"If it's causing you more stress than it's worth... it's not worth it." - Yellow

Dear Cerulean,

What (preferably free) mapping software do you like, and for what different projects? Mostly I just plan outdoor excursions and use Caltopo for that, but I am sure there are all kinds of maps for all kinds of purposes I would love to discover!

-Corsica S.


Dear Corsica,

Wow, again, I feel SO honored. Always good to hear from my fellow map-lovers out there.

In answer to your question, honestly, I mostly just use ArcGIS Pro because, while normally it's very not-free, it is for me now as a BYU student. That's what I used for both the maps I mentioned in Board Question #92904, and it's what I used for the maps in Board Question #92681. As a free alternative to ArcGIS, I've used QGIS a couple of times, but only for really minor things. ArcGIS and QGIS are both full-on GIS software with TONS of applications and capabilities, so I thought I would highlight some other programs I have dabbled in as well.

  • Khartis is an easy way to make choropleth maps that are pretty nice looking. Like say you wanted a map of infant mortality rates worldwide. Just find some data online, download it, stick it into Khartis, and ta-da! (Okay, it can be a little more tricky than that, but overall I think it's pretty cool.)
  • OpenStreetMap is great because it's like the Wikipedia of Google Maps: an online street map that anyone can contribute to. I would highly recommend adding roads/buildings/etc. to your home town or some other place you care about; it's just kinda fun! Who knows, you may discover a very nerdy, slightly addictive hobby!
  • This last one isn't exactly a mapping program, but it is certainly geographic. What3words.com gives every 3 meter square in the world a code made up of three words. It's supposed to provide a solution for navigating to places that don't have an address or where an address isn't specific enough. For example, imagine if I was trying to direct you to the northeast doors of the SWKT and I just told you to search for and follow directions to ///humble.using.timing? I don't really see it actually catching on anytime soon, but I often get a kick out of the three-word combinations. Plus codes are something similar that have caught on a bit (like you can search them in Google Maps), but they're not nearly as fun.

I'm sorry I don't have anything as practical as using CalTopo for outdoor excursion planning for you! That is, by the way, very cool. Thanks for the question, and keep up the map energy! My inbox is always open if you have any questions: cerulean@theboard.byu.edu :)