How To Create Garmin Topo Maps - Part 1 - Setup

Author: Dan Blomberg | Last updated January 18th, 2016 at 03:25pm


The purpose of this series of articles is to educate map makers on how to create  Garmin compatible topographic maps.  In 2008, this original series of articles has been written as I created the topographic map of the state of Mississippi; however, since then updates have been made and will include sample files for whatever map was being updated at the time.  In 2016 a fundamental rewrite of this tutorial occurred with better software options and different data availability.

This part details how I setup my computer, folder stuctures, and tracking information to make downloading and processing all the data easy.  Many of the lessons in this part are based on my experience and that of others.

Download & Install Required Software

While there are many different methods that can be used to accomplish this, this tutorial will use a few key pieces of software.  Please download and install this software so we can use it. If the software takes some configuring click on a link to read the setup tutorial. Unless otherwise mentioned all the software used is free (possibly with a couple caveats).

Data Folder Setup

This is how I have my folder structure setup:

Obviously your folder structure does not have to be exactly like this and some states will have more or less data.

Data Tracking

The most important lesson learned is that the key to successfully creating these maps is being able to track what you've downloaded, processed, and prepared.  Originally we used excel sheets to track all the data downloaded; with USGS' upgrades to the map download process, this is no longer necessary.  The key to tracking data is to follow the tutorial and keep everything in its folders.

Download Data Used Throughout

Boundary polygons will be used throughout this tutorial to make sure our map doesn't have excessive/partial data that goes past the state boundaries.  This is a new addition in the updated tutorial and makes the maps more clean cut.

Download Federal Boundary Data

  1. Open the National Map Viewer (Download version)
  2. On the left click the box for "Boundaries - National Boundary Dataset"
  3. For File Format make sure Shapefile is selected
  4. Now zoom in to the state you want.
  5. Click the draw point button and draw a point inside the state
  6. With the point drawn click Find Products in the left pane.
  7. Download the USGS National Boundary Dataset for your state
  8. Open the zip file and extract all the files to the federal_land folder.
  9. Now delete all the files EXCEPT: GU_CountyOrEquivalent (all 4 files), GU_NativeAmericanArea (all 4 files), GU_Reserve (all 4 files),GU_StateOrTerritory (all 4 files)

Process the State Data

You can process the state boundary (which will be used throughout this tutorial) in either QGIS or Global Mapper. Directions for each are provided. This will allow us to have a single polygon for the state. It will be used to limit the other files to just the state as well as  for the next step where we create the borders.


  1. Open QGIS
  2. Add the vector layer GU_StateOrTerritory.shp (Layer > Add Layer > Add Vector Layer...)
  3. Right click on the File in the Layers Panel and select Open Attribute Table
  4. Click the Edit button
  5. Select each record that is not the state you are working with (click the number on the far left and hold CTRL to select them all)
  6. Click "Delete Selected Features"
  7. Click the Edit button again
  8. Click Save
  9. Close the attribute table
  10. Close QGIS

Global Mapper

  1. Open Global Mapper
  2. Click open and add GU_StateOrTerritory.shp
  3. Click Search>Search by Attributes, Name, and Description
  4. Under Searh Criteria Attribute/Item select STATE_NAME
  5. Change = to !=
  6. Type in the state's name
  7. Click New Search
  8. Click Select All
  9. Click Delete Selected
  10. Close the search tab
  11. Click File>Export>Export Vector Format...
  12. Select Shapefile and click OK
  13. Click the Area checkbox and save over the existing GU_StateOrTerritory
  14. Close Global Mapper

What's Next?

Now that we are ready to start, we will start by downloading what used to be the most time-consuming part; the elevation data.  The next article will detail how to start downloading elevation data.

Table Of Contents | Next Downloading & Processing Elevation Data -->