November 9, 2021

Creating Maps for Outdoor Recreation in Global Mapper

Written by: Mackenzie Mills


Global Mapper is well known for its data creation and analysis capabilities, but the program also includes many tools for data visualization and map creation. From multiple methods to visualize data in 2D, to the path profile and 3D views, Global Mapper is a valuable tool for creating digital and print maps for many applications.

Hiking, biking, and even local running have become something we map. With your GPS-enabled smartphone in your pocket, you have the ability to display your location on a digital map and create a tracklog of your travels. The desktop and mobile versions of Global Mapper provide an easy method to create custom trail maps, track your route, and once your exercise is complete, visualize and analyze the collected data.

Data Visualization

With support for hundreds of file formats, Global Mapper contains display options and settings for raster, vector, and elevation data. Blending pixel-based layers to show texture or reference information, and creating thematic maps with vector data, provide useful visual data displays for analysis and mapping.

In this example, layers containing trails, summit points, and the boundary polygon for a wilderness area are loaded into Global Mapper and their default styling is altered to better depict the features they represent. With the addition of labels and simple changes to the data display, a map begins to develop in the Global Mapper workspace.

Applying simple styles to data layers greatly improves the clarity of the map.


For additional reference, freely available elevation and raster topography data is loaded from online sources built into Global Mapper. These image and elevation layers are then blended with the Texture Map option to apply the additional lighting and texture from the 3D elevation data to the raster topographic map. The ability to stream data from online sources directly into Global Mapper makes filling in the map background and adding detail an easy task.

Two freely available data layers are streamed from online sources to add a textured background to the map.

The visualization of 3D data brings a new element to data display, providing the means to explore the terrain, views, and elevation changes along a planned or executed route. In the 3D Viewer in Global Mapper, the raster data automatically drapes over the terrain providing a detailed 3D view of the mountain area. One can get a better sense of the physical geography and mountain features in this region by zooming and panning through the data in 3D.

A labeled 3D view provides a different map perspective.

To better gauge elevation change and plan the route for a hike in the mapped area, any of the vector trail features can be selected and used to generate a Path Profile or cross-section view of the terrain along the trail. The ability to see this view of the terrain along a specific trail helps to determine the route difficulty and plan for the journey.

A cross-sectional view of the terrain along a trail shows the elevation change of this hike.

Global Mapper Mobile

While Global Mapper is an invaluable tool for loading and styling data in a digital map, being able to transfer the data onto a smaller device for reference and route tracking allows the digital map to be taken into the wilderness. Exporting the map from the Global Mapper workspace to Global Mapper Mobile Package (*.gmmp) format creates one smaller file that can be transferred to a smartphone or mobile device and opened in the Global Mapper Mobile app.

With the package file loaded onto the mobile device, the map is now stored locally on the smartphone or tablet, and as long as there is sufficient battery power, the map can be displayed in Global Mapper Mobile, along with the GPS-derived location along the trail.

Global Mapper Mobile displays the map layers and allows you to view your GPS location and create data based on your location.

Global Mapper Mobile can also be used to create a tracklog of the route travelled. Using a GPS automatic feature creation mode, which adds a vertex at a distance or time interval, a line can be created in the app. This line will show the path taken and can be saved to the map within Global Mapper Mobile. After returning  from the adventure, the map with the new tracklog feature can be transferred back to the desktop version of Global Mapper, and the route can be explored and viewed in 2D, 3D and the Path Profile tool.

PDF and Printed Maps 

With the advanced technology available, there is a drive to make everything dynamic and digital. While this approach does provide some advantages, a digital map on a device with a dead battery will be of no help when needed. Printed maps, on the other hand, offer a reliable alternative to any digital format.

The Map Layout Editor in Global Mapper displays the data loaded into the workspace on a page for map design and printing. From choosing a page size, adjusting the side and position of data view, and adding map elements such as legends, scale bars, and images, the Map Layout editor takes the guesswork out of printing a map because what is displayed in the layout is what will appear on the printed page, or exported PDF.

In the Map Layout Editor data and other map elements are displayed and customized to create the final map.


To download this map in PDF format, click here

For a larger area of data, like the wilderness area explored so far, an atlas or mapbook can easily be created to divide the larger area into small detailed map sections. Through the Map Layout Editor, a mapbook is created by tiling an area of data into multiple pages, or by using a series of selected features as the focus of each page. Whichever method is chosen, a single page design, or template, can be applied as the pages are generated, Once created in the Layout Editor, each page can be individually edited to fine-tune the design and data view.

Created in the Map Layout Editor a map book provides a more detailed view of the data across multiple pages.

No matter where you are going to what you are exploring, with the right data Global Mapper can help you to map your surroundings and provide you with a static or dynamic map for data creation or navigational reference.

If you would like to create your own digital or printed maps in Global Mapper, download a 14-day free trial today! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch

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