- Written by JT McAvoy
Maps have been around in some shape form or fashion ever since man has explored his surroundings. Over the years they have changed in form and information contained in them, there was and is a map for every use or interest imaginable. With our current technology today they are ever more detailed and contain more information than ever before. So whether you are going on a hiking trip, trying to get information on a certain location or planning and extend operations type raid mapping information is more important than ever. However even with all of our technology getting the most up to date information on the “lay of the land” can prove to be somewhat of a challenge.
There are a few applications and programs out there that are internet based and free (such as google earth) all the way up to programs that you can buy that are a few thousand dollars. Now honestly I don't know about anyone else but my budget is pretty limited so I need to get the most bang for my buck when it comes to these programs. In an effort to figure out how I can get the most for my money I have set out over the past year to try all the different programs that I could get my hands on to find the one that in my opinion was the best all around program. There were three main areas that I would judge them on, first was accuracy of information including satellite pictures. The second was ease of use. If the program was not user friendly, had too many glitches, or proved too temperamental then that was a problem. Finally if it could meet the first two requirements how expensive was it.
So the search began and I have to say there are more topo graphic mapping programs and ones with topo overlays than I ever began to imagine. I often found programs that were great on 2 out of the 3 requirements that I set but did not quite seem to be what I was looking for. Commonly what I ran into was great price, very easy to use but the accuracy of information was mediocre at best. The information was old enough that I would not be willing to trust my life with it, which in our line of work may happen even unexpectedly.
There was one company however that seemed to meet all 3 with an added bonus, I had found Delorme Topo 7. Delorme has years of experience with all types of maps, mapping, topographic, and all other types mapping software you can imagine. As of the writing of this the Topo 7 is the most current and up to date version that Delorme offers. The accuracy of information including satellite and aerial images, USGS overlays and other hi resolution images I found was accurate 99% of the time. This also included off road and rural areas. The fact that you could also do a hybrid map with different combination of overlays that was very accurate was a huge advantage over other programs, especially the internet based ones. There is also a subscription to their site that you can buy for $29 per year for unlimited downloads of current imaging information or you can pay per download. If you use this program alot I recommend paying the money for the downloads you will save a ton of money in the long run.
Delorme Topo 7 is also very user friendly. Now with that said make no mistake there are so many features and just flat cool things that this program would do I do not recommend that you try to operate it without reading the owners manual. The manual is very easy to read, the explanations of features and instructions are to the point. I only ran across one problem that the manual did not address and I will go into that in a moment. Topo 7 over all while not the most easy to use was defiantly not hard by any stretch of the imagination.
Finally we come to the price. Honestly Topo 7 is not the cheapest program out there either. Remember though that I am looking for the best combination of information accuracy, ease of use, and price. So for the $99 that Topo 7 costs it defiantly meets the best of all 3. Now if you add in the extra $29 for aerial and satellite imaging unlimited downloads the bang for your buck increases by ten fold.
Now as with any product there were things about it that could be improved on and there were features that were great. I believe that the few things could be improved on have to do with the user friendliness of the program. First off there are things that you have to find out by trial and error. One that I can tell you that may save you lots of aggravation is you cannot do multiple saves. Meaning if I have three points I save on a map and I then want to erase 2 of those points and save it as a different name the program modifies both maps to only the one point. The other big detail about the program I don't like is there is no version made for Apple. There at the time of this writing there are no plans to make Mac or Universal Binary version. So if you are going to run this program and you are on a Mac make sure that you have boot camp (its a Mac thing) with sufficient memory set aside. One other option that would be nice to see although probably not cost effective for Delorme would be the option to have a world version Topo program (just a thought).
The details that set Delorme Topo 7 apart from everyone else are too numerous to mention. A few of them really stood out though. One again is the accuracy of information and the ease at which more can be downloaded. The 2D and 3D mapping features can be put side by side and worked with simultaneously. You can do this with the standard topo map or with image overlays as well. Delorme also makes their own handheld GPS. The Earthmate series GPS is completely compatible with the Delorme Topo 7 program. Maps, information, and pre-planed routes for entire regions can be downloaded directly to the Earthmate. You can also take information from the Earthmate and transfer it to your computer as well. There is so much work that went into the Earthmate that it warrants an article all its own so please look for this in a future article.
Overall the Delorme Topo 7 was the only topographic mapping program that met the three main requirements that I set in the beginning of this. Its accuracy is second to none, unless you happen to work for the DoD. With a little bit of reading through the manual the program is relatively easy to use, although I do recommend playing with the program before use in a real situation. The price of $99 makes Topo 7 very affordable for even the tightest budget and for an added $29 per year the wealth of information you have access to is second to none. Delorme Topo 7 is definitely a program that I would recommend from everything from Operations, expeditions, and any recreational fun. Combined with the Earthmate series GPS Delorme Topo 7 is second to none in my mind and I look forward to more great things from them in the future.