Are you planning a trip that is not addressed specifically and perfectly by an existing guidebook or mapset? Then you should learn to use TOPO!. Among this program’s shortcomings is the inability to export and print multi-page custom mapsets, so in this post I’ll explain an alternative and efficient technique.
I use National Geographic TOPO! most often to:
- View United States Geological Survey topographical maps, which are the gold standard for topographical data in the US and the base data for most other topographical maps like NG Trails Illustrated, Google Maps, and Delorme Gazetteers;
- Seamlessly scan these maps on my computer, rather than keeping a library of individual paper maps;
- Measure the distance of my route using the Route Tool;
- Mark my planned route (and possibly alternate routes) using the Symbol Tool, since marking it with the Route Tool’s solid line might cover important topographical information;
- Annotate the maps with trail/route information and available services; and,
- Create and print a custom mapset.
The subject of this post is this last purpose: creating and printing a custom mapset.
If your trip is short, like a day-hike, it is probably not worth your while to do this: you can easily print a map or two directly from the program. But, in my case, my mapsets are sometimes hundreds of pages long—the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, for example, had 249 maps, each 11″x17″ in size—so this one-by-one approach would be very inefficient.
The need to do this would also be unnecessary if TOPO!’s developers added a multi-page print function. But, at least for now, and probably for the foreseeable future, it is only possible to print or export one map at a time.
1. Add information to the map.
This information might include trail annotations, symbols, GPS coordinates, etc. What information to add is probably the subject of another post.
2. Turn off the “Shaded Relief” overlay.
When planning my route on my computer, shaded relief makes it easier to see topographical features. But in the field, shaded relief becomes a liability because the shading only makes sense if viewed from south-to-north. If viewed north-to-south, the shading looks inverted—canyons become ridgelines, and ridgelines become canyons. Interpreting the shading when viewing the map east-to-west or west-to-east is also difficult.
3. Open the “Print or Export” tool.
A red-lined box will appear inside your display and a panel will open on the right side of the screen. The red box is your print/export window, and the right-hand panel has print/export controls.
4. In the “Disk” tab, click “Options” and adjust the “Margins.”
I recommend adding a descriptive and standardized header, e.g. “Alaska-Yukon :: Overview :: Map 1.” This naming scheme included the trip name, map series (Overview at 1:250,000-scale and Detailed at 1:63,360-scale), and map number. If applicable, you could also add the state, or the chapter of the guidebook. Good headers are really helpful in the field, and for sorting the maps in your library at home. If you use a GPS, you may want to add Grid Labels; I do not.
5. Adjust “Magnification.”
If I am printing maps of a topographically complex landscape, I will usually print the map to scale, e.g. I will print a 7.5-minute map (“Level 5” in TOPO!) at a scale of 1:24,000, or the 30-minute x 60-minute maps (“Level 4 in TOPO!) at 1:100,000. But when the terrain features are more subtle, I will compress the image by as much as 50%, which would be 1:36,000 for the 7-minute maps.
I try to use the same scale for an entire mapset so that I don’t have to mentally recalibrate whenever I turn to a new map. But if a portion of my route insists on sprawling to two pages and if I really want to consolidate it to one, I will adjust the scale temporarily.
6. Adjust “Page Settings,” under “Additional Settings.”
I like 11″x17″ paper. This size can hold much more information than 8.5″x11″ but it is much more compact and handy than large-format maps, e.g. 24″x36″. Also, the 11″x17″ size is the best bang for your buck: larger sizes require a special printer that is more expensive to use.
There are two scenarios for page margins. In dry climates, when my map is unlikely to get wet, I make use of every square inch on the map by using .25-inch margins on all four sides. The staff at FedEx office recommended that I not use smaller margins than this due to the limitations of their printers.
In wet climates, when I need to protect my maps, I use 1.5-inch margins on the top and bottom and .25-inch margins on the sides. After I cut off the blank margins, the map is 14″x10.5″, which when folded in fourths packs down to 7″x5.25″, which conveniently fits inside a Glad 7.5″x6″ quart-sized freezer bag, which is my preferred map protector—they are functional, cheap, and easy to replace.
7. Under the “Print” tab, check the “Select 1 Full Page” box.
This is a quirk of TOPO!, necessary to refresh the size of the print/export box so that it reflects your recent adjustments to the “Options.”
8. If necessary, shrink the viewing window
If the print/export box is larger than your screen, you can right-click and zoom out by 25, 33, or 50 percent. This tip will help you see everything that you are actually going to print/export.
9. Select tiles of your route with the print/export box, and save them as JPG’s.
Under the “Disk” tab, “Save Map” in the “JPG Best” format. I recommend naming the map images in order, e.g. chapter1map2.jpg, chapter1map3.jpg, so that they remain sorted in a folder.
10. Insert the map images, in order, in Microsoft Word.
Be sure to change the paper size to 11″x17″. The margins should be 0″ on all sides, since the map images already have margins. If the Word document has margins too, the map’s scale will be different than you expect it to be—for example, 1:26,000 instead of 1:24,000.
If there are any landscape-oriented map images, rotate them so they become portraits. Otherwise, you will have to add “section breaks” and change the paper orientation of those sections whenever two consecutive maps do not share the same orientation.
If you do not have Microsoft Word, you can probably use Open Office or another program with similar results. It probably is not practical to use Google Docs because each map image is 2-3MB, which will strain most internet connections.
11. Double-check your work.
Make sure that every map you exported from TOPO! has been inserted into your Word file. If you plan to print double-sided, which I recommend, then the maps should also be in order.
12. Print the Word document as a PDF.
There are many free PDF-writing software downloads available. Find one at http://www.download.com.
13. Print the mapset.
I have my maps printed by the local FedEx Office. They use 20-weight standard double-sided laser paper and it costs about $1.50 per sheet, or about $.75 per map. I submit the print job and upload the file using their website, rather than driving to their store.
Why do I not print at home? I determined that it is faster and less expensive to outsource the printing, especially with a large print job. The quality is much better than I could get with a home office printer. And it’s one less possession that I need to own.