Credit: Alaska Stock
Not that long ago, if you wanted a topo map you had two choices: head over to your nearest outdoor store and hope they had it in stock, or order it through an authorized map reseller and wait for it to arrive. And you were stuck with the way the government decided to chop up the country, so you might need four maps to show one mountain. My, how times have changed.

“Google Earth revolutionized the mapping world,” says Russel Mussio, the president of Backroad Mapbooks, makers of recreational maps since 1993. “It was a home-based mapping system that was fun, functional and free. We realized that we had to keep up, first by going interactive-based and now phone-based. At the same time, we realize that paper isn’t going to disappear.”

Indeed, Kim Sallum, the general manager of Calgary’s MapTown, a major print and digital map supplier, says despite all the options, most people still take paper maps into the backcountry. But the paper map world is changing too. The federal government doesn’t print topo maps anymore, leaving it up to its eight private distributors who print in-house, by demand. And then there are private companies such as Gem Trek, which create high-quality, niche maps. The Victoria company uses government topo maps to make customized hiking maps with shaded relief, waterproof paper and accurate hiking trails.

The future looks even better. Doug Smith, director of sales for Avenza, a Canadian mobile-mapping company, imagines a day when hikers will arrive at a trailhead and scan a QR code with their smartphone to download the area map. Already with Avenza and other digital map solutions, you can trace your route, estimate distances and travel times, and import waypoints. And you can geo-tag the pictures you take on a hike, so when you share your personalized map, say via Facebook, everyone can see what you saw and even use your map on their trips.

As with everything in the digital world, mapping is evolving fast and will likely soon offer possibilities we can’t even imagine. In the meantime, finding the right mapping solution is both easier and more complex than ever. Check out these 5 different types of mapping tools.