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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

New Tools, New Rules: Get Maps and Go

Every great trip boils down to this: Picking an ideal location, capturing memorable moments, and bragging about it.

by: Evelyn Spence, Jason Stevenson, Kris Wagner

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


  1. Launch your mapping software. If it's ExpertGPS and you've already created a route, go to Print under the File menu. Otherwise, see "Create a Route". To print maps for free, we like Gmaps Pedometer (, which supports satellite and topo layers and generates elevation profiles.
  2. Find the trailhead by searching for geographic points, park names, or cities. For help finding names, tap into the USGS database ( Use the map resource box to confirm it's the right place.
  3. Drop a waypoint with the trailhead coordinates into your mapping software.
  4. Add more points for the rest of the route, such as junctions and campsites.
  5. When picking topo scale, 1:100K is okay for general navigation, but the extra detail and clarity of 1:24K maps are best for tricky routefinding. Some programs allow you to build elevation profiles, including
  6. Print your map on National Geographic's waterproof and tear-resistant Adventure Paper ($20, sheets up to 11"x17", If your mapping software won't let you print topos, capture a screen grab (An image that's an exact copy of what's on your computer screen. To make one: PC: "Ctrl Print Scrn"; Mac: "Command-Shift-3") and paste it into your photo-editing program. Then print it. Then get new software.


  1. Open an account at
  2. Go to Start a new trip or import a gpx file.
  3. Name your trip. Add description. Hit save and go to Map Editor.
  4. Zoom in on your trip location, then plot waypoints and draw tracks.
  5. When your personal overlays are done, save trip. On the view trip page, click "Print MyTopo" under Map Tools, which leads you to (our partner site).
  6. Pick your waypoint style and track color (we prefer red since it pops most maps).
  7. Choose the map type (topo, color aerial, hybrid topo-photo, b&w aerial photo) 
  8. Select your map size (up to 36" x 48") and scale (down to 1:10K). The red box shows the printed map's edges. Move the box to your desired location. 
  9. Choose what type of paper you want (waterproof, glossy, laminated).
  10. Name your map, pick a grid overlay, and decide if you want hill-shading.
  11. Preview the map. Then add to cart.
  12. If your route requires more than one topo, repeat steps 5-11 to build other maps.
  13. Follow the checkout process. Allow a few days for delivery.


  • Check the forecast at NOAA's, click on your state and region, then pick a spot on the "Detailed Point Forecast" map to get current conditions and a seven-day prediction for specific elevations and backcountry lat/long coordinates.

  • Find your trailhead Use Google Maps to print turn-by-turn driving directions by entering your address and the trailhead's lat/long digits. Don't know the exact coordinates? Bombsite them with a waypoint on Google Earth and copy the details.


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