I’ve run into this a lot lately on various forums. It seems a lot of folks still don’t know that you don’t have to buy Garmin’s maps to load on your GPS.
I’ll start with some programs you’ll need. There’s a free route that’s slightly more involved (especially for those with the newer touch-screen GPS receivers, but we’ll get there later. I’ll start with the COMPLETELY free option), and then there’s the option that costs some, but streamlines the process for users with touchscreen receivers.
FREE method. This only works for vector-based basemaps. You also need to make sure your GPS has enough storage space.
First, you need a program to handle map data:
Garmin Mapsource will be able to handle mapping if that’s all you want.
If you have a training GPS and you’re interested in more information, Garmin Training Center will probably be a better choice for you.
Now that you have a program that can handle the data, you need data to load into it!
Gpsfiledepot has all the 1:24k topo maps you could ask for…for free! Follow the instructions on the website, and you’re golden. No more buying topo maps! You just saved yourself at minimum $100.
Now, things get interesting when you start talking about the Garmin Colorado, Oregon, or Dakota touchscreen receivers. Garmin has released beta firmware that allows these receivers to accept user-generated raster basemaps. You can see Garmin’s free method described on their Trail Tech blog.
But, there are some clever folks out there and there’s already a much-streamlined option. Krein (name of a user at the MTBR.com forums) has a program he has written where he recently added support for tiled .kmz map exports for the Colorado/Oregon/Dakota series of GPS receivers! His program is called Topofusion and it has a lot of other features. He is a mountain biker, so naturally his program has a lot of features that would be useful to other mountain bikers. But this feature add expand’s his product’s usability across recreation types. No, I’m not affiliated with him in any way, and I don’t receive anything from him. I just use his software and think he’s created something solid.
This information only applies to Garmin receivers. I don’t use any other brands, so I don’t have a clue how they work. I’m not affiliated with Garmin, either…but I’ve purchased 4 of their receivers over the years and spent a fair bit of money on their mapping products, too. Now you can at least avoid spending money on their topo maps!