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Review: Backpacker Map Maker App for iPad

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Backpacker Map Maker app for iPad Review

The Backpacker Map Maker app for iPad provides an excellent way to obtain and manage topographic maps, and to plan backcountry trips.




  • Low-cost, easy online access to seamless topographic maps.
  • Intuitive drag-and-drop features.
  • Upload and save maps and pre-planned trips.


  • iPad not weather-resistant. Need to export or print maps for practical outdoor use.

Finally, Mastery of Topo Maps

As a hiker and occasional backpacker, as well as a mountain biker, I've had a long-time fascination with topographic maps. It used to be somewhat challenging (and pricey) to find and acquire just the right topo maps for any given trip. That began to change with online access to topo maps and many other types of maps and satellite and aerial imagery. Even then, many of the programs and services used to access maps have been somewhat technical, with a steep learning curve. Then along came the Backpacker Map Maker app for the iPad, finally giving us simple, drag-and-drop access to more than 68,000 topo maps across the US and Canada.

The iPad and topo maps are a natural combination. The device's big screen provides plenty of viewing area. Dragging, dropping, zooming in and out, and setting waypoints, etc. are all very naturally done by touch.

But the Backpacker Map Maker is much more than a complete set of seamless topo maps.

Backpacker Map Maker Features

Besides direct access to 68,000+ topo maps for just the price of a $9.99 app, Backpacker Map Maker has plenty of other useful features for the outdoors-person. The app provides five different ways of looking at the terrain: Streets, hybrid (streets plus satellite/aerial), aerial, topographic map, and terrain (shaded to show relief features). Even better, you may keep up to two layers at a time open (dual-mode), for example, combining the streets and terrain maps, or the topo and aerial maps.

The terrific Backpacker Map Maker route planning features include drag-and-drop editing of waypoints. Simply touch the waypoint bullseye on the bottom toolbar, drop it at your waypoint, then name the waypoint. The app even provides the exact latitude and longitude of the waypoint in position. You may display coordinates in the three standard formats.

To measure the distance between any two waypoints, or between any two points on the map, simply drag two points onto the map using the ruler tool for distance in miles and kilometers. Nice!

A terrific digital compass feature will overlay a large, translucent compass display, including degrees, on the map.

The app also has a very useful search feature with text input from the iPad's keyboard.

Map Saving, Sharing, and Export-Import Features

All of this map-making isn't of much use unless you can get the maps into the field. If you're going to take your iPad, you may save your maps and routes to be available when you are out of WiFi or cell tower range. You may also save pre-planned trips to the Backpacker Trip Cloud at Backpacker.com. You may also open trips you've created in the Backpacker GPS Trails smartphone app. Another option is to export your trips into the standard GPX format for export and import into other GPS devices. Lastly, you may also have your maps printed in waterproof format by MyTopo.

Overall, the Backpacker Map Maker app provides the best of three worlds: direct, seamless, low-cost topo map access, high-resolution trip-planning on the iPad, and export, save, and cloud-sharing features at Backpacker.com.


The Backpacker Map Maker app provides maps in the 1:24K scale in the Lower 48, 1:63K in Alaska, and 1:50K in Canada. Map access is powered by MyTopo.

Terrain and aerial maps are provided by Bing maps, which allow users to store maps offline.

The companion Backpacker GPS Trails navigation app is available for Android operating system smartphones, and for the iPhone. The app accesses trips stored in the Backpacker Trip Cloud.

You may order and pay for print versions of your maps at Backpacker.com My Trips.

Backpacker Map Maker runs differently, depending on whether your iPad is the WiFi only, or WiFi plus 3G model. When you are out of WiFi range, the WiFi only model will not be able to accurately show your current position. For more on the difference ready my story about iPad GPS.

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