The Survival Podcast Forum

Survivalism & Self Sufficiency Topics => Homesteading and Self Reliant Living => Topic started by: Artos on September 02, 2009, 05:15:14 AM

Title: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Artos on September 02, 2009, 05:15:14 AM
So, you have finally found that perfect homestead and the deed or mortgage is in your hot little hands.  Hopefully, before now, you have a general plan that you must now adapt to your specific property.  Being a visual guy, a big part of making all the pieces fit together well and efficiently is being able to "see" the property as a map/graphic overlay.  Does anyone have a favorite mapping software that is friendly to planning out homestead/permaculture ideas on?


Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: donaldj on September 02, 2009, 05:55:33 AM
I have the National Geographic Topo software.

If I were to be planning out my property and really doing some layout work, I would use a JPG output from that, a screen shot of the lot from Google Earth, and Adobe Photoshop to add things. That way I could change the opacity of the Topo lines superimposed on the Google Map, and have all my planned items as various objects in layers on Photoshop.

This may be way more complicated than you're wanting to deal with, though.

Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Artos on September 02, 2009, 06:50:33 AM
I plan to buy the Garmin software to go with my GPS which will let me pull up the map with waypoints and other features found during walk-thrus.  Worse comes to worse i am much more proficient with PowerPoint than i ever wanted to be and could do overlays on that for future projects using .jpg's from either Google or screenshots from the Garmin software.

I was hoping to find a high-powered stand alone software that would let me do that without all the cutting and pasting though.

Are you happy with the NG software?  How good are the maps and does it include imagery?

Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: donaldj on September 02, 2009, 10:16:20 AM
I got the TOPO software because I thought it had better maps that the Garmin software. It works with my Garmin Legend quite well, and I can make logs, plan routes, etc. It does NOT let you download topo map representation data to the GPS though, it's major drawback.

It is not very intuitive, and takes some getting used to. Since I have already gotten used to it, it'd OK for me, but I remember being frustrated at first.

This being said, especially because the topographical maps are now available freeware, I'd go with the Garmin software.  Someone recently posted a thread on here with: (

So, with these readily available, the Garmin would offer more functionality now.

The maps do NOT include imagery.

I tried doing the topo software overlayed on a Google Map from the site linked above within Photoshop CS2. It was pretty easy, but the TOPO map was badly out of date for my area.


Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Bobr3940 on September 02, 2009, 03:27:35 PM
Not sure if this is exactly what you are looking for but you may want to check this out.

This guy wrote a small (563KB) program called USAPhotoMaps that connects and downloads aerial photos and topographic map images to your desktop. Kind of like Google maps but once they are downloaded to your system you can view them without being online. The software also has the ability to download waypoints and tracks from your GPS. So after you have been out hiking the property and entering waypoints into your GPS you can send them over to this software and it will display them on the photos or the topo maps. Another handy feature is that after you have downloaded the photos/pictures you can use the software to "stitch" them together into one big .jpg file that you can then import into any graphics program. (

Check it out. Pretty darn amazing what he crammed into a program that is only about 1/2 megabyte in size.
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: fritz_monroe on September 02, 2009, 06:31:25 PM
I have TopoUSA from Delorme.  I really like it for planning out trips and for geocaching.  I don't know if it will do exactly what you want it to do, but I'm betting it will.  You can download aerial photos, and high res images from them as well.
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: centurion on September 02, 2009, 07:11:14 PM
I went to and i found a free softwear download called USAPhotoMaps .It doesn't require a gps receiver.It downloads topo maps from don't know how useful it would be with out Internet access .But its something to look at.
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Artos on September 02, 2009, 10:38:38 PM
Thanks yall, once I play around with some Ill let you know what I wind up liking and why.
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: SierraPhotog on September 03, 2009, 11:53:43 AM
I tend to start at Google Earth for a quick overview, but will always come back to Topo! to plan routes and print them out (hiker/backpacker/off-road exploration).
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: ClarkB on September 03, 2009, 09:16:05 PM
I am a Landscape Architect, Environmental Planner, and GISP - Certified Geographic Information System Professional.  I have been using mapping software professionally for 27 years, am a member of the NYS GIS Association ( (, and I have been on the Advisory Board of the NYS GIS Conference for 16 years (our next conference is at Lake Placid in October ( (  I consult for Towns, cities, and NFPs for GIS services.

For free, or  very cheap, I suggest Tatuk GIS, or QGIS, or perhaps ESRI ArcReader.  The cost ranges from free to a few hundred dollars.

The global market leader in mapping software is ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute - (, but you don't want that for occasional use, since it starts at $1,500 dollars for the basic program, and goes up to $10,000 for the complete desktop suite (3D, network analysis, spatial statistics, etc.)  Annual software maintenance costs from $500 to $2500 per year.

Therefore, my recommendation for a top quality GIS mapping program at an affordable (relative term) price, is Manifold GIS ( (

The basic program costs only $245 and will do most of what you want.  It WILL take some time to learn to use any real GIS.  It is a cartographic database, so you need to understand some database technology, graphics, and have better than average computer skills.  The most advanced version of Manifold costs $995 and can do 3D modeling, solar aspect analysis, slope analysis, create contours for digital elevation data, accept data from a Garmin GPS via download, or in real time, and other neat stuff.   

GIS is not for everyone; but then neither is welding, reloading, playing an instrument, or using a chainsaw; yet we all do some of these things or know others who can, so don't be intimidated if you feel like learning to use GIS.  It is a skill that is valuable to any survival community, and can be fun to use to plan out your property.  It can be used for OPSEC as well, and is familiar to most soldiers, at least as GIS 'consumers', since GIS is behind the scenes in all troop maneuvers, logistics, etc.

It is a skill well worth having a basic ability in.  If you have about $300 to invest and the will to learn to how to use GIS, then I recommend Manifold as the software to invest your money and time in.

Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Artos on September 11, 2009, 12:20:19 PM
Thanks Clark, that helps a lot.  I use ArcGis and FalconView a lot but didnt realize there was a de-classified version or something similar.  Sounds exactly like what I want, as long as there is map and image coverage for the SE US. 

Thanks again!
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Orionblade on December 03, 2009, 09:30:26 PM
This may be a bit off topic, but I'm interested in being able to creat my own maps to download to my GPS - I have a dell Axim with a Navteq Bluetooth GPS reciever.

I don't mind migrating to another program for Windows Mobile, but I definitely want to be able to go photo/topo/political/road/etc.

I'd also be interested in a PC version, since I have a BT USB dongle for my laptop, so I can use the GPS with that. In that case I might even want to grab Sectional chart images for overlay...

Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Going Galt on December 04, 2009, 07:18:20 PM
I use a combination of Google Earth, Delorme TopoUSA (version 8 is the current one - $50 for 1/2 the country) and my Garmin GPS device.  I make tracks and waypoints in the GPS device as I'm wandering around my land, then when I get home I:
1. Upload them into the computer.
2. Convert to Google Earth's format (which is a ".KML" file) using a free converter program called GPS Babel.
3. View in Google Earth to see the satellite images of where I walked around and where I was.

I can also load my waypoints into TopoUSA; this feature of TopoUSA isn't very obvious (because the UI sucks!  sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks!  the suckiest sucky UI that ever did suck!  Did I mention the UI sucks?  Other than that, it is great software), but it WILL read them.  I like the 3D view feature of the software, so I can see what hills and valleys I was walking through in 3D, rotate it around, change the viewing angle, etc.

I can also reverse the process; manually put waypoints into Google Earth that may be of interest, then load them back into the GPS device.

I haven't tried actually downloading "maps" into my GPS, just my waypoints.  I'm not sure that'd be very useful unless your land is truly massive... the land I have is large but there are no mapped roads or trails anywhere near the land, so there's nothing mapwise that I could load into the GPS.  I haven't seen any way to load satellite images into the GPS device.  It'd be annoying, but you could tether a GPS device to a laptop and walk around with them, and use the software on the laptop to see where you are, etc.  Personally, I wouldn't carry two devices around... just the GPS, then load them into the laptop when you get back to your car/house.
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Gadget on December 04, 2009, 07:50:36 PM
As ClarkB said, ESRI's ArcGIS is THE trick for mapping. I have worked with ArcGIS for 5 years or so and it is great if you can afford it. If you could get a contact with your county's GIS/mapping section, they may help you with a map or aerial of your area.  ESRI's ArcPAD software is significantly cheaper than the desktop version. It is meant for use with a handheld GPS/Pocket PC, but you could still get a good bit accomplished with it. You might contact Bradshaw Consulting ( ( ) for purchasing any of the ESRI applications. They are great folks. ;)
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Orionblade on December 04, 2009, 09:19:44 PM

+1 to everyone that tossed info in here... this place kicks ass.

Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Bad_Synergy on December 05, 2009, 04:43:14 PM
I can only think of one suggestion to add, that hasn’t already been given above:  Depending upon your circumstances, it might be worth checking out your local community college to see if it has classes on GIS, and if so maybe sign up for a course.  I may be lucky on this account, but in several courses I have had in the past I was provided free student version trial ERSI ArcGIS software packages by the instructors.  Granted, my job now provides me with all the GIS software I need, nonetheless, by regularly attending classes I have been able to have free uninterrupted ArcGIS software on both my home computers for at least 4 years running now.

As others have noted above, ArcGIS is pretty much the mapping software leader, nonetheless, as ClarkB also correctly noted, it isn’t exactly suited for occasional use (for financial considerations alone).  However, if you are really interested in mapping, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend seeking out some good training; I know it has helped me out a lot.

I certainly would recommend doing a GIS workup for your property.  I have done the same for my BOL, including everything from its soil characteristics to its topography.  I am not sure where you are located, but if you happen to be in California in particular, I would be happy to share, or direct you to all kinds of free geospatial data (imagery, soil maps, digital elevation models, classified vegetation maps, georegistered USGS topo maps,,,,).
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Gadget on December 05, 2009, 04:54:09 PM
As Bad_Synergy posted regarding help for those in California, I can probably help those in South Carolina if they would like. I have access to a lot of info for SC.
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: ClarkB on December 06, 2009, 10:57:22 AM
Unless a person needs ESRI ArcGIS software for some occupational or advanced functional reasons, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND Manifold GIS for value, power, and ease of use.  It is true that you can get a one year license for ArcGIS (ArcView and extensions, value of $10K) if you are taking it in a college course.  I know because I have taught ArcGIS at college and have dispensed 45 licenses at a time.  The students were all learning to be environmental professionals so GIS is important to their careers. 

To get the free ArcGIS one year license requires the availability of an ArcGIS course at a college near you, and the commitment of time and money to take the course.  You will learn a lot, but most people just want to use the software to do what they want to get done and do not want to spend a lot of money to sit in a class in order to get one year of free software.  If you want to keep the license after the course then ESRI will let you pay the full amount to activate a permanent license.  After that, ESRI will want about $500 per year for "software maintenance" in order to provide you with updates and couple of support calls.  If you don't pay the maintenance then when a significant upgrade is released you will have to pay several times the maintenance fee in order to get the update.  Few people can afford to purchase and maintain an ArcGIS license for a hobby.  By all means take a college course in GIS if you can, but don't do it for the free software.

I recommend the Manifold standard license which costs $295, for which price you own it forever.  No maintenance fee, and free interim updates.  When significant major version updates occur (about every 18-24 months) they cost $50.  Manifold reads and writes ALL ESRI data formats (such as Shapefiles, and Geodatabases), and is compliant with virtually all Open GIS Consortium (OGIS) standards ( ( 

Manifold readily connects with a Garmin GPS.  I use my Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx ( ( connected via USB to my Vaio notebook running Manifold GIS.  I can see my position and my course overlaid on aerial orthophotos in realtime.  So, if you have a Garmin then Manifold can display the realtime data.  Manifold can save the realtime data stream, or it can import saved data from the GPS, for later use in the GIS.

Manifold can read and write KML and KMZ files and is fully interoperational with Google Earth and Google Maps.  It can use SOAP and Web 2.0 technology to collect data from web data servers, such as weather data or travel data, and display it on the screen as it updates.  Manifold can export maps as JPEGs and PDFs as well.  As a full GIS software package, Manifold can import the mountains of geospatial data available from federal, state, and local sources.  For instance, here in NY State, I can get all of the aerial photos, all of the street network, many of the parcels for upstate counties, all of the surface streams and ponds, soils, subsurface geology, railroads, state and local parks, etc.  Imagine if you were looking for someplace to ask permission to hunt - you could know where the best habitat and terrain are, perhaps with a ponds, streams, or meadows that are not visible from the road or on most maps; and then you could identify the land owners in the area, even to know if the land is owner occupied, and then contact them for permission to hunt.  Imagine the power of GIS in searching for a homestead or bug-out-location.

Another (FREE) resource to know about is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDR) Garmin-to-Shapefile conversion tool ( ( ).  This free software will let you download your Garmin GPS to any computer and will save the GPS data as an ESRI Shapefile ready to import into any GIS system.  If you have a Garmin then it is worth it to download this very handy freebie.

As for putting your own 'maps' on your GPS unit, it can't be done with recreational GPS units.  You can import/export coordinate info (x,y,z) and vector info (path between coordinates) but that is about it.  To be able to import/export aerial photos or GIS features such as roads or building footprints, then you need survey level equipment such as hand-held units made by Trimble ( ( ).  They start at around $7K, so they are kinda' expensive for recreational or occasional use.

So my suggestion is a combo of a good Garmin GPS, along with Manifold GIS, in order to combine publicly available data with your own data, and to be able to analyze and portray the resulting maps however you choose.  Use the free MNDR import software for quick GPS-to-GIS download and data conversion on any computer.  Then, use JPEGs and PDFs to deliver digital or print copies of your custom maps out of the GIS for archival/operational purposes, and use KML files to broadcast data to your 'group' (family, customers, whatever ...) via Google Earth, Google Maps, and Microsoft Bing Maps.  Give it a shot and have fun.

ClarkB, GISP - Certified Geographic Information Systems Professional ( (
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Bad_Synergy on December 06, 2009, 12:30:21 PM
ClarkB, your advice is solid, and great couple of posts overall!  +1 from me.

I think you practically have me sold (on the Manifold / Garmin combo that is),,, and as I mentioned before, I don’t even have to pay for my own stuff (including the ArcInfo, ENVI, Global Mapper, Pathfinder, XMap, Trimble, Garmin, and Delorme that I regularly use).
Title: Re: Mapping software recommendations
Post by: Artos on December 07, 2009, 02:10:22 AM
Thanks, this helps a lot.  When we PCS from Germany in July, I will be driving from DC to Monterey, CA.  Through Birmingham and Colorade Springs.....yeah...

On the trip from DC to AL we will be stopping at up to 30 properties to evaluate as BOL's and being able to properly GPS record each one for later review will be a critical part of keeping our search organized. 

Again, thanks for all the info!