Installing Topographic Map Layers in iTAK

Continuing in our series on iTAK, today we’ll be walking through the steps to install free topographic overlays from the USGS in iTAK. Hopefully this will give you another useful tool for whatever preparedness goals you may have.

Free Topo Maps

If you need topo maps and you don’t have a lot of cash, I have good news – you can get them for free. Who doesn’t like free stuff, right? All you need to do it go to the USGS Topo website. You should see the below. Click on “Get Maps” to get started.

That should bring you to the next page. From this page, you can zoom into a location with you mouse, or you can search by location or map name in the upper right corner. In that same area, you can filter for map years and scale if desired.

Closeup of the filter options

In our example, we’re going to grab topo maps of the Luray, VA area. As you can see, we’ve searched for maps from the last 10 years (2012-2022), and we’ve been provided with 3 maps. We’re going to pick the newest – 2019. There are 4 download options. Pick KMZ.

Closeup of the filtered results


When you click KMZ, it will download as a ZIP file. Unzip it, and you’ll find two files inside.

One of these files is your topo map (the top one ending in TM) and one is a satellite overlay (the one ending in orth). You’ll need to save these to your phone. I usually save to the Downloads folder, but you can save wherever you’ll be able to find them again.

Once you have them saved on your phone, you can install two ways. First, you can simply click on the file and it will install and zoom to the overlay in iTAK. The second way is a little more involved. First, go to your Layers button.

Then pick “Overlays.” If this is your first time installing an overlay, it should be empty.

Click the add (the “+”) icon and navigate to where you saved the files.

Select the file you want and it will install and automatically turn on.

And now your overlay is functional!

The overlay on top of the standard Apple map
Zoomed in view of the topo map

Just so you can see it, below is the satellite overlay. It is not as detailed as the standard Apple satellite view, but it could prove at least somewhat useful if you don’t have internet connectivity.

The free sat overlays do not have the detail that regular Apple satellite maps do. However, they could still prove useful if you don’t have connectivity.

One important note: you can’t have both the sat overlay and the topo overlay active at the same time.

In my experiments so far, you can definitely lay points and routes on top of your overlays, but the route “Go” function (actually executing the route versus laying it out) does not seem to work well when the overlay is in place. I’ll be testing it out more to see if I can narrow down the cause.


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