GPS and Computer Mapping Software
By Terry Hart
For many years I have used GPS tracking devices and Computer Mapping Software. DeLorme offers a comprehensive family of mapping and GPS software and equipment that no one else can match.
DeLorme's Street Atlas USA is consistently the best program available for general highway travel and trip planning. Recently I made several trips to the New Orleans area to help with the Katrina disaster effort. Depending on exactly where I was going down there, the driving distance from home was between 1,125 and 1,300 miles. To my amazement Street Atlas was within 10 miles of my speedometer for those trips. If you need to find a specific address anywhere in the United States Street Atlas will show you in exquisite detail where that spot is and tell you exactly how to get there. I keep Street Atlas on my desktop computer at home, and also on a Laptop which I carry in my vehicle. The Laptop has a DeLorme Earthmate GPS receiver connected to it. As I travel along the Laptop displays precisely where I am at all times, what direction I am heading, and exactly how fast I am traveling.
For you hunters and hikers Delorme's TOPO USA adds amazing topographic detail to the road and highway information provided by Street Atlas for the entire United States. You do not need both programs. TOPO USA includes the same road information as Street Atlas. This is the program I use most. It is also fully GPS compatible.
The most detailed and accurate Topographic detail is provided by another Program called 3-D Topo Quads. Topo Quads is purchased by State and is extremely precise. It shows exactly where streams, hills, valleys, and other Topographic detail items are. I keep Topo Quads for the states near where I live. And when I am going to travel out of the immediate area to hunt or hike I add those specific states. The highway and road detail provided by Topo Quads is only current through whenever the USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle maps were last updated.
On the other hand, the Topographical detail provided by the less expensive TOPO USA is sometimes off by several hundred feet. TOPO USA is adequate for most things, but not as precise and detailed as TOPO Quads for the Topographical information.
For you outdoors types the best combination is provided by Street Atlas USA, or TOPO USA, for current highway information, along with TOPO Quads for the specific area where you will be hunting or hiking for the most precise Topographic information.
These programs, or specific limited area data from them, can also be downloaded to, and will run on, your Pocket PC, Palm OS device, or Windows Mobile PDA and phone. To do this you need Street Atlas USA Handheld. With this kind of setup you can actually carry all of this exquisite map detail and real time GPS location information around with you through the woods. I have not personally done this but am told that it works just fine and provides the ultimate "Exactly Where Am I and What Is Over That Hill I See Out There" solution.
When I hunt or hike I print out a detailed map of the specific area where I will be from both Street Atlas USA or TOPO USA, and TOPO Quads, to carry with me. Then I carry a simple and inexpensive portable GPS receiver that only displays my current position information and use that to find where I am on the printed maps. I have not tried the more expensive GPS receivers that include map software, but suspect that they do not provide near the detail that can be printed out from your Laptop or Desktop computer as outlined above.
The GPS position information provided by portable GPS receivers is amazingly accurate. They will consistently tell you where you are within less than 25 feet, and if you have a clear view of the sky, within 10 feet. Most of them do a lot of other stuff as well, like keep a record of where you have been and clearly provide you with the direction and distance back to the car, or camp, or anywhere else for that matter. You can also pre-program them with a route to follow before you go. You do need a relatively clear view of the sky for them to be able to find themselves, and in the summer if you are under heavy tree cover, you may need to find a clear spot to get a current position update.
If you are new to all of this and want to try some of it out, I would suggest starting with TOPO USA. That will provide you with the most bang for your buck to get your feet wet with. DeLorme has a terrific WEB Site at www.delorme.com, and if you have questions their technical support is readily available via email or telephone.
Copyright 2005 by Terry Hart. All rights reserved.