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Maps for your Garmin - From trail, to street, to sea to the oil patch
Written by Gil Grandahl
Customer Service Rep and GPS Instructor here at GPS Central

Gil GrandahlEvolution of the Map

What has commonly been called a map for centuries has evolved somewhat in just the past few years. Maps in the form of paper are becoming rarer and Google Earth and Google Maps on the other hand much more popular and available. For some, using the “old-fashioned” paper maps is comforting and reliable since it’s what they’ve been using for years. A much younger generation (and old techies like me) on the other hand, realizes mapping data is available anywhere on the earth and, not only do our expectations end there, we insist that it should be delivered at the speed of light.

Have maps evolved? Absolutely. Paper maps are still available and are what I consider (and as NASA calls it) redundancy. Just like a wise teacher once said to me, “If you’re going to use a calculator, you better know what to do if it fails or the batteries die.” The same applies today, if your cell phone loses the data (and voice) connection, you lose your maps. Maps Or if your GPS should lose battery life, or fail to pick up satellites you’d be lost. Learning how to use paper maps is an invaluable skill that’s much better learned ahead of time. Also consider paper maps are less likely to be updated instantaneously.

Looking at what’s available today in the way of digital or electronic maps, the selection is larger than ever. Following is a brief description of some of the more popularly available maps that can be added to a Garmin GPS unit.

GPS MAPS Available for Garmin units

***The following map descriptions are based on maps used with a Garmin product***

The majority of GPS sold today is of the automotive (car) type like a Garmin Nuvi for instance. The maps that come preloaded in those units are commonly called city, street or road maps.

City Navigator NT (Garmin street maps) available on DVD or Data Card

Garmin has a varied selection of countries that have City Navigator mapping available. City Navigator allows you to search for and navigate to all types of POIs (Points of Interest). These maps are primarily used for on-road navigation and have very little (if any at all) in the way of off-road information.

Another type of map that’s more commonly used with off-road GPS and adventures would be Topographic (“Topo” or “Topos” for short) maps.

Topo Canada v4 (Garmin off road maps) available on DVD or Data Card

These maps too have roads but they are not updateable like City Navigator. Topo maps (in their purest form) will never be updated unless we start to see mountains move and the terrain change drastically. If you’re into hiking, hunting, camping or just getting out to nature, Topo maps will give you an idea of the lay-of-the-land, where rivers and lakes are and often major trails.

For out on the water (the ocean specifically) there are charts (ocean maps) available. Rather than showing roads and elevations, these charts will show depths, warning buoys, and tide tables, etc.

Garmin BlueCharts g2 available on Data Card or Downloadable from Garmin

These charts are available for either Canadian or US coastal waters. The Canadian version has details for the Great Lakes as well. The charts also show shaded depth contours and coastlines. You can also find spot soundings, navaids, port plans, wrecks and obstructions among other ocean-related data. Depending upon which GPS the charts are loaded into, you can have a 2D (direct overhead) or 3D (over the bow) view of the charts.

Garmin BlueCharts g2 Vision available on Data Card or Downloadable from Garmin

These charts are exactly the same as the g2 charts but with some significant extras. The g2 Vision charts will show a 3D perspective above and below the waterline. You’ll have options like Auto Guidance, high-resolution imagery and satellite/aerial photos as well. The charts also offer “Mariner’s eye view” and “Fish eye view”.

If you’re fishing or navigating Inland Lakes in Canada, Garmin has Bathometric Charts (maps for lakes) that, like the ocean charts, show depths and contours, etc. The charts are not available for every Province.

Garmin Inland Lakes – Canada only available on Data Card or Downloadable from Garmin

With detailed shorelines and depth contours, you’ll be able to spend the day fishing, boating or just enjoying the water on a number of freshwater lakes. Plus, you’ll have coverage of islands, reefs, bays and bottom information where available, and you can search for lakes and cities by name or proximity to your location.

Someone once said, “A picture is worth 1000 words.” or something like that; how about trying this on for size? “A picture is worth 1000 maps.” Garmin has made it possible to download satellite photos, or imagery as it’s called, directly into a GPS.

BirdsEye Satellite Imagery – Subscription only downloadable to compatible GPS units

On every map (paper or digital) you will find empty or blank areas of the map with no information at all. Sometimes even with a map you might wonder what a picture (or satellite imagery) would look like of a road or mountain peak. Now you can install this imagery into the GPS and it’s available to be viewed with or without other map layers visible. Unlike a Smartphone with a data plan that allows you to see your position in Google Earth for instance; the BirdsEye is loaded directly into the GPS with no cell phone coverage required to see the imagery (and of course your position too).

I consider myself to be somewhat of a mapping collector, amateur cartographer, and happen to have made and read a few maps in my time too. When I found a good product that went very well and accompanied my GPS perfectly, I thought finally, “Someone’s made a map book that has much more information than any other printed map made, that I can use with my GPS”. These maps are of course very popular and widely recognized. Now these same maps are in a digital format that can be “popped” in or downloaded to quite a few models of Garmin GPS.

Backroad GPS Maps by Province available on DVD or Data Card

Although I am not in any way knocking Garmin’s Topo maps and after all they do cover the entire country whereas the Backroad maps only cover one Province. What can be said however; is that the Backroad maps are updateable whereas the Garmin Topo maps are not. Updates are provided by the map users themselves so if there’s mistakes or new information, the data Backroad Mapbooks gets comes directly from the “field” and from the users of their maps.

BushMap available on Data Card only

Another map that’s great for the outdoors and the back country whether you’re at work or out for pleasure or maybe hunting is the BushMap. These maps can guide you if you’re on foot, snowmobile or ATV and give you awareness of your surroundings. These maps (like the Backroad maps) also show and list WMUs (Wildlife Management Units) which is a must for hunters. The BushMap (because it’s made by the same folks that make PatchMap) also shows well sites and seismic lines which aren’t exactly shown on the Backroad maps. The BushMap has searchable Township maps (able to find quarter-sections).

I’ve spent many years out in the “oilpatch” as it’s commonly called here and I’ve been to many a well site, location, LSD, battery, compressor, and gas plant and have even spent time inside a pipeline or two. I’ve held many positions while exploring the “patch”, from pipeline locator to leak detector to gas utility worker to safety supervisor, and several other jobs all the way up to a Hydrocarbon Firefighter with a worldwide recognized company (Safety Boss). In all those years (right from the very first job I was sent out on) I wished for a decent map to get to these locations. Many of them are on brand new roads not shown (or not very well) on any map, and even sometimes sent out with nothing but a diagram jotted down on a restaurant napkin. Those days are long, long gone but I had no trouble imagining this day especially with GPS just becoming available to the civilian back then.

The list below is just but a few popular GPS maps that will load or pop into a GPS and gives you a location and directions to just about any LSD (Legal Survey Description); kind of like an address system used by the oilpatch and related industry (400 meters by 400 meters square).

MapTech Lease Tracker only available on Data Card

This is a GPS navigation tool that can be used to locate any oil and gas location in Western Canada or in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota or South Dakota.  This device can also be used by surveyors, seismic crews, drilling companies, farmers, realtors, environmental assessors and any other industry that uses the ATS reference system in Canada or the PLSS system in the United States.

Rocanda Western Canada LSD Map available on Data Card

Find any oil well in Western Canada with Rocanda's Western Canada LSD map. It is one of the most comprehensive collection of rural roads available, and it has the entire Western Canada LSD grid on it - meridians, townships and ranges. Of all the oilfield mapping this is the least expensive and it absolutely does the job.

PatchMap available on Data Card or DVD

By far the most comprehensive oilfield mapping you’ll find with more “patch” related data than any of the others available. These maps will even show you the path that the drill took while it was boring and the “bottomhole” location. You can even view pipelines, radio frequencies used on certain roads and search for ERCB license numbers. These maps would be considered somewhat of the “Cadillac” of patch maps but they’ll come with a price tag to match. Consider this however; if you’ve got a fleet of 18-wheelers headed to a location and you get it wrong, the cost difference of these maps would be considerably less.

Farming and the agricultural industry are also (ha ha) “fields” that I have experience with; after all I was one of those that “grew up on the farm.” My very first job ever was as a Hired Hand on a large cow-calf operation. Decades later, I got involved in the Precision Farming industry where farmers are now using GPS (and sophisticated electronic sensors and monitoring) in their tractors, chemical sprayers, combine harvesters and almost every other thing that moves on the farm. Although these following maps are not meant to steer tractors by, they are excellent for finding the farm house and any field they may be working in.  

Farmers and the agricultural industry in general have a system of their own (somewhat close to the oilfield’s system) used for locations on the map. Most times a farmer’s address will be given in the form of a quarter-section. This is a chunk of land measuring a half-mile by a half-mile, or, 800 meters by 800 meters.

AgMap available on Data Card only

The AgMap can find any quarter-section in the surveyed portion of the Township grid from East Manitoba to NE BC. The maps also show visible quarter-section grid lines and can provide real-time locations as you travel.

FarmTrax GPS Mapping Software only available on Data Card

Like the AgMap, the FarmTrax will search, find and navigate you to a quarter-section. But unlike the AgMap, the FarmTrax has a few more features not available in AgMap. For instance you can see and view powerline data like transformer stations, railroad data is also shown. These maps don’t stop there; you can see First Nations Lands, lakes, rivers and even cut-lines.

A couple of comments before I end my “mini-book” on GPS mapping…

Even though I absolutely love the quickness and high-speed access to data card mapping or maps that come pre-loaded on a data card, I much rather prefer the disk or computer copy of the same maps. Whenever possible I’ll choose the computer copy because of the capability of viewing the maps on a much larger screen. Also worth commenting on, is the fact that as these maps have evolved, so too has the software. The capability to not only develop but display and play with the maps on the computer allows one to integrate or share map data with Picasa, Google Earth and a whole lot of other neat things. I could go on and on about the limitless possibilities with using DVD (or download in some instances) mapping versus the limits of Data Card mapping. Perhaps this is a topic of another “mini-book”.

And very lastly, like they say on TV or something very close to it…

The views and opinions expressed in the preceding article by Gil Grandahl are not necessarily those shared by GPS Central. The comments and suggestions made by Gil Grandahl do not in any way mean to persuade you, nor should they be taken as your sole deciding factor when purchasing digital maps. Basically the bottom line is that these maps are considered “software” and like anyplace else you buy “software”, once you’ve purchased it, it cannot be returned.


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