GPS Map Making

GPS Map MakingWhile making a GPS map can be a daunting task, you can do it with the correct tools and a moderate level of computer literacy. Making your own maps can be a satisfying, fun learning experience, and you can include information specific to your purposes. The map scale, features and amount of detail can be modified at the click of a mouse. Finished maps can then be printed in the desired format and at the desired time. If a map becomes damaged it can be reprinted.


Difficulty: Moderate

Creating personal maps with GPS and mapping software

Things You’ll Need:
  • GPS
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • Method for connecting GPS to computer
  • Mapping software
  • Printer
Step 1
Select a GPS unit, if you don't already have one. GPS units come in many sizes and styles and are manufactured by several companies offering a myriad of features and functions. Garmin, Magellan and Trimble are three of the most common brands. For mapmaking a hand-held unit is best, because it can be carried to the field and set to make a "track" of a route. This track can then be downloaded to a computer and imported into mapping software.
Step 2
Choose a laptop or desktop PC; most PCs are suitable for mapmaking as long as they meet the operating system and memory requirements of the mapping software. The software documentation should list these requirements.
Step 3
Install the basic mapping software and data that comes with a new GPS unit and typically includes major highway information. You can separately purchase more detailed data sets including secondary roads, points of interest, topographical data and marine data. Building quality maps for printing requires at least one specialty data set. If you're making maps for hiking or biking, only topographical data will likely offer the desired level of detail.
Step 4
Connect the GPS unit to the computer by the appropriate method for the style and brand of the unit. Many units are connected by a cable with a mini- or micro-USB connector on one end and a standard USB connector on the other. Some brands also use a microSD memory card that can be inserted into the computer directly or via an adapter.
Step 5
Import the "track" into the mapping software, and customize the map as needed. Print the customized map on any laser or inkjet printer, preferably one with color capability.

Tips & Warnings

Experimentation and practice will lead to ever-better, higher-quality maps.
Begin your mapmaking experience with a relatively short "track." Long tracks sometimes require more customization to work properly.

Article Written By David Sims

David Sims has been contributing articles to several venues since 2001. His work has been published in local papers such as The Ebbtide and South County Sun along with monthly newsletters for Central Basin Audubon Society. Sims also contributes trip reports and reviews to,,,, and his own website.

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