Being a geographer you might say I like maps, if you’re into understatements.
Benchmark atlases are the best I’ve seen, and they work without cell coverage.
For trip planning I usually have a good idea of where I want to go but I might
be short on details so I spend a lot of time on the couch with my iPad geeking
out on Google maps. For places noted you just click and pull up from the bottom
to see photos if there are any. You can also toggle between the graphical map
view and the satellite view which has remarkable detail even in remote locales. Google Earth is more detailed. For the eclipse a couple years ago I plotted
the eclipse path and then found the perfect campsite in the mountains north of
John Day, Oregon. We had a huge meadow completely to ourselves for 5 nights
except for a nice dad and his son 250 yards away who only stayed one night.
I also enthusiastically endorse CalTopo. It offers free access to all topo maps in the US and Alaska. There are some limitations for free usage in terms
of saving maps and routes. It takes a little effort to get up to speed but it
is very customizable in that you can print to any scale and do a lot of
annotating. It is MUCH MUCH better for printing than Google Maps which is a
PITA when it comes to printing. If you are drawn to the remote backroads of
the western US you can’t do better than CalTopo. I will do route planning with
Google Maps but then print detailed maps of off-highway routes with CalTopo.
Amazingly, the GPS system of my Ford is quite detailed but often the Forest
Circus roads don’t show up until you zoom in quite close and then you lose the
big picture as far as “Does FS123 connect to FS432 5 miles away?” You can
spend a lot of time zooming in and out. Much better to have done your research
ahead of time. But what fun is that?
I have a small backpacker Garmin model which I spent a stoopid amount of money
on at the behest of my wife who didn’t trust me to navigate her through a
remote part of Patagonia some years ago. I trust their newer models designed
for cars are better because mine has the most infuriating UI. I find their
Basecamp software rather clunky and user unfriendly although I am prejudiced
and I haven’t devoted much effort to mastering it. Why should I? I’m much
faster with my system. To be honest though if you do learn it better than me
it could be useful especially if you download the routes to your portable.
It’s good to be a n00b - so I can aspire to be just stoopid.