Review: Backroad Mapbooks GPS Maps
Ken in Regina
We recently took a trip from here in Regina out to Vancouver Island at the west coast. Shortly before we left I was contacted by Russell Mussio, President of Backroad Mapbooks ( www.backroadmapbooks.com ) to say that my request had been approved for a copy of their digital GPS product to review. So we had the pleasure of trying out Backroad Mapbooks' new digital GPS map product as we travelled across southern British Columbia.

Here is the Backroad GPS Maps product description

Backroad GPS Maps

The Backroad GPS Map series is designed to take you beyond the city and into the outdoors. With countless logging and industrial roads, an elaborate trail system and thousands of recreational points of interest, no other GPS map source provides as much detail for Canada’s vast wilderness areas. We even provide the recreation descriptions so you can cross reference what fish are in the lakes or how long that trail is. As an added bonus, you also get city details like roads and parks to allow you to navigate with confidence from your home into the backcountry and back again.
These digital GPS maps are Garmin-compatible. That means they work for navigation on any Garmin GPS device that can have maps loaded on them. That includes Garmin Mobile PC (must be the version bundled with a Garmin receiver) and nRoute on your laptop and the many automotive and handheld devices like eTrex, Nuvi, Zumo, Dakota, Oregon, Colorado, etc. They also work with Mapsource and Basecamp on laptops and PCs for trip planning.

Distribution media

The map products are available in formats similar to those that Garmin sells their products on. There is an SD card that will work in any Garmin device that takes an SD card or micro-SD card.

You can also get a version on DVD for loading on your PC or laptop. This version works in Garmin's Mapsource and Basecamp.

The web site lists a short series of questions to help you decide which version will be best for you.

The SD card version is most convenient if you just want to be able to plug into your GPS device and go. The DVD version is great if you want to be able to do pre-trip planning on your PC. You can still load the maps from the DVD version onto one GPS device for navigating with when you travel.

The DVD version is locked, just like Garmin's City Navigator product, so you are limited to loading the maps on one device. For those with mutiple handheld devices, the SD card version is nice because you can just plug it into any device you wish: yours, your wife's, your daughter's, your brother-in-law's. ..... Well, maybe not your brother-in-law's unless you're travelling with him so you can get it back.

If you buy the SD card version and also want to be able to use Backroad GPS Maps on your laptop in Mapsource or Basecamp for planning, you can register your SD card on Backroad Mapbooks' web site and get a free download of the necessary files to use in Mapsource and Basecamp.
As a side note, the DVD or download version of the maps is compatible with Mapsource 6.13.7 and older so once the maps are unlocked you can use them with nRoute on your laptop if that's your preferred navigation device.

Available coverage

This review was done using the British Columbia GPS maps, which is the only province that was available at the time of the review. Alberta is now available. Ontario is scheduled for early summer release. The Maritimes and Manitoba will follow Ontario.

If you spend all of your offroad time in a particular area, you do not have to purchase an entire province. Each of the two available provinces are also split into areas that you can purchase at a lower cost than purchasing maps for the entire province.

If you have ever used the paper version of the Backroad Mapbooks for planning and/or for navigation assistance on a trip for 4x4ing, hiking, biking, ATVing, fishing, camping, hunting or whatever, you will know exactly what to expect of the digital products. The biggest difference you will discover from the paper books is that you no longer have to figure out how to get from the top of one map to the bottom of the next one, three or four pages away, when following a trail.

The major features of the Backroad Mapbooks GPS map products are:
  • Routable backroads and trail systems
  • Searchable recreation info
  • Georeferenced recreation features
  • Wildlife management units
  • Routable rural and city streets
  • 3D map view (on units that support it)
The first two items are the most significant.

Routable backroads and trail systems

As compared to topographical maps like Garmin's Topo Canada or the free Ibycus Canadian topos, the Backroad Mapbooks GPS maps contain significantly more minor roads and trail systems. For anyone who likes to head offroad onto existing trail systems, this is a perfect reason for getting Backroad GPS Maps for your navigation device instead of buying standard topo maps for it if they have coverage for the areas you are interested in.

A bonus is that many of the backroads and trails are routable. Where Topo Canada will route you from home to a trailhead, Backroad GPS Maps may also be able to route you all the way in to your chosen campsite or fishing hole.

Here are screenshots from Mapsource to illustrate how much more trail system coverage the Backroad GPS Maps have in many areas.

First, here's Backroad GPS Maps looking at an area around Christina Lake in southern BC.

Backroad GPS Maps by Backroad Mapbooks

Here's the same area in Garmin Topo Canada v4.

Topo Canada

And the same area in the free Ibycus topo.

Ibycus Topo

Searchable recreation info

The other significant feature of Backroad Mapbooks digital GPS maps is a large searchable custom POI database. There is a long list of categories you can search on, like Boat Launches, Camping, Ferries, Fishing, Paddling, Parks, Recreation Sites and Winter Recreation. When you search for one of these items and find it, you can click on it to get a detailed description.

Here's an example of the custom POI entry for a recreation site on a lake just north of Ft. Steele.

Backroads GPS Maps - Custom POI

The custom POI file is not included on the DVD/downloadable version of the maps. At least they were not at the time of the review. The tech support folks at Backroad Mapbooks will supply the file for any existing customer who requests it.

Personal reactions

I tested the maps on my Acer laptop (1.7GHz, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive, Windows 7 32-bit) with Basecamp, Mapsource and nRoute and on a Garmin Nuvi 765T and an eTrex Legend HCx.


Using the maps for navigation presents no surprises or learning curve if you have maps loaded on your navigation device now. They work just like Garmin's. They include routing data for many city streets and highways as well as many backroads and trails. So you may not have to switch between road maps and the Backroad maps to get from home to your destination.

If your navigation device supports custom POIs, you just use the usual menu items to search all the recreational and geographic custom POIs included on the SD card.

Using nRoute for navigation on your laptop in your offroad vehicle works exactly as it does with any other map products so you just use it as you normally would and enjoy all the extra backroad and trail coverage. The display is similar to Mapsource (see earlier picture) except that nRoute does not display the relief shading or 3D. nRoute does not support custom POIs so you can't search the custom POI file.

The maps also work exactly as expected on the Nuvi 765T and and the eTrex Legend HCx. Both devices support custom POI searches.

The maps display well on the eTrex Legend HCx. The Legend does not do relief shading or 3D so you have a nice clean look on the small, bright screen.

The maps do not display very well on the Nuvi 765T. This model Nuvi does relief shading. However, unlike Mapsource and Basecamp, which just use a form of greyscale shadowing to highlight terrain contours (see earlier pictures above), the Nuvi uses colours -- mainly shades of brown and red. The thin solid, dashed and dotted lines that Backroad GPS Maps use for the backroads and trails are very difficult to see against those dark colours. Portions of some trails simply disappear on the darker segments of shading.

Garmin uses different object types in Topo Canada v4 for backroads and trails so they show up much better on the Nuvi than those same items in Backroad GPS Maps.

I have had an indication that Backroad Mapbooks is looking into this issue and may make some changes in the future.

I did not test the Backroad GPS Maps with Mobile PC on my netbook because I have the software-only version which cannot have locked maps added to it. When viewing Topo Canada v4 on Mobile PC I see the same dark coloured terrain shading as the Nuvi so I expect the same sort of trail visibility problems as on the Nuvi. Mobile PC supports custom POIs so I did copy the custom POI file to the appropriate folder and Mobile PC was able to use it just fine.


Those who like to do pre-trip planning on a larger screen than their handheld device have a couple of options. You can buy the SD card to use in your handheld device and then register the SD card and download the files you need for Mapsource/Basecamp on your PC. Or you can request to buy a version of the maps on DVD instead of the SD card.

The maps are great for planning on your PC or laptop or netbook with Mapsource and Basecamp. As you can see from the Mapsource screenshot earlier in the review, the maps display very nicely with full relief shading to help you see the terrain contours. They appear just the same in Basecamp. They include the necessary 3D information if you use that display mode in Basecamp.

The way the custom POIs are provided presents a problem in how or whether you can use them for planning. They are only included on the SD card. They will work on any Garmin navigation device that supports custom POIs.

However, neither Mapsource nor Basecamp support custom POIs. For planning purposes you need to have your handheld close at hand for doing any searches in the custom POI database as you use Mapsource or Basecamp to view the maps and plan routes. It works but it's hardly the perfect solution.

I have had an indication that the Mapbooks folks are looking at an alternative solution to this.

This small shortcoming is also mitigated by the fact that Backroad GPS Maps already contain loads of POIs in the POI database that is internal to the maps. This includes attractions, geographic features, campsites, marinas, provincial parks, community recreation sites, picnic sites and many more.

Summary for laptop navigation users

This is a great product for planning offroad excursions. It displays beautifully in Mapsource and Basecamp, including 3D in Basecamp. You can't use the custom POI database with either of them.

The maps work great with nRoute on my laptop and netbook for navigation. The display is excellent.

The maps will probably display just as badly in Mobile PC on a laptop or netbook as they do on the Nuvi because of the dark coloured relief shading so this is probably not a good choice at this time. The custom POI database works fine with Mobile PC. If the mapping folks at Backroad Mapbooks can find a set of objects for the trail systems so they will show up as well as they do in Topo Canada v4, using the Backroad GPS Maps with Mobile PC on your laptop or netbook would then be a good option.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the developers at Backroad Mapbooks handle the issues with display on Nuvi models and finding a way to use the custom POIs with Mapsource and Basecamp. Otherwise this was a very positive experience.

Thanks to all the good folks at Backroad Mapbooks who made it possible to do this review. I was even able to get some critical tech support via text messages on my cell phone at a time when I was nowhere near a wifi connection for my laptop and in and [mostly] out of rather marginal cell phone coverage (Hey, I was testing Backroad GPS Maps!!). That's some kind of service!

Ken in Regina
As I mentioned in the main review, the extra searchable POI file that is provided on the SD card cannot be used in Mapsource or Basecamp on the PC/laptop because neither of them know anything about custom POIs.

I discovered another limitation to the use of that extra searchable POI file a few days ago. It works fine on my Nuvi 765T but I have been unable to get it to work on my eTrex Legend HCx, which is one of the latest models in Garmin's eTrex line of handhelds. I tried everything I could think of to get it to work.

The most frustrating part of the experience was that I can get other custom POIs to work on that unit. I have custom POI files that I have created myself from manually created GPX files. And I have custom POI files I have created with downloaded GPX and CSV files from POIFriend and POI Factory. All of these custom POIs work fine on my Legend HCx. But no luck with the custom POI file from Backroad GPS maps.

I contacted the folks at Backroad Mapbooks to see if they had any ideas. They did some research of their own and here's what we found. There are two different formats for Garmin custom POI files. One format is the basic one that allows any of us to create our own custom POI files .. a very useful feature. The format is simple and widely understood so you can create a GPX or CSV file, run it through Garmin's (free) POILoader program and you have your very own searchable custom POIs.

The other format is called the Tour Guide format. It is designed for third-party suppliers like Backroad Mapbooks to add larger and more complex searchable POI files to their products. It gives them far more flexibility in the formatting of how the text is displayed. It even allows JPG picture files and MP3 audio files to be attached to the POI file. The associated audio files will be played automatically whenever you are in the vicinity of one of the POIs (Backroad GPS Maps does not use this feature).

It turns out that the list of Garmin personal navigation devices that support the Tour Guide POI format is somewhat limited. If you have a Nuvi or Zumo, the chances are very good that the Tour Guide format is supported and you will be able to use the file. But if you have one of Garmin's handheld devices, like the eTrex or GPSMAP series, you may not be able to use that file.

From Garmin's web site describing the Tour Guide format:

Tour Guide POIs are only compatible with our MP3 capable nüvi® and zumo® units
So, if one of the reasons you are buying the Backroads GPS Maps is to be able to research your travels using the extra searchable POI file that is supplied with the SD card, check with the folks at Backroad Mapbooks to be sure your unit will support the Tour Guide POI format.

Thanks to Larry over at BC4X4.com for some info on the supported devices. You can check out his review of Backroad GPS Maps here. He has some excellent graphics illustrating the differences between Backroad GPS Maps and Garmin's Topo Canada v4.

I have a 2008 Can-Am LTD with the built in Garmin GPS. Now, these SD cards ports on the GPS handset, where are they found? They just came with USB hook ups for the computer, and I run my computer in my truck as a GPS. Can I use it with nRoute? I run MetroGuide North America v8/v7, oil traxs, and world map v4, but since I had a look at the book style Backroads Maps I really like how much more information they have put into there maps.
Ken in Regina
The Backroad GPS Maps are only compatible with Garmin navigation devices.

You can use the SD card in any Garmin navigation device that accepts SD or micro-SD cards.

nRoute does not know how to use maps that are installed on an SD card.

The maps on the SD card are compiled maps. nRoute cannot use compiled maps even if you copy them to the computer's hard drive.

I looked at my quad once I got home, and it is a Quest 2, if that means anything to you, it only has worldmap v4 very basic. l just don't know if I could even load that hand held Quest with Backroad maps. If I got the disk to download into my computer for Backroad maps, would that not work instead of SD card?

Ken in Regina
I looked at the specs on the Quest 2. It doesn't take an SD card, as you mentioned. But it does allow maps to be loaded to the internal memory.

If you buy the DVD version of Backroad GPS Maps you will be able to install them on your PC and use Mapsource to download the maps to your unit. The only thing you need to be aware of is that they might not all fit into the internal memory at once (there's only 35MB of internal memory available for loading extra maps). So you will probably have to select only the maps which cover the area you are going to be travelling in and download only that much to the internal memory in the Quest.

Ken in Regina
Good News!!! The folks at Backroad Mapbooks have just made a new custom POI file available so the extra searchable information can be used in Garmin devices that do not support the Tour Guide format of custom POIs.

I've downloaded the file and tested it in my eTrex Legend HCx and it works.

The only thing to be aware of is that in many units, especially the handhelds like the eTrex series, the unit will not display the entire description text. Many of these units truncate the display of the description text to only 200 characters or less.

This is caused by Garmin's design limits on their units. There is nothing Backroad Mapbooks can do about it. It's a bit annoying, but hats off to Backroad Mapbooks for making the extra searchable information available in a format that can be used on so many more units!!

You can access both of the custom POI files on your product registration page. If you have not registered your Backroad GPS Maps, this might be a good reason to do so.

Once you have registered, click the "Check Registered Products" link on your user account page. You will see your registered product in green. Click on the name and it will take you to a page with some very useful information on it. For instance, it has your unlock code and the unit ID it's registered to. This is information you should save somewhere.

There are two green buttons on the page for downloading the POI files. The first one that is labeled "POI Download" is the Tour Guide version. If this file does not work with your unit, you can use the button labelled "Custom POI File" underneath the text that explains it is for units that do not support the Tour Guide POI format.


OK, this might sound dumb, but MapSource, does it come with the CD when you buy it? I have nRoute, sorry I am little lost here. Will that still work on my PC using it with nRoute, these are most of my programs, Oiltrexs, North America v7, v8, and v4.
Ken in Regina
If you have nRoute working with all those maps, you must already have Mapsource installed. You can't install maps in nRoute. It just uses the maps installed in Mapsource.

OK, thanks a lot.

There is one thing though. I did notice that in the Metroguide North America v8 version it will find the place, but it will not guide you there. It says due to licensing restrictions there is no turn by turn directions, but my OilTrax it does not take the road paths to get to your destinstion, it just goes in a striaght line to it.

Sorry for all the questions, but I was told you where the best person to talk to.
Ken in Regina
As I've said elsewhere, Garmin's Metroguide products have never included the data necessary for autorouting. (Metroguide Canada is the only exception to this.)

I don't know anything about the Oiltrax maps but it sounds like they are the same as your Metroguide maps ... no routing data in them so they can't route you on the roads.

Your map files can contain lots of things. The objects necessary to draw things that look like paper maps on your screen and a variety of information about those object. For instance, a "road" object is just a line between two points and some associated information about that line, like the fact that this particular line will represent a road (as opposed to the edge of a lake or whatever), what type of road it is, speed limit, direction of travel (two-way, one-way, direction if one-way), etc. These are called attributes.

The Metroguide maps do not have the necessary attributes to do routing guidance. It sounds like your Oiltrax maps are also lacking those attributes.

Backroad GPS Maps have routing data on most of the streets and major roads and a surprising number of the backroads.

Backroads Mapbooks are routable but do not have any information for the US so far. They are Canada only and not even all provinces yet.

Rather than start a new thread, I thought I'd just bump this old one. Locus is now offering Backroad Maps in their Android app.


We’ve recently partnered with Backroad Mapbooks, a renowned Canadian map publisher. Their Backroad GPS Maps bring the most detailed and comprehensive coverage of Canada available to recreational users. With the most up-to-date outdoor recreation information including topographic contours and summits, industry and forest service roads, campsites, trails for hikers, bikers, ATVers and snowmobilers, paddling routes, hunting and fishing hot spots, parks and wildlife viewing areas, and thousands of geographic and recreation points the maps offer adventures for every explorer.
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