Getting Started with CalTopo/SARTopo

I created a CalTopo/SARTopo account... now what?

Welcome new users! Recently we have seen a huge spike in new account creation, which is really exciting. We also have had a lot of requests for more information on how to get started with CalTopo/SARTopo. The possibilities of what you can do with CalTopo/SARTopo are practically endless and, if you are new to our mapping software, it can be hard to figure out where to start.

The purpose of this article is to guide you through the process of creating your first map. We will cover:

  • Logging in
  • Adding objects
  • Saving your map
  • Changing base layers and overlays
  • Printing your map
  • Accessing your map on your mobile device

Feel free to follow along step by step or scroll ahead to any section you have questions about!


CalTopo or SARTopo?

The first step is to make sure that you are logging into the correct server. Currently CalTopo and SARTopo are on separate servers, which means any maps you create on a particular server stay on that server (although we are working on merging the servers in the not-so-distant future).

So what’s the difference between CalTopo and SARTopo? CalTopo is a mapping and trip planning tool for the backcountry. SARTopo has all the same layers and tools as CalTopo plus additional functionalities for managing search and rescue incidents. If you aren’t a first responder, chances are that you will be using CalTopo.

You should now see the Mapviewer.

For this article, I will be on the CalTopo server; however, all the steps described below will be the same for the SARTopo server.

Log in to the correct account

Now that you’re on the correct server, the next step is to log into your account. You can sign into your account in the upper part of the left sidebar.

It's important to make sure you sign in using the same provider and email address that you used to create your account. For example, my account provider is Google and the email I used to create my account is I would click Sign in with Google and then sign in using my Google email. Once you’ve logged in, your account name will appear in the upper part of the left sidebar.

If you aren’t sure what provider you used, you can find it in your welcome email when you signed up for a new account.


You can search for specific areas or locations by using the search bar in the upper part of the Mapviewer. You can search for areas by their name or any coordinate system. For this example, let’s search for Capitol Peak (a 14,000 ft peak in Colorado). If you type “Capitol Peak” into the search bar and press enter or click Go, it will navigate to the peak.

Always double check that you are viewing the correct area, especially if you search for an area with a really common name (Bridalveil Falls, anyone?).

Add an object

Before you can save a map, you have to add an object. This is really important so I'll say it again: you CANNOT save a map until you've put an object on that map.

You can add objects three different ways:

  • clicking on + Add New Object in the left side bar
  • clicking + Add in the upper menu bar
  • right clicking on the map

For this example, we will use + Add New Object in the left sidebar to add a marker for potential campsites near Capitol Lake. Click + Add New Object and then select Marker from the drop down menu. Markers are a great way to identify points of interest on your map. A marker will appear in the center of the map and a dialog box will appear in the lower right hand corner.

You can move the marker by either clicking and dragging the marker on the map to where you want it to be or entering in coordinates in the dialog box. You can edit your marker using the dialog box.

For this example, we will click and drag the marker to the north shore of Capitol Lake where we think there will be campsites. We will also name our marker “Potential campsites” by typing this into the Label line in the dialog box. Press OK to close the dialog box and our marker now appears on the map with its label. The marker also appears in the left side bar as well in a folder called Markers.

Save your map

Now remember: you can only save a map after you have an added an object to that map. If you add objects to a map and then close the browser window before saving the map, your data will be lost. So make sure to save your map as soon as you can!

In this example we added a marker to our map so now the option to save appears in the left sidebar and the top menu bar.

If you click either of these options, a Save As dialog box will appear. You can enter in the name of your map, designate where you want it saved, set base permissions (which will determine who can view your map and how) and add comments about your map. For this example, let’s name our map “Capitol Peak Overnight” and leave everything else on the default options for now.

Click Save to save your map. You’ll notice that the name of your map has replaced Unsaved Map in the upper part of the left side bar. Your new map will also now appear under Your Maps in your account. To access this, click on your account name in the top of the left sidebar and then the Your Maps tab.

You may notice that once you save your map, there is no Save option anymore. As long as you have a network connection, any changes or updates you make to your map will automatically sync, similar to Google docs.


Base layers

Base layers do exactly what their name implies- they form the base of the map and you add overlays and objects on top of them. You can view one base layer or you can stack multiple base layers on top of each other.

To change which base layer(s) are on your map, hover over the base layer name in the upper right hand corner of the Mapviewer. A drop down layer menu will appear. Click the Base Layer drop down menu to select the base layer you would like to add to your map.

You can add additional layers on top of that base layer by clicking + Stack Additional Layer and selecting the additional layer that you would like to add from the dropdown menu that appears.

For this example we are going to keep it simple and only add one base layer to our map. Hover over the base layer name in the upper right hand corner of the Mapviewer. Click on the Base Layer dropdown menu and select MapBuilder Hybrid. Notice that MapBuilder Hybrid becomes the base layer on your map and the objects already on your map are unaffected.


Overlays provide additional data and go on top of the base layer(s) of your map. They can provide information on land ownership, weather conditions, motor vehicle use maps and much more!

Let’s add Slope Angle Shading to our map, which is a popular overlay for planning backcountry travel routes. To add this overlay, hover over the base layer name in the upper right hand corner of map viewer. The dropdown layer menu that appears shows the overlays. Each overlay has a blank box next to it; in order to select that overlay, simply click the box. Let’s click the box for Slope Angle Shading and add it to our map.

Notice that the slopes within a certain slope angle are now colored a specific color. Keys for these colors appear in the drop down layer menu and in the upper right hand corner of the map viewer. For example, a slope that is shaded red on the map has a slope angle between 35°-45°.

You add multiple overlays to the same map.

Preset layers

Preset layers are combinations of base layers and/or overlays already made for you! Preset layers appear in the left side bar. We aren’t going to go into preset layers here but feel free to explore these and see what each one offers.


Once you are happy with your map, you can print your map by using the Print menu in the upper menu bar. Click Print to PDF or JPG in the drop down menu that appears.

A new tab will open and a transparent red box will appear over your map. The red transparent box is your print area- anything that is in this box will appear on your printed map. You can change the boundaries of the red box by clicking and dragging the arrows that appear at each corner.

In the left side bar you can change settings and details about the PDF or JPG you will be generating. For this example, let’s give our map the name “Capitol Peak Overnight” by typing it into the Title box. We will leave the rest of the settings on default. Click Generate PDF at the bottom of the left side bar to generate a PDF of your selected area.

PDFs of maps will also appear in your account under Your PDFs until their expiration date. To access PDFs saved here, click on your account name in the upper part of the left side bar and then select the Your PDFs tab.


You can also access maps that you create on the web from your mobile device. In order to do this, download the CalTopo app on your mobile device from your app store. When you sign in, make sure you log into the same server (either CalTopo or SARTopo) that you used on the web. For this example I will be using an iOS mobile device but the steps would be the same for Android.

Make sure you use the same login method as you did on the web and then select Sync Account to sync the maps you made on the web with your mobile device.

To access the maps in your account, click on the three bar menu in the upper left hand corner. Click Your Maps and all the maps in your account will appear. A legend for the icons that appear next to the map is shown below.

To select a map, simply click on the map name. As long as you have a data connection, this will load and open the map in the CalTopo mobile app. Let’s click on the map we made “Capitol Peak Overnight”. You should now see this map in the Mapviewer on the mobile app.

If you have a data connection, any changes you make to objects (add, edit or delete) in the mobile app will be automatically updated on the web. If you don’t have a data connection, changes will be updated once a data connection is reestablished.

You did it!

Congratulations- you just created, printed and viewed your map on your mobile device! In this article, we covered the basics for getting started with CalTopo/SARTopo. If you would like to keep learning, use our Knowledge Base to find the answers to specific questions.

We are also hard at work creating which will serve as a resource to further develop and hone your mapping skills. We will make an announcement as soon as this new section of our website is live so keep an eye out for that!

As always, you can email our support staff at if you get stuck or have additional questions. Happy mapping!