Garmin designs different GPS devices to be used in specific environments. Over time users found that some GPS were sophisticated enough to be deployed for multiple uses and began to try and customize their GPS to have one device "do everything".
While this approach sometimes works in practice, only a few devices are engineered to be used cross-functionally. For example, design limitations are eventualy exposed when a person tries to use a car GPS for off road or hiking use. The same can be said for maps provided and distributed by Garmin.
Intended Use of Garmin City Navigator (CNNT) and Garmin TOPO
Garmin City Navigator CNNT is usually updated four (4) times a year. Three (3) of the quarterly updates have minor road changes and POI updates. The fourth release CNNT XXXX.3 is the one that includes most of the major road updates for the past year. It generally takes about a year for a change to show up on your map after someone reports a field update. This is subject to change of course contingent upon when Navteq (now called Here) delivers mapping to their end customers. Companies like Garmin and others buy their map data like any other wholesale product and then use it on their GPS.
Garmin TOPO is updated and delivered approximately once every four (4) years. The reason it takes so long for a new release is that maps core function is to display topographic information and that changes relatively very little over time.
Garmin is distinctly aware of these two mapping products differences and has conceived, created and deployed these products with specific end uses in mind. The same can be said for their aviation and ocean mapping products.
The greater off road vehicle, hiking, biking and motorcycling community has begun to use both Garmin TOPO and Garmin CNNT as primary maps for navigation without either understanding or accepting the differences between the two products and how they are positioned by Garmin.
Garmin City Navigator (CNNT) is intended to be used anywhere there are roads. Whether its off road or on, City Navigator typically lists any road from a simple dirt trail, fire road, county road, private property road all the way up to interstate freeways. At some point, off road riders assumed that since the product is named City Navigator it must be intended to be used mainly on city streets or paved roads. That would be a mistake. The product is positioned to be routable, updated quarterly and be used by any Garmin that has the technical certification to utilize routable mapping. The actual product of choice for off road navigating would be Garmin City Navigator (CNNT) regardless of what country its created for. According to Garmin, "City Navigator (CNNT) gives you everything you need to travel on the road. They go on to add, "It includes MapSource® or Basecamp® software for Windows® to transfer waypoints, routes and tracks between your computer and your device". If one is to thoroughly understand and accept this premise for on and off road adventuring, they would choose Garmin City Navigator (CNNT) in all but the most odd or extreme situations. In most situations, Garmin TOPO isn't necessary and is not recommended to be used by the off vehicle or off road motorcycle community. These communities have erroneously assumed that the Garmin TOPO product MUST have better detail for off road adventuring. That would be incorrect. Garmin City Navigator (CNNT) is the product of choice when navigating any roads.
Garmin TOPO is intended to be used while hiking or hunting. According to Garmin, "The TOPO map series provides detailed topography including terrain contours, elevations, geographical points, even 3-D terrain shading on compatible devices." While TOPO does include information on, "interstates, state highways, local roads and trails" it is designed to use those roads to get from place to place. As it is not routinely updated as Garmin City Navigator, it should be used primarily for hiking, hunting and general outdoor work. When referring to trails, Garmin means walking trails, bike trails and hiking trails. The off road community has misinterpreted this to be automobile or motorcycle trails. The TOPO product shines at showing elevations, features and natural characteristics. We encourage users to confirm for themselves. When speaking to Garmin technical representatives, ask about using TOPO in your car or motorcycle as the primary product to get around country roads with and you might hear a long silence. They will eventually suggest Garmin City Navigator (CNNT) and correctly position TOPO with its intended use.
Clarification Items from Garmin
Garmin has been receiving questions regarding these uses and as of September 7, 2012 has posted clarification items on their support site. A few examples are:
1. Does my Zumo support TOPO Mapping? Answer: "While the Zumo devices are compatible with TOPO mapping products, they were not designed for optimized use together. For this reason, the Zumo may not display as much TOPO detail as an outdoor device would. However, if you would like to load TOPO mapping to the device, follow the instructions below." They then go on to explain configuration optimization. The Garmin Zumo 590 is the exception. It is the only unit that is certified to work with Garmin TOPO. As mentioned earlier, since Garmin designed the Montana, Monterra, Oregon and GPSMAP 6Xsx devices to be used by outdoor enthusiasts, the concept of using TOPO as a primary navigation tool on motorcycle oriented rides, evades its intended use.
2. What limitations will I encounter when using TOPO, Marine, US TrailMaps, or Rails-to-Trails mapping with my Nuvi, LIVE, Zumo, Dezl, or StreetPilot? Answer: "When purchasing TOPO, Marine, US TrailMaps, or Rails-to-Trails mapping for your Nuvi, LIVE, Zumo, Dezl, or StreetPilot, please be aware that this mapping may function with limited compatibility when viewing the map on the device. TOPO mapping will provide access to very basic information such as terrain contours, elevation information, trails and rivers. There are certain elements of these mapping products that were designed for use on dedicated Outdoor and Marine GPS products that will not be displayed on a Nuvi, LIVE, Zumo, Dezl, or StreetPilot device. If you would like to use these mapping products and experience the highest level of detail and functionality, it is recommended that they be used on a dedicated Outdoor or Marine GPS product. In addition, when viewing this mapping on your device, please ensure that you have disabled your City Navigator mapping and changed your Map View from the default 3D view to either Track Up or North Up."
Motorized off road vehicle enthusiasts should anticipate and expect that their best mapping choice will be Garmin City Navigator (CNNT). In circumstances when an off roader is hiking or hunting, needs elevation or geographic information, Garmin TOPO would be a better choice installed on outdoor specific GPS. For international navigation, the discussed concepts can be used to start from and then researched to a specific product for the task.
Updated March 1, 2017