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Hey all, I have been looking around a bit for topographic software that can use the .tif files that are available on topoquest.com ( formerly topozone.com). The 1:24,000 version files. It would be cool if it were open source or could operate on an Android phone off the grid. If you have never used topoquest, it is pretty good if you want to save a little money on large printoffs of topo maps. Here is what I have found:

Do you guys use anything or have a preference?

Thanks, Dizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz :89:

And the below list was taken from www.portlandhikers.com (all credit to their site)


  • Viking, Viking is a free/open source program to manage GPS data.
  • Prune, GpsPrune is a free/open source application for viewing, editing and converting coordinate data from GPS systems
  • http://www.topofusion.com/, proprietary software with GPX output. Windows OS only
  • http://www.easygps.com/, EasyGPS is the fast and easy way to upload and download waypoints, routes, and tracks between your Windows computer and your Garmin, Magellan, or Lowrance GPS. Free Windows only
  • http://www.gpsbabel.org/, the ULTIMATE GPS file translator filetype converter utility. Up/Download to any GPS device.
  • Google Earth, what? your not using this already..?
  • ArcGIS Explorer Desktop a free GIS viewer that gives you an easy way to explore, visualize, and share GIS information.
  • Mobile Atlas Creator (MOBAC) supposedly a PC desktop utility for creating maplayers for use with Backcountry Navigator phone app. The end use of this software seems unlimited. difficult to use.
  • Garmin Basecamp software to view and organize your maps, waypoints, routes, and tracks and send them to your Garmin device. Free maps from switchbacks.com load nicely for use into Basecamp software. Mac and Windows.

Web Browser Utilites:

Smartphone GPS Applications

Complete Maps and Misc:

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I see you dove pretty deep in the pool there Dizzo. :D

None of those programs will do what you want. The few that would work on Android require a connection - so no "off the grid".

The basic problem is that you want to put large files with complex viewers on a device with limited processing ability, limited storage, very little memory and a small screen. That stuff just doesn't go together. It's like expecting a 125cc Suzuki to win against all the top fuel dragsters at the track .... it just ain't going to happen.

The Smartphone GPS apps are all bogus. Your phone does not have GPS. It does have geolocation capability. Your geolocation is first about your ip number and second about cell tower triangulation. Neither of these work without a cell connection. Most of them will give you a reading whether you have 5 towers or no connection at all. Lots of folks are getting in trouble relying on this fake version of "GPS". Up north a man died this year when he was injured and phoned his cellphone "GPS" location to search and rescue crews. His body was found weeks later more than 40 miles from where his cell phone "GPS" told him he was. Bad juju for the cell providers and those who rely on their claims about "GPS".

There are some very good mapping programs available today.

The king of mapping is ArcGIS from ESRI. Licenses start at about $800 a year and go waaaaay up from there. It's a pretty crappy pricing model and for the serious mapper it's kind of the cartoon button Disney mouse version of a great mapping program. It's only King because every government agency has contracts with them. They have a "free" viewer if you don't mind constant email advertisements and the software phoning home every few minutes.

I can call ArcGIS a version of a great mapping program because it's based on the free and open source Quantum GIS (Qgis for short) mapping software. Qgis does everything any other program can do. Not a coincidence since most other mapping programs are based on Qgis and other free code.

Qgis has a bit steeper learning curve than most of the applications you listed but it will do just about everything you could ever want. I did say free. You can speculate why our government from the county level to the USGS would pay for expensive software that is less capable than it's free big brother - I know I have.

The day will come when your phone is truly as "smart" and capable as the makers would like you to believe they are already. I am working on mapping programs right now that will be portable to pads and smart phones when they mature enough to handle it. In the meantime I would strongly suggest you go with free Qgis and keep your wallet in your pocket for now.

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Excellent, thanks Clay! Well if you didnt tell me about the free version, I would have found a way to get the paid for free anyway. It is interesting what you say about there really isnt any GPS in phones. I know that almost all communication on phones is done through cell towers, but I thought the actual GPS worked with GPS satellites. At least that is what my old Droid Global said, and that is also what my Galaxy III says. I believe you may be referring to older phones that stated GPS, but used towers and as a result could not fix a location if outside of a towers range.

I got 7 satellites(supposedly) in the desert of Nevada without a cell phone signal. I will agree about the power of phones, but if you look at the capabilities, one gig of ram and a 1.4ghz quad core is pretty good for a phone. Hell thats better than my old PC from five years ago. My phone states it supports GLONASS. I also supports A-GPS.

Here is my phone specs:

A-GPS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_GPS

Here is the link for GLONASS(Global Navigation Satellite System):

Either way, I really appreciate your info and look forward to future communication.

Dizz :thumbsupanim

Edited by Dizzo
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The USGS charges $8.00 for a 1:24000 Topo map. $15 for an historical topo map. The prices will be going up soon. At best that will get you a hand drawn 40 foot resolution paper map. We make digital maps with up to a 9 inch resolution.

Accounting for error that means you could encounter a 60 foot cliff that is nowhere to be found on that 40 foot topo. At 9 inch resolution and accounting for error a 14 inch "cliff" would not show on the digital map.

I can drive over that 14 inch "cliff" but a 60 foot cliff could make the difference between getting home on time for dinner or bleached bones in the desert. If you prefer a paper version with that kind of accuracy, as I do, it's just a mouse click away.

Welcome to the new world of accurate mapping.

p.s. I am accomplished at using a compass for navigation and still carry one in the same pouch as my extra batteries for my GPS unit. I can also navigate by the sun and stars if I have a working watch and know my general location.

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A-GPS is a cell tower assistance protocol best for use in cities - it is not GPS. Although GLONASS is a satellite based positioning system it is not GPS. It is the Russian national system alternate to the American GPS satellite system.

Perhaps just a technical consideration but Chinese cell phones operating on a Russian satellite system do not promote a feeling of supreme confidence in future results. At least the US government is honest in saying this stuff all goes away if they feel the need to limit your access. So which system do you think they will mess with first their own or the Russian system?

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Clay, how is that pretty girl ??

You didn't mention a "Viking Sun Stone" for navigation.

With that beard of yours, you sure look the part.

By the way. Is "two weeks" up yet for that sample you were gonna send? Ya know, "if Patrick and work it", it's ready for the world.

Patrick .....

Edited by Patrick in Havasu
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Hey Patrick,

How ya doin? Still got that boat? We are hoping for a ride when we finally come up for air. :thumbsupanim

Pretty girl is good and getting better as she gets older younger. She is passing on a shy HI! to you as I type.

I'm Irish... we use the Blarney Stone for our most important navigation needs...

I'm thinking it's probably going to be another two weeks before you get to be guinea pig. :4chsmu1:

Believe me it's going to be worth the wait.

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I am obviously way behind the technology curve, but here is how I handle it.

I use a National Geographic program on the computer. It has all the topo maps in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. I think I paid $100 bucks several years ago. It worked great and you could really utilize the program. You could also take photos, chart your trail with a Garmin GPS, and then produce a 3-D map of your journey with photos inserted at the appropriate locations. Lots of note capabilities and all the features that I could ever want to use.

Topo maps and a Briunton compass are not optional, they are mandatory. I used to buy my maps. But I found that the State Library in Santa Fe had every topo map of the entire state in their reference section and a huge color printer that will print the map for $1. I printed a "key map" and several topos that I did not have. Now when I need one I just go to the library and get it for a dollar. The one and only drawback is the paper they use is fragile and tears easily. So I generally print two.

Google Earth is great and so is the GIS program for my state. Texas has a software that was developed in the pipeline leasing business that is fantastic! The entire state, every square foot, maps, aerial and sattellite photos and LAND OWNERSHIP. Righht down the names, addresses and phone numbers. The last time I checked it was $800. That is probably dated info but it gives you an idea where to look.

Electric providers, pipeline outfits, gas companies and tribal governments have all spent big bucks to develop smart maps of all sorts. There are industries that use this stuff that have everything you need wherever you are at. If you can focus on one area and then ask yourself what industry or government would have detailed GIS information on the area you may be surprised what you can find...Other than the big map programs on the commercial market.

States have sunk huge megabucks into detailed smart maps. Most are available to the public in some form. In doing land research for meteorites I have really found a gold mine. New Mexico has a program where you can enter criteria in over 400 different fields and have a map produced based on the results. You could ask it for all land that is barren and at the bottom of an elevation profile, light colored and over 5 million years old at the surface. When that map is produced you can ask it for ownership information. You could actually go from zero research to a location based on your criteria with aerial photos and contact information of the owner...all in an hour.

I suggest targeting an area and utilizing what may be available in that specific area before investing an a program that might cover the whole U.S. And nothing is better than a topo, a map compass, and a lensatic compass. A GPS is great but it does not replace the map and compass. It just enhances it a lot.

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I use the iPhone with ihike $7.99 and all the maps are free.

Real 7.5 topos.

Also i use a Garmin Rhino and cross check the 2 "in the wild" they are always within 30 feet of each other.

So how does the iPhone do it with no cell service, with the cell data disabled, along with the sim locked off… simple its true gps.

iPhone does have a GPS receiver, and has since the iPhone 3G. the iPhone also has A-GPS capability, which lets the GPS receiver determine its current location much faster than normal. Without A-GPS, the GPS receiver has to wait -- sometimes multiple minutes -- before it can determine its location, because it doesn't know where the satellites are. A-GPS allows the phone to download satellite almanac data over the cellular network, so the GPS receiver can immediately know where all the satellites are. A-GPS is not necessary, however, for GPS operation -- even if you have no cellular service, you can still use the GPS receiver in the iPhone.

But what the iPhone does NOT have is WAAS capability. The GPS receiver works by measuring how long it takes for the radio signals to propagate between the satellites and the receiver. The propagation time varies based on the current density of the atmosphere between each satellite and the receiver. Because of the density flucuations, a standard GPS receiver can only get a fix that is accurate to about 10 meters. However, some geostationary satellites transmit atmospheric density information that lets GPS receivers compensate for current atmospheric conditions, and this enables accuracies in the neighborhood of about 1 meter. Garmin has had WAAS capable receivers for years, as have other hand-held and aviation-based GPS receivers, so it is a bit surprising that Apple has not incorporated WAAS into their GPS radio -- especially since WAAS density data can be downloaded via the Internet, eliminating the need for increased radio weight. I and others have submitted requests for a WAAS capable GPS receiver in the iPhone, but Apple has not delivered. Perhaps it is because WAAS is only available in North America. However, according to the specs for the iPhone 4S and 5, it now supports GLONASS, which provides near-WAAS accuracy when combined with standard GPS, and is available worldwide. At least that is the next best thing to WAAS.

Now, the CoreLocation service on the iPhone combines 3 completely separate technologies: GPS, cell tower triangulation, and Wifi-based location. I don't know the algorithm they use, but I presume that they use whatever service is currently providing the most accurate location information.

Note that cell tower triangulation has nothing to do with GPS.

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Off topic, but my HARDWARE, will take about any software

GPS enabled PanasonicToughbook with touchscreen in a storm case, with several hand helds (for redundancy, if one bites the dust).

Serves every need I have ever had.

With an inverter in your vehicle, you don't run the battery down & can recharge it, whenever needed.

I don't do well with the little screens on handhelds.

Plus want a lot of RAM, big Gig HD & CD ROM discs.

With a good digital camera plugged in, it's nice to log the GPS position of photos you take in the feild + notes you made standing there.


Mapping residual, grading into eluvial placer

(Note- Circa 1865-70 gin pole sidecast cobbles, area under stacked cobbles unmined, said to be as rich as origanal workings, 1 ounce per sq yard of bedrock exposed)

That way you know exactly where every picture was taken & can go back to that exact spot, as needed.

Saved, you can map-chart-trace-plot old placer workings that don't show on topo's, plus plot on google earth.

Sitting in the comfort of your vehicle there, at your campsite nearby, or home or office, days, weeks or months later.

For the old topo's, look here.


Edited by elder-miner
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Thanks alot Chris and the rest of you guys. I know my phone can do it, so now I will see if i can find that ihike program...Chris' explanation of GPS capability and elder's confirmation of operation are a good start. Logging data for prospecting on the fly is important and finding the most suitable method is important...thanks again.

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Good GPS software & compatible hardware sure beat the heck out of a Brunton compass & chain . Also makes metes & bounds claim staking easy/quick. Just plug in the data & GPS will guide you to where physical corner markers should be established.

Sometimes, a great time saver also. Many times I drove into an area after dusk or before dawn. In other words in darkness. With GPS I could usually get real close to or on the spot where I want to be, when the sun came out.

Also, a good safety factor, in that equipped with a Satellite phone (where cell phone reception doesn’t exist). You can either text or call in your GPS position to whoever you want, so they know where you are. In case of vehicle / ATV breakdown or serious immobilizing injury. With injury in mind, always wise to also have a good quality EMT kit close.

Few years back, way way way off the paved grid, found a lone guy who wrecked his quad, was seriously injured & unconscious. Youngster would have been dead meat in short order, if I was not equipped the way I was.

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This stuff is probably a little technical for this forum but I figure I'll post it here for posterity and to clear up a whole bunch of common misconceptions about smart phones and tablet devices as it relates to GPS and mapping.

I know at least one of you on this forum are working on developing GPS programs and hopefully this information will help you avoid some of the stumbling blocks that I have tripped over through the years.

For those of you who have religious beliefs that include the notion that your smartphone or tablet is just as capable as modern or even 10 year old computers it is probably best you move on to another post because any reality based study of this subject is going to be blasphemy to your ears.

Let's start with a description of what GPS is and is not. GPS stands for Global positioning system. To understand why your phone does not have GPS we will need to concentrate on that last word - system.

The system involves satellites, receivers and timing and communication protocols. Every word that Chris posted is true but it's not the entire story. Some phones do have GPS receiver chips that are capable of receiving satellite signals but that only completes the hardware side of the system.

The GPS system protocol is defined by the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA). That protocol standard defines how GPS receivers send information to computers. That information describes the PVT (position, velocity, time) solution that is computed by the receiver. That solution is passed to the computer in the form of NMEA "sentences" that begin with GP.

There are obviously a lot more details to this computer communication but in essence the GPS consists of the satellite, receiver chip and the resulting NMEA sentences.

Now that you know that GPS is a three part system it should be easier to understand what GPS is not. Think of this like playing golf you've got a club a ball and a hole with the object being to hit the ball with the club into the hole. If you hit the ball in random directions with no intention of hitting it into the hole it really isn't golf. You are just a ball hitter not a golfer.

Now imagine that you have a GPS satellite and a GPS receiver but there is no intention to produce the resulting NMEA sentences. You don't fit the definition of a GPS system. You are playing an entirely different game.

Your cellphone does not produce NMEA sentences. It's really just that simple. In Chris' case with the iPhone it produces location data through an iOS system function called Core Location framework instead of producing the NMEA sentences required to complete the GPS protocol. The Samsung uses a different system from both the NMEA and Core Location framework.

Now I know you are sitting there thinking "So what? I still get a dot on my phone map to show where I am. Who cares if you call it GPS or mappy nappy it works." And of course you are right. As long as you only care about what shows on your screen you are good to go right?

Well not quite. Remember how Chris explained how that missing WAAS data would increase his GPS accuracy from 30 foot down to 9 foot? (the real standard is from 90 foot down to 21 foot but we will get to that later). You might remember that WAAS data is not available on the iPhone. Well WAAS data comes from those GPS satellites and is sent in the form of NMEA protocol sentences. There is that pesky NMEA GPS standard again.

Apple will eventually do a workaround and figure a way to put that WAAS data into their Core Location framework and his location will be more accurate but his iPhone still won't be able to share what it knows about his location with anything else not speaking Core Location language. Same deal with the Samsung and all the other "GPS" phones out there. It's not a GPSystem when every device is speaking in their own language it's a tower of babel. That's why there is an NMEA standard - to avoid just these sorts of situations.

The reason Apple didn't include the WAAS workaround already is because WAAS use requires a long string of complex equations that are constantly being updated. Although smart phone chips are blazing fast virtually all that power is directed to I/O of data - you know, communication signals - what the phone is intended to do in the first place - communicate. That leaves very little processing power for complex ongoing math problems like WAAS equations. The more you make any processor do complex math the more heat the chip generates. On smart phones heat spells death. The entire operating system is on one single chip with no fans or air space around it to help cooling. Excess heat will take down the whole system at once in a small system chip like those used in smart phones resulting in catastrophic failure. Bad juju for smart phones.

So why don't handheld GPS units overheat you ask? Because they are purpose built computers designed to do that math through powerful dedicated math co-processor chips. Smart phones and pads don't have dedicated math co-processor chips like a GPS unit or your home computer. Smart phones rely on virtual single channel math processing through their processing chip that shares some of it's processing cycles from it's I/O communication functions. Different strokes for different devices. There is a lot more to the power equation with computing devices than processor speed or memory size. The only "one size fits all" solution is your relatively huge laptop or desktop home computer. That will change in time but that time is not near yet despite what the smartphone sales brochures tell you.

I'll write more later about the relative accuracy and usefulness of the different satellite systems and GPS protocols and how high resolution mapping just isn't going to fit on your handheld device yet but I think this is enough to help you understand why different phones require entirely different software, why they still don't have true GPS that can be shared among different devices and why putting third party maps of even medium resolution on a cell phone or pad can be daunting to say the least. While our new FootPrints core will be capable of running on any device that meets the agreed standards it will be awhile before your phone or pad, no matter how fast or how much memory it has, catches up with your home computer or real GPS unit. When it does we are ready to port FootPrints onto those handheld devices.
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:goodpost: Thats a lot of typing Clay. Thanks for the info. Would you say that even without that specific protocol and the mathematical processing power I/O threading limitations the "GPS"(now in quotes) :4chsmu1: is safe for use outside a cellular network? Meaning I wont get lost like a dummy :desertsmile: ...I know I know, carry a compass and a map and that wont happen :arrowheadsmiley: ....

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I can't speak to the actual accuracy of your model but assuming it can track as well as GPS without WAAS:

With four satellites your worst case scenario would be 150 foot from the indicated position (horizontal).

With seven satellites worst case would be 45 foot from the indicated position.

With the 24 satellites potentially available between the US GPS system and the Russian GLONASS system your theoretical accuracy should be better but real world tests show no appreciable improvement over the seven satellite scenario.

With seven GLONASS satellites only your North/South accuracy will be about the same as GPS but your East/West accuracy will be noticeably less than the GPS system.

Those are worst case scenarios. Your actual values should hover, over time, at about 20 - 25% of that error margin.

To test the relative accuracy of your system set down your cell phone (or GPS unit) on a stable surface in an area most like the conditions you experience while moving through an area and let it run a track for an hour or two. You will find that the track function fills an area around the central point. The largest diameter of that area is a general indication of the accuracy of your readings at that place and time.

This filled area will vary quite a bit depending on your North/South Latitude, cloud or tree cover and the condition of the ionosphere during your test period.

In ideal conditions a very good result (with WAAS enabled) would be about a nine foot diameter area. Without WAAS ideal conditions will produce around a 30 foot diameter. In the Northeast with cloud and tree cover on a bad day for the ionosphere you are going to be a lot closer to the 150 foot standard... if you can maintain constant connection with four satellites.

Those are just general guidelines for a good dedicated handheld GPS unit. Those figures will vary depending on orientation of the antenna, battery strength, sample rate and about a zillion other factors.

Slightly less accuracy can be expected out of a moving receiver but that is a pretty minor factor compared to the other variables.

You should not expect ideal results from any combination unit like a cell phone. Their sample rates are probably more erratic (just educated speculation) but even more important is the fact that your antenna is the very small 2.4 Ghz wifi antenna shared with your wireless function. Not ideal for use on a GPS receiver.

I guess the answer to your question would depend on whether you can find your way back home with a worst case ~50 foot average horizontal distance from your true goal. I'm guessing that's not a problem for you unless the same vertical error exhibits itself as a sheer cliff. :arrowheadsmiley:

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Cell phone GPS (at least the 3 android phones I've owned including the original Droid) most certainly use NMEA sentences, in fact you can access the raw NMEA data for you own use fairly easily. This is raw data from the GPS chip itself, not produced by the OS as was inferred in a previous post. There are a number of free apps in the google play store a person can download where you can view the raw NMEA data (or if a guy knows a bit of Java he can access the raw data through his own app). I can't speak for iPhone because I've never owned one but I would suspect it's the same.

I don't know of any cell phones that include WAAS but you can buy a secondary bluetooth GPS for Android phones that is in fact WAAS enabled if anyone needs that accuracy. Really wish they'd incorporate it into phones, hopefully someone will soon. The nice thing about the bluetooth though is you can use it also with your laptop, tablet, etc. which is awesome when you want a bigger screen (truck mounted computer for instance).

Also, full GPS data processing is not anywhere close to exceeding the power of even an entry level current market smartphone, even utilizing WAAS, in fact it's not even a major consideration. What is far more resource intensive is processing the graphical end of things, especially when utilizing maps with multiple layers. My current smartphone is a couple magnitudes more powerful than the laptop I was running full mapping programs + GPS on 10 years ago and would have no problem processing the data if it were available I am very certain.

To the original poster - if you have Backcountry Navigator already then you can download unlimited USGS topo maps offline for use off the grid on your Android phone, which sounds like what you were asking about? (and also federal land ownership maps which is nice) Or is there a reason you want to use the specific .tifs from topoquest?

edit: here's the class including the method to call to listen to the NMEA data for those who code (just because I'm confused why people think you can't as the GPS chip is standalone as any other GPS and the cellphone OS simply interfaces it) http://developer.android.com/reference/android/location/GpsStatus.NmeaListener.html

Edited by JasonG
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i JUST GO TO THE LOCAL SURVEYOR STORE AND $3.25 FOR ANY 7.5/15 TOPO AND GOOD TO GO. Enplan take me where google won't and free with name/addy/parcel #. I ALWAYS know wheer I'm going before I leave home and take my compass for insurance. No satellite,repeaters and such insanity needed. Old school rules :old: and no stinkn' device squaking hang a left off a 1,000 foot cliff-John :thumbsupanim

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