Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Print a free topo map from high quality map layers

With a map in hand I feel like I can go anywhere

How to print a free topo map

Picture this: it is midnight on Friday and your weekend plans changed, freeing you up for a two-day backpacking trip.  Do you wait until the stores open on Saturday to go buy a map and get a late start?  Do you head out into the backcountry without a map?  Do you quickly print a map from your computer?

Create and print a map in a few minutes using and enjoy your trip.  Fast and easy logistics planning. Hillmap lets you print high resolution topo maps that include a scale, slope tool and magnetic declination. It makes an excellent replacement for proprietary tools like TOPO! from National Geographic.

Step 1: Create a map

Use the tools in to create and customize your map.  Choose the map layer that provides the best information for your trip.  Most often I choose the CalTopo USGS or CalTopo FS (which only covers Forest Service land) map layers because of their high resolution, but you can also choose other USGS scans, Google Maps, and others.  You can use the tools under the Path tab to plot your route, or print a clean topo map of the area.

Step 2: Press Print

Press the printer icon in the upper right hand corner, or navigate to Print under the Tools tab.  

This image is from the beta site

Step 3: Set up specs in the Print dialogue box (most of it is set up for you)

Hillmap has default print settings that will print your map on 8x10 paper.  It will automatically print a map with the same layers as the map on the left side of your screen.

To change your paper size, pick the paper size from the drop down list and hillmap will automatically fill in the correct values above.

Red Circle: Drop down menu where you can choose which map layer you will print
Green Circle: Paper size drop down menu, pick the size of your paper (8x10 is the right size for most printers)
Purple Circle: Where you enter how much you want the printer to scale your map
Yellow Circle: Click the "Open Printable Map" button to create a map you can print from your internet browser
(This is the print dialogue box from the hillmap beta site)

You can change the map layer that is printed in the print dialogue box by clicking on the Map Type drop down list.  If you change the map type, it will still print the same area selected on screen.

Step 4: Direct your printer to scale the map

To ensure a high-quality map image on one piece of paper, make sure to have your printer scale the image!  If you do not scale the image, you could end up with multiple pages of low-quality image.

To scale the image, you need to check both the hillmap print dialogue and your own printer dialogue.  First, make sure the correct value is entered in the hillmap print dialogue (see photo above).

This is the system dialogue print screen for the Chrome internet browser.  Enter your scale percent in the field marked "scale" circled in red.

We find that scaling your image by 25% works well.  If it does not work for you, you may need to play around with this value.

After you have finished in the Hillmap print dialogue box, press Print at the bottom of the box (If you are in the beta site, press the button called Open Printable Map).  Hillmap will generate your map image, this will take a few minutes.  The image will appear in your web browser when it is finished loading.  Check the map image and make sure it captures what you're looking for prior to printing.

Use your browser print function to print the map.

When your print dialogue box pops up, be sure to scale the image by the same value entered in the hillmap dialogue box.  This will not happen automatically, you must manually change the scale value.

Optional: Troubleshooting Print Scale

If your operating systems and browser won't let you scale the print page you can use a browser plugin to take a screen shot of the entire page and print that to fit on the page. We recommend Screen Capture (by Google) for Google Chrome.


You can print on any paper that works with your printer.  My favorite map paper is iGage Weatherproof Paper. This is a synthetic waterproof paper that can take a beating and stay intact.  I think this is important especially on multi-day trips, when you want to reuse your map or when you may encounter rain or snow.  Our printer takes the 13x19 size, which allows for a bigger map.  It is also recyclable.


How far you are zoomed in on the map when you press print makes a huge difference in the printed map as hillmap will fit the visible area into the printed page. Zoom in for finer detail, zoom out to see more terrain.  I tend to like my maps zoomed in quite a bit because I think the finer detail helps with navigation.  Ryan tends to like his maps zoomed out so that when we reach a viewpoint he can identify the surrounding peaks.  Sometimes we print two maps for the same trip on oposite side of one piece of paper.

Use the zoom function on hillmap on the left side of your screen.  You can check the level of detail after hillmap has generated your map in your browser (this is after you have hit print in hillmap, and before you hit print for your browser).

Zoomed out

Zoomed in