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New Tools, New Rules: Plan the Perfect Trip

Every great trip boils down to this: Picking an ideal location, capturing memorable moments, and bragging about it. Here's how to get started the high-tech way.

Plan the Perfect Trip | Get Maps and Go | Websites and Tech Tools

Find a Hike

  • Search trip reports, view photos, and consult maps and GPS tracks (A log of location-based electronic breadcrumbs recorded by your GPS. Most devices can save multiple tracks) at backpacker.com, summitpost.com, topo.com, and trails.com.
  • Browse national park highlights at nps.gov/findapark.
  • Google the web’s wisdom by typing in exactly what you want ("best waterfall hikes in the Olympics").

Create Route and Download it to Your GPS
First, you need the best mapping software. Our map editors create and review thousands of digital trips every year, and they rely on ExpertGPS (expertgps.com, $50). It supports nine leading GPS brands, has the best track-editing tool, and comes with free software updates. Here’s how to use it.

1. Open ExpertGPS and create a new file. You can start with no data, or download existing GPS info from backpackergg.com or another mapping site.

2. Bombsite (To place a waypoint on a digital map by eyeballing its location. The map’s underlying software produces coordinates for each bombsited spot that you can then send to your GPS) waypoints on key spots like trailheads, campsites, and hard-to-find passes. Switch between topo and aerial views to determine the best locations for your points.

3. Use the track tool to draw routes between your saved waypoints and to estimate mileage. Tip: Merge your tracks to save memory on your GPS.

4. Type short descriptions (20 words or less) into waypoints and tracks by clicking on them.

5. Save the file, then connect your GPS to the computer.

6. Under the GPS menu in the software, select Send to GPS, then pick waypoints and tracks to download to your device.

Preview Routes in 3D
Never used Google Earth? It’s an amazing–and addictive–tool. You can see remote terrain up-close at any angle, which lets you scout off-trail routes, secluded campsites, and potential hazards. Here’s how:

1. Download it (free, earth.google.com).

2. Type a location ("Yosemite") in the Fly To search box, then use the tilt, rotate, and zoom controls (top right of screen) to create different views.

3. Turn on extra layers to see place names, park highlights, photos, real-time weather, and nearby roads.

4. Mark potential campsites and crux passes by dropping points (yellow pins) with your cursor. See "Manually Enter Key Waypoints" (below) on how to enter those coordinates into a GPS.

Manually Enter Key Waypoints
Scored the coordinates for a secret fishing hole? Add it to your GPS by typing the digits into a new waypoint. The icon will appear at the correct spot on the map. Important: Match your map datum (The terrain survey used to match features on the ground to coordinates on the map. Two most common datum: NAD 27 and WGS 84) and coordinate system before entering any point. Confirm coordinates from an unfamiliar source by checking them in Google Maps.

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