Can a Garmin Map Be Loaded to More Than One GPS?

By Fred Decker

A GPS can be more practical than paper maps in outdoor settings.
i Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Major GPS manufacturers such as Garmin draw on a number of revenue streams. Aside from the sale of physical GPS devices, they earn much of their income from premium services, software apps, hardware accessories and the sale of maps. Some maps can be shared between multiple Garmin devices, while others are restricted to a single device. Before making a purchase, it's important to understand the differences.

Maps on DVD/CD

Many of Garmin's maps are available in the form of DVD-ROM or CD/ROM optical discs. To use them you need a computer with an optical drive, and Garmin's free BaseCamp software or the older MapSource product. Most maps sold on disc must be unlocked after purchase, and as part of that process they're keyed to a single Garmin device. This is a disadvantage if you own multiple devices, but there are corresponding advantages as well. You have full access to the maps in BaseCamp for route-planning purposes, and the maps can be kept up to date through regular downloads from Garmin.

Downloaded Maps

If you don't have an optical drive in your computer, or want a set of maps that's not carried by dealers in your area, a second option is downloading maps directly from Garmin's website. You can download maps directly to your device over the air, if it's paired to a compatible cellular phone, or to your computer if the map is compatible with BaseCamp. When you unlock the downloaded map it's keyed to a specific Garmin device and can't be shared with others. Maps in the City Navigator series can't be updated and require a new download at the regular price when they become obsolete.

Maps on SD Cards

If your Garmin devices have an SD card slot for memory expansion, you have the option of buying maps in this format as well. A major advantage of maps in this format is that they aren't locked to a single device. You can pull the card physically from one device and insert it into another and have full access to the maps. You can't read or use datacard maps in BaseCamp, so you're restricted to planning and editing data on your GPS device. As with downloaded maps, datacards have no update path and will need to be replaced once they're outdated.

Third-Party Maps

Third-party suppliers offer Garmin-formatted maps for use in your mobile device. Licensing for those maps varies widely, so it's important to read the fine print before you make your purchase. Some, notably the OpenStreetMap project, make their maps freely available to share between users and devices. Others are commercial products targeted at niche markets such as hunters and follow Garmin's lead in locking their maps to a single device. However, additional unlock codes are often available and some vendors might offer discounted pricing for additional devices.