Living with a Garmin:

Living with Mapsource Maps

Here are a few screenshots of Mapsource Metroguide mapping in action, on an 'old' type Garmin (Etrex Legend C). City Select and similar look just the same on-screen.

zoom 80m : track up : route follow road

Left is a typical map view using Metroguide on a Garmin Etrex 'C' or colour model.
Mapsource City Select or City Navigator look pretty much the same. All three cover most of Europe down to street level.
Topo maps include contour lines but use a lot more memory - which isn't much of a problem on card-enabled 'x' Garmins - but Topo are really more optimised for walking than for road use. They do look a bit more OS-like though.

It's possible to overlay contours on this map, as I have done in the screenshots lower down this page. This is 'advanced level' stuff and I've put a page about it here:
Living with a Garmin:
Add Contours to your GPS Maps

Metroguide on Dakota 20

'New' type Garmins render the same maps differently, and the scale is slightly altered too. Here is a Dakota screendump showing Metroguide in action, I'm sorry the scale, brightness and so on aren't directly comparable, but you get the idea.
(NB also the Dakota has touchscreen controls overlaid.)
All 'new' type Garmins render the map in this way, rather than the wireframe effect seen elsewhere on this page. There are pros and cons to each render, but in general I find Routes and Tracks display more clearly on the old style.
OS 1:50000 on Satmap Active 10

Of course everybody loves a real OS map, and there are alternatives to Garmin, such as Satmap (see left), Memory Map and Bryton all of which use OS-based maps.
New type Garmins can also display OS maps, obtainable via Garmin at considerable expense.
See this interesting page Maps comparison City Navigator and OS Discoverer to see how good (or not) they can be.

Other GPS devices with proper OS mapping are often based on a PDA running Pocket Windows, which tends to raise problems of battery runtime and weatherproofing.
The one pictured here is more of a bike-suitable device, called Satmap Active 10.
The screen shot is thanks to Rob S and you can see his Satmap review here.
And another Satmap review here.

Now back to the Garmin and Mapsource Metroguide ...

A map zoom of 80m (see top) is pretty good for navigating a dense network of roads, such as suburbia as shown here, on a pedal cycle. You get good road name information, along with a bit of a feel for the road layout.
However you can zoom a bit further in for tricky junctions, or a lot further out to get a more map-like feel ...
The purple line is a Route, ie a navigation line to follow, its hard to tell but in the shot above its autorouting - Follow Road in Garmin-speak.
Metroguide maps out of the box do not provide autorouting with the Garmin C models - there are some ways round this, or you can pay more for the City maps which do autoroute.

These photos have been enhanced a bit - the actual display is not as bright as this. Any interference patterns on the yellow background are just the photography - you don't see anything like that. The reflections are very typical though - and can be a real problem on a bright day.
However the backlighting on this Cx model (above) is much brighter than that on the older C model (below) - not really an issue because at night you'd run the backlight at about 40% anyway - 100% is too bright for night use.

zoom 30m : track up : route off road  

The closest zoom scale is 20m, but that is too close to be much use at cycling speeds - you tend to just see a blank screen with a line crossing it, and can easily overshoot your turn - 30m is about as close as you'd ever need, for navigating through a town centre perhaps.
This is the closest zoom I ever use on the bike.
You get lots of information about road names, but not much visual clue about what is coming up ...

This is where the Data Fields come in (you can display 2, 3, 4 or none) - here you see the next route instruction (Left Turn - embedded in the name of the upcoming waypoint) and the distance to the turn. This is my favourite pair of fields on the map screen - but you have options to change them to any of 30+ other snippets of information.

In this and the next few pictures, the routing is in Direct or Off Road mode - you can see that the road is wiggling a bit but the route is just cutting a line to the next turn.

The triangular 'I am here' cursor looks as though I'm not on the road - well that's exactly right, I was sitting on a wall by the roadside to take these photos.

The blue circle is an indication of accuracy of position - its a large circle here because I'm looming over the GPS with my camera, and blocking the satellites a bit!
But in general its very pessimistic anyway - accuracy is usually much better than the Garmin spec sheets suggest.

zoom 50m : track up : route off road

The map colours can be configured in various ways within the menus - including some reversed-out 'night' colours which can automatically kick in at dusk.

These maps are displaying in Track Up mode - the pointer sits near the bottom of the screeen and points straight ahead, and the map scrolls downwards as you go along. If you turn, the map contra-rotates to stay straight ahead. You can see in this photo that there's a little 'North' indicator near the top left, showing that in this example I'm facing slightly west of north.
It's very clever in that as the map rotates, so do any legends or street names rotate in a different way so that they remain readable. It sounds nightmarish but it works very well.

People who are used to riding with a map on the handlebars will probably not like this feature - well it can be turned off, so that the map shows in North Up mode instead - now the pointer sits in the middle of the screen and rotates to show the direction of travel.
I find Track Up works very well when navigating at 'street name' level - but if out in open country where road junctions are further apart, then North Up is better.

Note that although this view is at 50m zoom, the actual map shown is more like 250m x 350m - or more if the data fields are removed. That is, you can see the map ahead up to about 5x the stated zoom level. A bit confusing.

The blue blob near the end of Kestrel Close is an old Trig Point, by the way.

zoom 80m : track up : route off road

I find 80m a very comfortable zoom level for moderate riding speeds in laney or suburbam surroundings where there is a lot of navigation going on.
You can see the next turn, in this example its about 200m ahead, clearly laid out on screen.
At tighter zooms you tend to be on top of the turn by the time you can see it - here you get plenty of warning.

The contour lines that can be seen here are not part of Metroguide. They are an additional overlay that has been developed by the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Installing these additional contours is a bit of a hack, but once installed, they can be turned off and on in the Garmin menus. They are nice in open country with not too many roads around - somewhere like mid-Wales for example - but I'm not sure I like them when the map gets busier, as in these examples here. Compare this picture with the cleaner-looking view (same zoom) at the top of this sequence.
Also they use up a lot of map storage space (memory or card memory). They only cover the UK - but contours for other parts of Europe are obtainable from a different source - - these require a different method of installation.
Living with a Garmin: Add Contours to your GPS Maps
I chose this location to demonstrate the mapping, because as you'll see when we've zoomed out a bit more, there's a dense road network ahead and to the left, but fairly open country to the right, and falling away steeply as you can see from this picture.

zoom 120m : track up : route off road

At 120m zoom, in this example you can see that the upcoming left turn will shortly be followed by a right turn. The turns are actually about 250m apart. This is a pretty good zoom level for cycling navigation in laney country, and I use this as my 'default' zoom level.
(NB that on new models, the scale is different and this 120m is more or less equivalent to 200m on the new models - so on an Etrex 30 for example, I'd have 200m as my default.)

Note that, although there is more mapping detail visible, some selected information is beginning to get lost - the contour legends have gone, and some of the road names.
This is the main difference between this type of mapping and an OS map. With an OS, beautiful as it is, you can only zoom in by 1 or 2 steps before it becomes too coarse to be accurate, or likewise if you zoom out more than 2 steps you get information overload, an unreadable map and a slow-drawing screen.
The solution is several scales of course - eg 1:25,000, 1:50,000, 1:250,000 etc, but that is very expensive and still not as finegrained as this 'infinitely zoomable' approach.

The Mapsource vector-based maps allow an 'intelligent' rejection of detail as the zoom level changes, and there are various user-setable tweaks in the GPS to fine-tune this process to taste.
They are also amazingly good at adjusting as the map rotates - road names etc are always presented at a readable angle - again contrast this with how it would be with an OS map.

zoom 200m : track up : route off road

The process continues but by now we are at zoom levels which work fine on more open country, but are not really the best for the sort of navigation you see here.

Fortunately, stepping up and down the zoom levels is pretty easy while riding - even on these Etrex units where the two zoom buttons are on the side of the unit. That positioning is perfect for walkers but not ideal for cyclists - the Geko (non-mapping) and the 60 series (slightly larger than the Etrex) both have the zoom buttons more handily placed on the front panel.

Road names have gone altogether on the 300m view (right) - this is a threshold which you can configure in the menus - up to you which zoom level you want to see road names, and which gets 'too busy' for you. Below 300m works for me.

zoom 300m : track up : route off road
zoom 500m : north up : route off road

On the left the map has changed to North Up mode - the marker has moved to the middle and has rotated to point NNW, and you can see that the angle of the route and nearby roads has altered slightly.
This is another threshold - you set up the level of zoom where you want to switch across to North Up from Track Up.
I chose Track Up below 500m.

The route isn't meaning much any more (though it would look OK in more open country - if it was going along that road slightly to the East for example)
so in the view on the right I've removed it, and the two data fields.
Otherwise its the same map, but notice it has scrolled up slighly to keep the marker in the centre - and notice how some legends have changed, this happens all the time.

The total map north to south is about 3.5km here.

zoom 500m : north up : no routeing
zoom 800m : north up

Here at 800m zoom, there's a faily dramatic change, and loss of detailed road information.

Although the Garmin is perfectly capable of showing a more crowded screen, it does start to redraw more slowly.
The point at which you lose detail is once again a threshold.
This is More detail, out of a choice of
Least, Less, Normal, More, Most.

Normal would have given a similar simplifying effect at a zoom of 500m.
Most would have crammed the detail you see in the shots above, into this smaller scale.

This looks sketchy but actually in remoter areas - places where every road is a significant one - this sort of zoom level works better than the closer zooms above.


zoom 1.2km : north up

Zoom 1200 is surprisingly good in remoter areas, and the zoom levels from 800 through to 2000 are all very good for giving you a sense of your surroundings during a long ride.

Zoom 1200 is the widest zoom that I've regularly used while cycling.

Both these screens make Marple look like rather a watery place!!

zoom 2km : north up
zoom 3km : north up

Zoom 3000 is the widest I have ever used while cycling - in central France, where a whole day was spent riding along the same road.

Zoom 5000 is more useful on the train - except most inter-city trains block the GPS signals - the new Garmin 'H' series might work but the C and Cx series certainly don't.

You can see central Manchester in this last shot - although the zoom level is described as 5km or 5000m, central Manchester is actually about 18km away from the pointer, as the crow flies.

Note these views are still with the Detail setting at More - you could add more detail to these maps by opting for Most but the screen draw would be slow.

You can continue to zoom out to get a country-wide or even a continent-wide map.

zoom 5km : north up

Footnote: Mapsource updates from Garmin.
Garmin provide regular free updates to Mapsource (on your PC) from their website.
This is generally a very welcome service, which adds tweaks to the interface and updates older installations to the current versions (without updating the maps themselves of course, that costs money!).
However - a warning - since July 2008 and the version number 6.14, although maps are prettier and altogether more map-like in appearance on the PC, everything runs much slower. Scrolling and zooming are badly affected - also there is a slight stretching of the horizontal scale on the newer version.
New adopters of Garmin map software will probably have a version post-v6.14.
Screenshots - before (v6.13) and after applying v6.14
Of course, you may have a latest model super-duper computer, in which case it might be OK.

My advice is, think twice, and think again, before updating Mapsource beyond v6.13.
Click here to find out more about this and what you can do about it,
how to 'downgrade' your Mapsource, and how to have the best of both worlds.

Francis Cooke

Some basic stuff:
Living with a Garmin: Etrex Basic Setup
Definition of Terms eg Route, Track etc
Living with a Garmin: Battery Runtime and Etrex Jitter
Living with a Garmin: The Waypoints Limitation
Living with a Garmin: The Follow Road Trap
Living with a Garmin: The Circular Routes Problem
Living with a Garmin: Declutter the Page Sequence
Living with a Garmin: Living with Mapsource Maps
Living with a Garmin: Waypoint Naming (for direct-style routes)
Living with a Garmin: Colour your Tracks and Routes
Living with a Garmin: Create a Route on the GPS
Top 5 GPS Tips (pdf) reprint of Arrivee article published Feb 2007
Some GPS FAQs web version of Arrivee article published Nov 2008
NEW - Garmin Etrex 20/30 essays:
Etrex 30 review reprint of Arrivee article published Jan 2012
Etrex 20 & 30, Basic Setup
Taming the Etrex 20/30: Restore the 'Page' key.
Living with a Garmin: Show on Map (Tracks)
Dakota 20 review reprint of Arrivee article published Feb 2010
Living with a Garmin: Waypoint Naming and the Dakota 20 / Etrex 30
More Garmin essays - not-so-basic:
Garmin Etrex C Menu Map (pdf, July 2008)
Living with a Garmin: Full Reset
Living with a Garmin: Track, Route or Autoroute
Living with a Garmin: Three Ways to Beat the Waypoint Limit
Living with a Garmin: Three Ways to Beat the Trackpoint Limit
Living with a Garmin: Less is More
Living with a Garmin: Add Contours to your GPS Maps
Living with a Garmin: Struggling with GPX  &...  More GPX
Living with a Garmin: Screens you don't see every day
Living with a Garmin: Downgrade your Mapsource
Living with a Garmin: Put an OSM Map on your Garmin
Living with a Garmin: GPS Soak Test files to test your GPS waypoint capacity
OpenStreetMap and Mapsource Add OSM to your Mapsource collection
A Google Maps Workflow Create, Edit, Save, Share and Export a route