh well, I like it and it gives me that extra thrill of getting rid of weight so I can enjoy it out there all the more.

Anyway, I highly recommend you look at this item and even share it with friends and distribute the cost of $100 or so.

Edited by bdavis on 11/30/2006 16:07:52 MST.

Phil Barton
( flyfast )

Re: National Geographic TOPO! on 01/13/2007 12:16:02 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 3 / 5

TOPO! software to me is a mixed bag. I've owned 5 different map sets for a few years (US National Parks and 4 different states).

What I've really liked -- the ability to print any map the way I want for any of the areas covered by the map CDs. The function is fantastic allowing you to build your own trails, create GPS waypoints, import GPS waypoints, build elevation profiles for a route, etc.

But using this software can be a real pain. As I've upgraded versions and moved from one PC or Mac to another it is difficult to install and configure. Setting up versions and updates is not intuitive. The more I use computers the less patience I have for this kind of thing (23 years in IT is part of this).

Another frustration is the Mac version of TOPO! does not provide the same control over printing as the PC version. On the PC, I can choose virtually any scale, most typically 1:24,000 but sometimes 1:48,000 or 1:36,000. Printing on the Mac is improved with the most current release, 4.2.7, but it lacks the same degree of control over printing as on the PC.

When I've asked for help on different technical problems, National Geographic has been responsive.

So, to me it is a solid 3. The function is worth the crummy usability of the software.

Craig Shelley
( craig_shelley )

Rocky Mountains
Even worse than Maptech Terrain Navigator on 02/06/2007 14:41:36 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 2 / 5

To get the most utility out of a GPS, I like using a GPS together with topographic maps on a computer. I will create routes prior to a trip, print the topographic maps, and load the routes into my GPS. I also keep all my GPS tracks on the computer so I know where I've been. Finally, I like to keep track of where I take photographs with a waypoint.

I've used Maptech Terrain Navigator for many years. It's worked but the bugs in the software drive me nuts. Maptech is not a stable bug-free program. It has gotten better but it is far from polished.

Since I've seen pretty good reviews of Topo!, and have known a few people that used the software and said they liked it, I decided to buy it and try it out.

In about 1 hour of playing with the program, it crashed four times (running Windows XP Home on a stable system). This is really a bad sign with my emphasis on a stable and dependable program. The user interface is slightly worse than Maptech and Maptech is typical of many Windows programs (not very good). OK, so I read the help (something I don't like to do to get basic functionality) and it is very crude: spelling errors, missing words.

It would sure be nice if someone would make a great topographic map program. It just doesn't exist. For now, I will continue to use Maptech. Eventually, I will review Maptech, which I would give about a 3.

PS: Just opening topographic maps and printing them out isn't that important to me and you probably don't encounter many bugs using the program to that extent.

More after reading the later review: Maptech has provided free upgrades since version 1. It is currently at 7 (I don't recall the minor release numbers). I don't like Maptech, and that is why I decided to try Topo. One of the first things I did with Topo, is open a file with about 3000 waypoints that I keep track of in Maptech. This is probably more than typical users. Although it crashed after about 15 minutes of use with all the waypoints, the later 3 crashes were without this file of waypoints open (just trying out a variety of program features). I have been using the latest version of Topo 4.2.7. As a former software company owner and developer for Macintosh and Windows, I'm far from impressed and a little amazed at the poor quality of the software package. I'm going to compare functionality more, especially map quality and post a review of Maptech over the coming weeks.

Edited by craig_shelley on 02/07/2007 10:58:31 MST.

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Richard Scruggs
( JRScruggs )

National Geographic offers a lot, but lets earlier customers down on 02/06/2007 17:38:27 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

Several years ago, I purchased mapping software for a few of the "regional" areas produced by National Geographic. For example, the software included the North Cascades on one disk, the South Cascades on a second disk, and Oregon Cascades on a third disk. Later, when National Geographic introduced a GPS option for its mapping software, the company made the sofware progarm TOPO! available to enable earlier software versions to use GPS features. That was a great move that helped Nat'l Geo's customers who had purchased the earlier non-GPS software versions.

Of particular value to "old software" customers of Nat'l Geo was the fact that when Nat'l Geo next upgraded the TOPO! software, the upgrade not only continued to be supportive of earlier versions of its regional software, but also added more GPS units that would work with the old versions, including Garmin's Geko 201 and 301.

More recently, when I purchased some new mapping software from Nat'l Geo in order to expand the coverage area beyond the areas covered by my earlier software, I discovered that the TOPO! version that comes with the latest, newest Nat'l Geo software (TOPO4!, or something like that) was incompatible with my old software. That problem is easy enough to work around simply by using the earlier TOPO version with my old mapping software (missing out on some nifty improvements that the new TOPO version provided), and just using the latest TOPO version to run only the new mapping software that came with that version.

However, Nat'l Geo has left its old customers out in the cold in a way that's hard to understand. Although the newest TOPO! software adds many more GPS units, like the ForeTrex 101 in particular, Nat'l Geo has not offered an option to upgrade its old TOPO! version to also make use of the additional GPS units. As a result, I can use my Foretrex 101 with the new software that Nat'l Geo sells with the TOPO!4 version, but I cannot use the Foretrex 101 with mapping software that runs only with the prior version of TOPO! (pre-number 4). Nat'l Geo has in the past offered a download from its website to update the prior TOPO! to include adding compatiblity with additional GPS units, so I though it unusual that I couldn't find an update on their website to make my Foretrex 101 work with my old software.

So I contacted Nat'l Geo tech support to ask whether the company will continue supporting its old TOPO! customers by offering downloadable updates to the old TOPO! software (which gives their old mapping software the GPS option), and in particular provide upgrades to make additional GPS units (like the Foretrex 101) compatible with the old software. Their answer was "no" and it appears that Nat'l Geo decided that its old customers just need to get more new stuff from Nat'l Geo.

Other than the above problem that I've experienced as a result of buying from Nat'l Geo in the past and buying from then again more recently, the software has been terrific, and runs with no problems on my PC with Windows XP.

Unlike the earlier reviewer who has experienced crashes when running his Nat'l Geo software with Windows XP, I haven't experienced any crashes or other problems using my Nat'l Geo software (whether old or new versions) on my PC runnning Windows XP, whether I'm setting routes on the screen, or uploading and downloading readings routes from/to my GPS.

I'm by no means a computer expert, and have become more anti-technology (or is that technologically handicapped?) as I get older. However, I do know from personal computer combat experience that problems may arise as the result of a mysterious interpersonal conflict between software and security settings of a hostile computer. Just a wild guess, I suppose. But I can state with certainty that, while kicking the wayward computer feels good, a swift kick (or even several) will absolutely fail to resolve the issue of crashes.


Edited by JRScruggs on 02/06/2007 17:51:48 MST.

Laurence Beck
( beckla )

Southern California
The milage runs 10-20% low on 02/07/2007 17:18:28 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

I used Nat. Geographic's TOPO California to plan a John Muir Trail hike last summer (06). It was great at showing profiles and I loaded waypoints to my Garmin GPSMAP 60C. The one slight ptoblem is that the milage listed on each segment was actually from 10 to 20% lower than the actual official milages.

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Brian Lewis
( brianle )

Pacific NW
Live with problems, a good overall choice on 03/14/2007 17:22:47 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

I've had Topo! products for years, starting with version 2.x, and most recently buying the California state set upgrading me to version 4.x.

One of the (10) CD's has a flaw such that one file can't be read; I copy all this stuff onto my hard disk (it's tedious to swap CD's as you want to jump around and look at different parts of the state), and this file just couldn't be copied, with the result that in certain views there's a blank chunk.

I also wasn't able to get the 4.x software to recognize and use my Washington state Topo map info; it wanted me to "register" it, and I clicked the option that says I don't have a serial number (the old product doesn't seem to have one), but nothing happened.

I originally rated this a 3 for the above issues, but within 24 hours of emailing National Geographic about it (the company that sells Topo), they sent me an email explaining how to get my existing state map to work with the new software, and offering to mail me a replacement CD. Assuming they follow through with the CD, excellent customer service. With this response I'd give it about a 3.5 I guess.

The downside is that it sure didn't work well "right out of the box". And in using Topo software for years --- and I *am* a software engineer --- I can say that their software has a lot of issues. Well, I haven't spent any time with version 4.x yet, but while I appreciate the ability to download updates for free (to a point), it's always with trepidation that I do it. They don't seem to have a good quality assurance process in place; in the past I've anticipated that even if they do fix a particular bug, they'll introduce another one that annoys me in some different fashion. I can pretty much always find away around the irritations (this CA state problem was the one exception that required contacting the company), but it's something that has to be lived with, because what this offers really is a strong product, despite some software flaws. I tried morethanamile maps, pretty cheap, but I really want and need to be able to print UTM grids on my mapsheets. The Topo stuff just looks better too, and it's fast enough if you have hard disk space to load it all there.

I think that Topo products will be something that I love to hate for many years; I adore the ability to do trip planning and download GPS trip data and print my own maps, so I'll continue to live with whatever flaws there are. And who knows, maybe with version 4.x they've finally got something that's relatively bug-free (here's hoping).

Edited by brianle on 03/15/2007 19:04:51 MDT.

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