GPS mapping software comparisons

After reading previous posts I’ve narrowed my search for a waterproof GPS to the Lowrance Ifinder H2O C and the Garmin 76cx or 76csx. They seem to be pretty close in performance, but the price difference really comes into play if you have to purchase software. The H20 comes with the MapCreate USA 7 software for about $330. The Garmin at the same price apparently doesn’t have much software, so that adds about $100 to the price. I will be primarily paddling inland lakes, including Erie, and would like to play around with it a bit hiking. Will the MapCreate software for the H2O be adequate? If I go with the Garmin, which mapping software would I need to purchase?

I can’t speak for the Lowrance, as I don’t own one. I do own a 76CSx, so I can speak for it. You’ll pretty much need Mapsource Topo if you’re interested in any bodies of water or contours. If you want autorouting ability, you need Mapsource City Navigator (I think version 8 is the current one). Also, while the receiver comes with 128mb microsd chip, if you want to load large areas (say, load as much mapping data as possible), a 1gig will work for topo alone (but you can’t load all of the country…stupid software limits). If you want topo and city nav together, you’ll have to get the 2gig chip. If you don’t want large areas, and you’re happy with reloading new mapsets every time you go out, then the 128 will work, since the mapsource data doesn’t take up too much space.

If you’re computer savvy, you can skip mapsource altogether and generate your own topos. It takes a lot of time, but if you read this discussion on another forum (, you’ll see some links to where folks have uploaded maps that have already been created. You’ll DEFINITELY need a big memory chip for these, since they’re more detailed, they occupy a ton of space. I do not know of a workaround like this that works for any other brand of gps receiver…only Garmin. The benefits of this are that you can put whatever information you want on the basemaps…not just contours or water. You can put road data (if you find it), trails, any POIs you want, etc.

GPS Info Site

How about map scale for hiking?
Thanks for the info. I looked at the Mapsource Topo 2008 US preview on the Garmin website and was able to find a few local lakes where I paddle. For hiking, I wonder if it would provide enough detail, or if I would need the 1:24,000 scale maps.

I’ve a Garmin 60C that I have loaded
with their Mapsource Topo software. It’s a bit less detailed than a 24k scale topo, but the coloration makes it very easy to read on a small screen. I also have Delorme’s Topo USA 5.0 on my laptop- that is pretty much a digitized version of their atlases but it includes a really cool 3D map generator. You can put yourself at a point and do a 360 view. I also use National Geographics’ Topo! (yeah, I know I am a map junkie)that is 24k USGS topo maps seamlessly digitized- no Wow factor, but it’s great to have that level of detail at my fingertips. Theoretically all would work on my gps, but IMHO largely monochromatic images would make it way tougher to read.


I’ve been pretty happy for the most part with the 1:100k topos that come on the Mapsource program. But, I have been in a number of situations where more detail would have been helpful. One drawback to high detail topos is that it takes a little longer for the gps to draw all of that on the screen.

Really, though, the biggest thing I miss about not having 1:24k topos on my gps is that it’s more difficult to get a feel for the terrain ahead with 1:100k topos. I just make sure that I at least have a paper map that is at 1:24k so I can look ahead.

Garmin Map Viewer
The Garmin website ( has a map viewer to help you figure out which map software to buy. I found it very useful when I was shopping for maps.

I have a 60CSx (waterproof but does not float like the 72 or 76 series) I use mainly while cycling. When I take it paddling, well, I’m just careful not to drop it in.

Garmin 60CS
I have the Eastern Recreational Lakes and City Navigator 6. The lake maps are very good. Currently they package all the lakes as one product and City Navigator is at version 8.

I use the lake maps when kayaking and switch to CN when driving so as to get routing.

Multiple maps on micro SD card?
Thanks for all the tips on software. I ordered the 76csx and it should be here in a couple of days. One more question – I want to order a micro SD card for it, but thought that I have read here in previous posts (you can never find them when you really need them) that the Garmin unit won’t allow you to load two different maps on the same card. Is that true? Or perhaps it was that the unit won’t let you download more than one region of a multi-region map. If that’s the case, is it sill useful to get a 1g or 2g card?

I have Topo and City Navigator on 1 card
… but you can’t get the whole country of both on a 2 gig card. Actually, you run out of total maps that the unit’s logic can handle (something like 2000) before you run out of storage space.

I regularly switch back and forth between City Nav and Topo without any trouble.

You really want City Navigator NT
The NT stands for “new technology.” Instead of loading little county sized maps, you load something like whole states.

I wish I would have known before I got the Version 8. Not having to load as many individual maps keeps you from bumping up against the units 2000(ish) total map limit. That way you can load more of City Nav and Topo on a 2 gig SD card.