Free Maps for your Garmin GPS Device

/ Tuesday, 9 February 2010 / Equipment

I’m the proud owner of a Garmin Edge 705 Cycling computer. It’s a pretty brilliant device, offering a cadence sensor, heart rate monitor, altimeter, colour mapping and routing for Points of Interest, and records my trips for further review, or for display on this site. The battery life is great, 14 hours of constant use before it conks out – coming back alive after a small amount of time connected to its Mini USB connection. Being waterproof adds more to its street cred to me as well.

My device came with a Mini SD card loaded with North American (and by that, it means, NOT Mexico) in the form of a .IMG file. After doing some research, this looks to be a proprietary file, that only works on GPS devices, and not on your computer – forcing you to plan your routes on its small screen. Although it does have the capability to import .GPX files from applications like Google Earth, or some of the web based mapping systems, it would be nice to use Garmin’s own Mapping software – MapSource.

One thing that drives me nuts, is the costs to upgrade your maps for specific reasons. Even though I’m an owner of this device, the $100 fee to upgrade to “this years Points of Interest” turns me off completely. I’m not using my device in that much detail. If there is an error in the mapping, I’ll turn around and go another way. Simple as that. No stress.

I spent some time looking for solutions, updates to my existing maps, and realized I’d like to have maps for other countries, especially Africa and Europe. Garmin wanted in the upwards of $500 for the majority of these maps, soon to be quickly outdated by their next revision. It turns out, there is an alternative already available for you and I to use!

It all starts with OpenStreetMap, a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. It works along the same lines as Wikipedia recording the edits by the public and saving them as revisions, should additional work need to be performed, or if it needs to be reverted. The amount of data that is already available is staggering. Sure it’s not as rich as Google Maps, doesn’t have StreetView, but I’ve got to say, it is incredibly accurate.

Some enterprising fellows figured out a way with readily available tools on the internet to convert this data into readable formats for our GPS’s. Not only that, they also provide another data format so that it may be used in Garmin’s own MapSource. There are a few people generating their own custom versions of the maps, some routable, and most if not all are updated on a regular basis – at the very least monthly.

One of the projects of note is the Open Mountain Bike map project, specifically designed for us on two wheels. A list of maps that you can use on your GPS Device and MapSource exist here.

Installation is easy, either copy the GMAPSUPP.IMG file to your device, taking a backup of your existing files, or run the installer programs to import it into MAPSource and simply send the data through the program to your device. This can be beneficial if you have limited memory available on your GPS unit and simply want a few cities as opposed to an entire country.

Projects like this just go to show that users do want an alternative to the choices readily available. Transparency in projects like this just ensure that data is available without any commercial motives so that it can be freely used for developers, enthusiasts, and professionals without having to pay costly licensing fees. In return, they submit their own collected data, and we all win.

Finding this information has been one of the best things I’ve found on the internet in recent years.. Enjoy! I don’t feel the need to purchase any new maps going forward.


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