A Backpackers Dream

OK… first of all I have to introduce the man behind this amazing creation.

None other than Mr. Bill Snead. I was fortunate enough to get to hike (and double-turtle) with Bill on our WCT trip last year.

Bill currently works at Microsoft and is a very talented developer. While he may blow off his creation as "no big deal", I'm blown away every time I use it and am excited to see it stable enough that he's willing to share it with others.

So what is this "creation" I speak of?

Bill took the Windows Live mapping engine and overlayed on it, USGS trail maps.

Yeah yeah, big deal… Google has been doing this for a while, right?

Bill one-upped them.

The Windows Live guys didn't just stop at building a simple GPS satellite view mapping service, they integrated with the Microsoft Flight Simulator Engine which allows you to get very detailed 3-D style views of supported terrain.

Bill's mapping data has altitude information that allows for an incredible 3-D experience when viewing hiking trails and terrain.

Remember the topo-style pictures in my recent post about Little Annapurna? This is the tool I used to take those snapshots.

It now supports both FireFox and Internet Explorer (Windows Only, no Mac), and you can check it out for yourself at:


Usage Hints:

– Make sure you put the map in "3D mode" and download the necessary plugins.

– Hold down the CTRL key and LEFT mouse button and move the mouse around the rotate the image.

– Use the mouse-wheel to zoom in/out.

– Hold down the SHIFT key and LEFT mouse button and move the mouse around the pan the image.

– Depending on how "Zoomed-in" you are, different scale maps will load, over the topography.

IMHO – the results are staggering. Find your favourite trail and zoom right in and follow the contours and enjoy.

Great job Bill!

6 thoughts on “A Backpackers Dream

  1. Kirk

    How is this different from the what the delorme program did 6-7 years ago and what the add on NGS Topo can do? Is it the fact that it is web based and maybe free?

  2. brett Post author

    Kirk – a fair question! I have not seen those software packages – but beleive they are desktop software.

    What’s exciting to me about Bill’s site is the potential. Imagine if he put some ‘community’ aspects around it – so hikers like you and I could contribute trail GPS data, photo taken at the time we were there, trail notes and information. Think Wikipedia for hiking data. Or trails.com without having to pay. I think an open platform for the hiking community would be a very very interesting thing.

  3. Thomas R. Conroy

    If it does not cause you undue hardship and take too many hours away from your loved ones [two-legged, four-legged, and/or legless], please, please, please make available for those of us who are Mac-addicted [we can only drink so much coffee @ our 12-step meetings].

    Thank you for creating this “backpacker’s dream” — it’s superb!


  4. brett Post author

    Hey Thomas – Getting this to work on the Mac is unfortunatley in Microsofts hands. The application uses the Windows Live “Virtual Earth 3D” engine – and it currently does not appear to support Macs. I’m not sure what MSFT’s plans are for that. I’ll try and find out. For now, you’re stuck w/XP on Parallels I’m afraid.

  5. samh

    > For now, you’re stuck w/XP on Parallels I’m afraid.

    That is assuming you have a Macbook PRO with a quality video card. I opted for the Macbook when I bought my new laptop and I can’t run the 3D aspects of this site. I’m still waiting to get in front of a sexy machine with the graphics capability to really check this out.

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