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Discussion: Using Caltopo for base maps

in: Orienteering; General

Dec 15, 2016 6:35 PM # 
Hi O-amigos!

I've been orienteering for awhile but I am pretty new to making orienteering maps (although I used to be a cartographer.)

And, I'm pretty new to attackpoint, so please excuse me if this idea has already been mentioned.

Here’s a suggestion to quickly make a base map suitable for many orienteering areas, that can be used with OCAD or with Open Orienteering Mapper as a base layer/template: - Caltopo is free browser-based topographic mapping software, and it has a very easy “print to georeferenced PDF” function that allows you to choose any map scale you want.

Here are some step-by-step instructions.

1 - Go to
2 - Choose Google maps from the map layer menu, top right corner.
3 - Zoom into your area of interest, anywhere in the world.
4 - Change map layer to something appropriate for your terrain. Suggestions: urban area = open street map, parks area with lots of trails = open cycle, more off trail areas, US Topo or MapBuilder Topo (USA only).
5 - Choose print, then print to pdf/jpg.
6 - Choose an appropriate map scale. Get this by clicking the scale box, selecting “custom” at the bottom, and then typing in the scale you want in the empty box to the right.
7 - A red “print area” box will pop up that is of the correct scale for eight and half by 11 inch paper. Click and drag the box to center it exactly on where you want to print.
8 - Finally, click “generate PDF” at the bottom. A few seconds later, your map should draw on a new tab in your browser. Right click and save it to your hard drive.

Of course, this map alone will not be suitable for foot orienteering, but it probably enough to get you started in OCAD.

and . . it's FREE and takes about 2 minutes once you get the hang of how to use Caltopo.
If you want to see more on using Caltopo, do a YouTube search for it, there are some nice instructional videos there.

If you try this and have success, please answer back here and share your story.
If you know of an even better or easier way to generate a base map, please share that as well.

PS - Caltopo allows easy import of GPX tracks, so if you have any tracks and/or waypoints of your area that show features that are not mapped, you can bring those into the map with a few clicks.

Dec 15, 2016 9:48 PM # 
I've used CalTopo for an updated topo map that I intend to use for a local orienteering event July 9, 2017. I've used CalTopo to overlay the GPSed trails and fences, and PurplePen to course set using the generated PDF. I also experimented briefly with using the PDF as a template in OOM, but not enough to make it work. (Dunno what I did wrong.) I'd say that it's a useful tool, especially for certain types of orienteering maps. (That said, most ISOM maps would benefit from a better base than USGS, USFS, or the others that are available near me in CalTopo. For these, LIDAR, photogrammetric orienteering basemap, or detailed map that the landowner had created have proven better basemaps. A good basemap saves an enormous amount of effort.)

(To clarify, the July 9, 2017 event is on a new 0.67 sq km ISOM map of a scout camp for courses up through Brown, and on a topo map, updated by GPS trails and fences and probably a few tiny green areas, for longer courses. CalTopo is great for quickly making the latter type of map, such as for RoGaiNe. I have no experience with using CalTopo with OSM for ISSOM or park maps. The day before is a one person relay on a different new 0.67 sq km ISOM map, plus WYOBr.)
Dec 16, 2016 4:06 AM # 
Hi Jim,
Thanks for your response on this. You are indeed correct, for many cases LIDAR or proper photogrammetry certainly can be helpful.
I was not saying that Cal topo is the ultimate solution for every base map, just that it can be one more tool in the toolbox to help get you started. Especially for urban parks who have accurate trails in and open street map or open cycle layer, it makes an excellent starting point.
Anyone else?
Dec 16, 2016 4:38 PM # 
Nice tool. Always good to have another source of info. OO-Mapper imports data from Open Street Map as vectors which helps get scale right and gets you started with drawing objects as well.
Dec 16, 2016 5:09 PM # 
haywood, thanks for that tip. I have been a sporadic user of OCAD, but I'm hearing enough good things about OO mapper that I think I need to give it a whirl.

On a broader note, I have found CalTopo to be terrific for printing any sort of hiking, climbing, backpacking type of map that I could ever want.
Dec 16, 2016 5:37 PM # 
In the olden days, we didn't have OO-mapper, or QGIS, or Purple Pen. We had a few free tools, but they had limited functions. Today these tools are very capable and fairly easy to learn. I would recommend a beginning mapper start with OOM and Purple Pen. With a good command of these tools, you may not need any commercial products.
Dec 16, 2016 7:24 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I've been using Purple Pen exclusively since 2008, and it's been great (it's also super convenient that the developer is in my club). I think the first time I designed courses for Cascade in 2006, I actually did the design in PowerPoint, which I then forwarded to someone with software to get the maps printed).

I started dinking around with OCAD6 (free) and OCAD9 (club copy) back in 2008-2009 with some small projects, and I never really liked it, and I kinda gave up.

When OOM came out, I started playing with it in 2013, I loved it, and now I use it exclusively for making ISSOM maps.
Dec 17, 2016 12:01 AM # 
I also nearly exclusively use OOM and Purple Pen. I use CalTopo for search and rescue mapping, and occasionally for O. Lots of good quality free tools nowadays. It makes it easier for interested club members to putter and learn, without consuming an expensive club copy of a tool with others eager for it next. It's great that a club has made an instructional video for one of them.
Dec 17, 2016 1:50 AM # 
When OOM came out, I started playing with it in 2013, I loved it, and now I use it exclusively for making ISSOM maps.

I still use OCAD for drawing bush maps, but OOM's straight-line tools (with all those intelligent angle snapping options) is a godsend for drawing urban sprints. ♥

This discussion thread is closed.