CalTopo Use Cases

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kdemtchouk
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CalTopo Use Cases

Post by kdemtchouk » Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:44 am

I'm curious how others use CalTopo.

Personally, I tend to use solely Gaia GPS. My workflow is to draw routes/trip plan on my desktop (so that I have a larger screen to work with), then to sync the GPX tracks to my phone through my Gaia account. Gaia seems to work pretty well for drawing routes, allowing me to snap to existing trails or link waypoints for cross country travel.

The workflow I keep seeing online is that many people like to use CalTopo for trip planning and THEN they sync the GPX files to Gaia for use in the field. How is CalTopo different from Gaia in terms of trip planning?








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c9h13no3
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Re: CalTopo Use Cases

Post by c9h13no3 » Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:52 am

kdemtchouk wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:44 am
How is CalTopo different from Gaia in terms of trip planning?
Not sure, since I haven't used Gaia much. But the thing I like most about Caltopo is the ability to import other information onto the maps. Fire history, slope angle shading, SNOTEL data, satellite images, weather information like wind direction.

Course, I use the Peakbagger app to navigate in the field.
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kdemtchouk
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Re: CalTopo Use Cases

Post by kdemtchouk » Wed Nov 18, 2020 1:19 pm

Ah, ok. Gaia has some of the same layers now (fires current & historical, slope shading), but seems to be lacking a few you mentioned (wind speed, Sentinel weekly satellite images, SNODAS data vs. the SNOTEL sensor readings).

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SirBC
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Re: CalTopo Use Cases

Post by SirBC » Thu Nov 19, 2020 10:39 am

The online Gaia experience has gotten much better in the last few years. It used to be pretty spartan, with limited layers and just overall clunkiness with the user interface. One of the things that I do really like about Gaia is that they are constantly improving their phone and web apps. While the web app is much improved it still isn't as feature rich as Caltopo.

The one feature that I really like that Gaia has that Caltopo doesn't is the ability to add photos to waypoints. This is very helpful when scouting photo locations. When I'm backpacking I will have the Gaia phone app open (but not tracking, that kills the battery. I use my GPS wristwatch for tracking) and I can save a waypoint with an option to save a photo with it. I do this all the time (for example, if I come across a spot that would make a good campsite I take a photo and label it "campsite". See below.). When I get home those waypoints with their photos are automatically synced so that when I am viewing the map on the Gaia web app I can click on a waypoint and the photo will pop up. This feature has been suggested to Caltopo in their feedback forums and they said the feature is coming in the "near future".


campsite.png


Some of the features that Caltopo has that is lacking in Gaia:

1. Printing - Caltopo is much more feature rich in this regard. One of the reasons that I have a paid Caltopo subscription is so that I can print 11x17 inch maps
2. Waypoints - Every waypoint in Gaia looks exactly the same regardless of what kind of waypoint it is. In Caltopo you have many different icons to chose from, including different colors, and you can even import your own icons. I use things like a camera for photo locations, a tent for campsites, and others for things like passes, stealth parking spots, etc.
3. Right-click context sensitive menu - there is no right-click context sensitive menu in Gaia. In Caltopo you can right-click on the map and get: position coordinates, elevation, NOAA forecast (love this one), "view from here" (love this one too), take a bearing, etc.
4. Search the map - I have a "Sierra" map in Caltopo that I have imported every HST backcountry pass (along with the description of the pass and a link that takes me to the relevant HST pass description page) and I can do a 'Ctrl + F" to do a search on the map for any pass and it will automatically jump to that pass (or any marker I have on the map, not just passes). I use this all the time when planning routes and when I'm following along to a HST trip report. Gaia doesn't put labels on any of the map markers so you can't search across them.

By the way, one Caltopo 'hack' (and the way I added the HST passes to my map) is to do a google search limited to Caltopo for GPS tracks/markers. Just go to google and enter:

site:caltopo.com search term

and it will return all publicly shared maps with routes/markers that you can import into your own map. A big thanks to whoever put the Sierra passes Caltopo map together.

5. Google Earth integration - You can sync a caltopo map to Google Earth and all routes/layers/markers from that map (including USGS maps) are visible in Google Earth. This is an amazing feature. Here is a screenshot showing Caltopo's slope angle shading overlayed onto Google Earth. This is very helpful if you want to match-up a specific location on a USGS map to google earth. You can drop a marker on the map in Caltopo and then in Google Earth toggle on and off the USGS map to see exactly where that maker is on the terrain. I find this Caltopo/Google Earth sync a killer feature for trip planning. I think this may be a paid feature.


slope.jpg


6. User Interface - This one has pluses and minuses. The Caltopo layout provides much more information on the webpage. For example, all markers and routes are listed on the left hand column and can be searched. I also prefer the Caltopo map layer implementation. However, while there is more info at your fingertips on the Caltopo page, the actual UI implementation is clunky. For example, you cannot collapse a marker category so that, for example, for the HST passes, it lists all of them in a very long scrolling manner and they take up a lot of screen real estate so that if you want to scroll to another marker it is inconvenient. You should be able to collapse a category. Also, you cannot nest categories/folders like you can in Google Earth so if you have a lot of elements on a map it really becomes cumbersome trying to navigate them. It would be so much cleaner if you could nest folders to aid in organizing your maps. I asked for this feature back in 2017 and was told it wasn't something on their radar but I see that recently they have said they will be adding this feature.

Although the Caltopo interface has more information available it is quite poorly laid out. The UI looks like something out of the early 2000's and really needs some TLC. They have reportedly hired someone to work on the UI.

7. Routes - drawing routes on Caltopo is much more feature rich. In Caltopo if you hold down shift you can then drag the mouse to draw your route freehand. This is helpful when planning routes off-trail. In Gaia you have to click your mouse button every single time you want to change direction. That's a non-starter for me.

8. Route profiles - There is a lot more information on the Caltopo route profile compared to Gaia (see below). Also, on Gaia, none of my imported routes show any elevation change on the profile. Not sure what is up with that.


profile.jpg
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