BackpackGearTest
  Home Guest - Not logged in 

Reviews > Software > Topographic Mapping > NG Single Parks Explorer 3D > Test Report by David Bradish

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SIERRA
TEST SERIES BY DAVID BRADISH
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - November 10, 2009
FIELD REPORT - January 18, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - March 28, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: David Bradish
EMAIL: davebradish AT gmail DOT com
AGE: 47
LOCATION: Southern California, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
WEIGHT: 170 lb (77.10 kg)

I started hiking in my teens in Arizona and New Mexico, primarily focusing on winter hiking. Since 1991 I have hiked a lot with my brother-in-law Ray, mostly in California's Sierra Nevada range and the southern mountains. In winter I bring as much gear as necessary to be safe and comfortable. For 3-season hiking I try to follow the principles of ultra light.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: National Geographic
Product: Trails Illustrated Explorer, Sierra Nevada
Web site: www.natgeomaps.com
Year received: 2009
MSRP: US $49.95
Medium: CD ROM

System requirements:
Windows 95, 98, NT, ME, 2000, or XP
CPU: 486 DX/66 MHz PC or higher
64 MB RAM + 8 MB video memory

Macintosh OS 10.2 or higher
CPU: 350 MHz G3 or better
128 MB RAM + 16 MB video memory

Installed on a Hewlett Packard Pavillion w/ Intel Core i5 750 (2.66GHz)
8 GB DDR3 RAM, 1TB HDD, 1 GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 230 video card

IMAGE 1
Picture from National Geographic

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Trails Illustrated Sierra Nevada Explorer mapping software contains 10 Trails Illustrated maps seamlessly stitched together, covering over 10,000 square miles/25900 square kilometers of the most popular recreation sites in the Sierras. What is funny is that Ray and I have 7 of them already in the paper form.

I got a box just like in the picture above. Inside I found the software comes on one CD ROM and can be run from the disk by just inserting it in my computer's CD/DVD ROM drive. An AutoRun program will launch the program displaying a map of California with the areas that are covered highlighted a little bit brighter.

To make it run faster the maps can be easily downloaded to the hard drive, which I did. I just did a drag-and-drop of the only folder on the CD ROM to my C drive. Inside the folder I found an icon for the .exe file that starts the program which I sent to the desktop as a shortcut. It works perfectly on my new office computer which runs Vista even though it is not on the supported list.

The maps are said to be seamless scans of the 10 maps already being sold of the area. This is quite true as the maps on the screen are exactly like the 7 maps we already own for this area.

The program starts with the maps zoomed out at what they call the 1st level. The cursor is in the Zoom function at startup so clicking on a spot I want to see will zoom up to the next level. Further clicking will finally take it to the 4th level. While this is zoomed in quite close the map can be further magnified up to 400% by right clicking on the map with the Zoom cursor deployed. The displayed map becomes very fuzzy at the highest magnification. The Zoom function has a button on the toolbar which is highlighted on start up.

Here are the buttons to the right of it on the toolbar: Grab, Center, Travel, Note, Route, Compass, Find, Grid, GPS, 3D, Info, and Help.

For those used to using the little "hand" used by many programs to grab the screen and move it around, a push of the Grab button on the toolbar turns the cursor into a hand.

The next button over is called Center. The Center button turns the cursor into a circle that I can put on any spot and click to center the map at that spot.

Next comes Travel which is my favorite way to get around the map. It turns the cursor into a four-way arrow. When I click and hold it will scroll the map whichever way the cursor is veering to. If it is a little to the right the map scroll right. A little down and the map scrolls down. This is the easiest and fastest way to follow a long trail. I know this because I have been using this feature on other National Geographic map software titles that my brother-in-law and I own for our many hikes.

A button called Note turns the cursor into a crosshair that when clicked on a spot will pop up a window that lets me choose a symbol, like a tent shape, and a place to write a note like, "First night camp spot".

The next button is the coolest one. It is the Route button. The cursor becomes a pencil that will draw a line over the map to make a route for my hike. Clicking once starts it drawing and it will make a line that follows my mouse's movements. But the coolest thing is the auto-draw feature. If I click on a marked trail I just pull the cursor somewhat along the trail and it will automatically follow every jog in the trail. This saves so much time over the old way of trying to carefully get every twist and turn.

Once I stop drawing the route a window pops up listing the distance and an elevation profile of what I have drawn. It lets me give the trail a name. Once I close the window the trail I drew is highlighted and some preset waypoints are placed at likely spots like direction changes. I can easily keep adding to the trail but there is no way to subtract a little. The auto-draw feature works on roads too.

The next button is the Compass tool. It turns the cursor into a little anchor that when clicked first on one spot and then another further away draws a straight line between the points. Any further clicks keep adding straight lines between the next point. I think this is more for use on water that land. I have never needed this feature.

Next comes the Find tool. After pushing this button a window pops up in which I can type in something I want to find. I typed in "Echo Summit" as it was supposed to have been our ending spot of our big hike last October. The program came back with two choice, one a summit, and one called misc, probably as both a trail and a road cross over it. Clicking either one popped me right to the place we had a truck waiting for us. The Find tool works well from what I can see.

The next button is Grid and it places a grid over the map. I suppose this would be useful for Search and Rescue people to print maps to share out to multiple searchers.

A GPS button brings up a menu of GPS functions. My GPS is supported and at some point I will try it with the software.

The next button is marked 3D. Pushing it turns the map into three deminsional representation that looks like one of those plastic relief maps. (I happen to have one of the Sierra Nevada mounted on the wall of my office.) The image starts traveling straight hugging the map a little way off the "ground". Clicking arrows on the screen or using the keys lets me control the direction. The 3D feature can be started while in the Route pop up window too. If started there the view will follow the route I have drawn.

The next button is useless on my machine. It is called Info and is supposed to connect to Park information locations on the internet but every time I try I get 3 pages with broken link notices.

Finally I get to the last button; the Help section opens with it. This opens a PDF file that contains a User Guide for the software.

There are 2 more buttons to the left of the Zoom starting button. The first is Select which gives the famous white arrow used to select in many programs I have used. I use it to highlight a route or waypoint to see what information it contains or to modify its name or delete it.

Last is the Print button which should be self explanatory. I will talk more about printing in my field report.

So far I am pretty excited to have this software. It is pretty funny that Ray just bought 5 of the maps that are included in this. Then when I was writing this he looked it over for me and said that we have 2 more that I forgot about. So I already have 70% of the coverage. But the ability to easily mark out the routes, see the amount of climbing involved and plan trips still makes it worth it to me even if I had all 10 of the maps.

The Sierra Nevada is my favorite hiking destination and we have 4 multi-day hikes planned for this year and next on just the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada. After we finish that we will be looking for more places to go there, so this software should prove very helpful with planning of the trips.


FIELD REPORT

PERFORMANCE

Since getting the National Geographic Sierra Nevada T I Explorer map software I have been busy with the holidays with my family so actual backpacking has been curtailed quite a bit. I did get up to the Sierra Nevada for one trip but unfortunately this software only covers the northern two thirds of the Sierra Nevada range. As winter is here we were only able to go to the southern Sierra in a part not covered by the included maps.

But since we plan our hikes way in advance I was able to use it to start mapping our next big section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) starting where we left off at Ebbet's Pass trail head. The screen shot below shows our first day starting at the trail head and heading north along the PCT to a dirt road that follows the west shore of Lower Sunset Lake where we plan to spend the first night. By dropping the elevation profile below the map I can see that during the course of the 14.4 mi/23 km day we will have roughly 3000'/914 m of gain and 3800'/1158 m of loss. As the low spots on the profile are where stream crossing are I see that I have water available at 6 mi/10 km and 11 mi/18 km so can plan how much I have to start with in my pack. These features are what brought the National Geographic software to my attention in the first place and makes it so valuable for planning hikes.

IMAGE 1


Looking at the blue-colored route I see that there is a spot of severe switchbacks that makes me want to see what will be in store. I just highlight that section of trail and run the 3D Fly-over feature. After running it a couple times I stop the action and change the point of view so that I am looking at it from the side instead of following it from the front right up the trail. The point of view is represented by the red arrow. From this it is easy for me to see that these switchbacks go over two high points on the trail before dropping down to Lower Sunset Lake.

IMAGE 2


Because this hike is being planned for the time of year that snow is a possibility, I will bring a GPS along with the route loaded into it to be able to navigate should the trails be covered with snow. The National Geographic software allows the routes I draw to be broken into automatic waypoints. The program will put waypoints in at distances I set or automatically at predetermined smart points like at trail changes of direction. I can also pick how many to put in any given route. Here is a screenshot of my first day's route with waypoints set how I wanted them.

IMAGE 3


Unfortunately that is far as I was able to go with it. The program says that it works with my GPS. It recognized it when I first hooked it up. But when I tried to download the route and waypoints it only sent the waypoints. Then when I checked the waypoints they were not actually there. I wiped it and tried again. This time I got nothing to the GPS. Two more tries resulted in nothing. I have had this problem with other National Geographic software in the past. I just keep using my Garmin topo software. This is unfortunate as it would be nice to do it all from the same program to save time. I tried updating the software but was told that it is current.

There have been a couple other glitches I have noticed. The weirdest one happens only when trying to draw very long routes. For some reason the route tool will stop while drawing, like it hit an invisible wall. It just sits there twitching as I try to make it go further along the trail. While trying to plan a big loop hike starting from Mineral King I had it stop so many times that I just gave up trying to get it to finish. I had to start a new route just past the stopping point and then add the distance and elevation amounts to see what I would be looking at. The same thing happens on Ray's National Parks Trails Illustrated software but not on the National Geographic TOPO California software so it must be something to do with the Trails Illustrated platform.

All in all I really like this program. It looks great on my big office computer. The ability to completely plan out and see every mile/km of my hike makes it one of my favorite tools. The 3D feature is fun and can be informative. I just wish that it had the entire Sierra Nevada range on it as I have much of the southern section of PCT to do which is not included.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST PERFORMANCE

There really is not much to add to what I have already written about the National Geographic Sierra Nevada T I Explorer map software. Due to weather there has been no opportunity to actually hike in the area this covers as most of it is impossible to get to right now. But I have continued to use it to look at future hikes and love the ability to fine tune my future hikes as to where I will camp and how much distance and elevation gain to expect per day and per hike overall.

I have experienced no problems running this software on my office computer.

As summer gets into full swing I expect to use it even more, and as we still have a large section of the Pacific Crest Trail to do north of Lake Tahoe this software will be invaluable to me.

Pros

Easy to plan long hikes.
Tells how much elevation and distance I have to do each day and over the whole trip.
Easier to use than spreading maps all over the office.

Cons

Route drawing tool hangs up while drawing long routes.
Will not work with my GPS.

My thanks to National Geographic and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me test this software.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Read more reviews of National Geographic gear
Read more gear reviews by David Bradish

Reviews > Software > Topographic Mapping > NG Single Parks Explorer 3D > Test Report by David Bradish



Product tested and reviewed in each Formal Test Report has been provided free of charge by the manufacturer to BackpackGearTest.org. Upon completion of the Test Series the writer is permitted to keep the product. Owner Reviews are based on product owned by the reviewer personally unless otherwise noted.

If you are an avid backpacker, we are always looking for enthusiastic, quality reviewers. Apply here to be a gear tester.


All material on this site is the exclusive property of BackpackGearTest.org.
BackpackGearTest software copyright David Anderson