How to: Installing Free Maps on your Garmin Fenix 5/6, Forerunner 945, or MARQ Series watch

Some six years ago I did a post on how to add free maps to your Garmin Edge series device. Back then, Garmin didn’t include any meaningfully detailed maps for any Edge devices, you had to buy those separately – often costing $50-$100 per map/region. These days, things have changed a bit. Garmin now includes maps for the region you bought it in (such as North America if bought in the US, or Europe if bought within Europe), but they still don’t include any way to freely download maps for other regions (such as going for a trip from the US to Europe).

Somewhat astoundingly for a tech-specific post, everything I wrote in that post all those years back is still actually correct in terms of steps. However, for the sake of cleaning things up (and search optimization), I’m going to refresh both of those posts. Starting today with the wearables side. Back then Garmin didn’t have any wearables that could do maps. But these days they do support it on a few units – so we’ll start with that today, and then on Friday I’ll give you the refreshed version for the Garmin Edge Series.  Though, spoiler: It’s the exact same steps as below.

Note that while Garmin would prefer you buy the maps from them, they actually go out of their way to allow you to download free maps from 3rd party providers. They simply note that it’s unsupported (but doesn’t void any warranties or such). Meaning that if the 3rd party map data isn’t perfect, it’s not their fault. But here’s the dirty secret: It’s the same underlying map data.

For virtually all of Garmin’s maps included on Edge/Forerunner/Fenix/MARQ series devices, the base map itself is OSM (OpenStreetMap). What differs is some of the special sauce Garmin adds atop it (heatmap type data), as well as the exact layers Garmin does or doesn’t display (how it looks, but also things like topographic lines).

I myself often use the freely downloaded variant I describe below (because I live in Europe, but often buy my units in the US). Or, for the European units I have when I travel to the US/Canada, like two weeks ago. And thousands of you every month do the same following these previously published steps. With that, let’s get into all the supported units and requirements and a few minor caveats below.

Requirements/Caveats:

While this post probably looks long, it’s mostly my attempt at answering any questions ahead of time. In reality the entire process is super quick and easy. I’m just overly thorough in my screenshotting excitement. The actual active time for you to do this is like 3-5 minutes tops.

You must have a computer – Mac or PC (or even Linux). You cannot do this from an iPad or such. It’s technically possible to do it from an Android device with the right cables, but you’re on your own for that!

As for compatible devices, here’s the list of devices this will work on. It also will work on most of the handheld type outdoor devices too. If it supports Garmin maps, it’ll support 3rd party maps.

Compatible Wearables: Garmin Forerunner 945, Garmin Fenix 5s Plus, Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, Garmin Fenix 5X Plus, Garmin Fenix 5X (non-Plus), Garmin Fenix 6S Pro, Fenix 6 Pro, Fenix 6X Pro, Fenix 6X Pro Solar, Garmin Epix (RIP), Garmin Descent MK1, Garmin MARQ Series, Garmin D2 Delta PX

Compatible Bike Computers: Garmin Edge 520/520 Plus/530, Garmin Edge 705, Garmin Edge 800/810/820/830, Garmin Edge 1000/1030/Explore/Touring variants

Now you may be asking yourself, ‘What if I have a non-Garmin unit? Will it still work?’ – and the short answer is basically no. There may be some 3rd party units that work with these maps, but nothing major. Plus, many other competitors like Wahoo, Stages, and Sigma simply make it easy for you to download maps without all this fuss. For this post, it’s all about the wearables, so I won’t focus on some of the nuances of having a microSD card for some of Garmin’s older/larger bike computers. That’ll be a separate post.

Finally, since I know some of you will ask, the following are most definitely *not* compatible. And the reasons are simple: They don’t have the storage, or they don’t have the processing power to handle maps. The ship has sailed on all of these (read: they’re definitely not getting map support),

Non-Supported Wearables: Garmin Forerunner 15/20/30/35/45, Garmin Forerunner 225/230/235/245, , Garmin Forerunner 610/620/630/645, Garmin Forerunner 735XT/910XT/920/935, Garmin Fenix 5S/5 (non-Plus, non-X), Fenix 6S (non-Pro), Fenix 6 (non-Pro) Garmin Fenix 3/3HR, Garmin Fenix (original), Garmin Vivo-anything, and countless others. Consider this just a ‘starter list’ of non-supported units.

Non-Supported Bike Computers: Garmin Edge 20/25/130/200/500/510, and probably a few really old others.

Note that for unsupported watches there is a hail-mary option, which is DWMap. This works on a slew of newish watches that don’t support maps (like the FR645, FR735XT, and FR935, among a number of others). It’s not a perfect mapping replacement per se, but it’s definitely a solid option when there’s nothing natively. It’s also won Garmin’s Connect IQ app of the year award as well, so nothing sketchy about it at all! Full details here.

Last but not least – note that Garmin does add ‘special sauce’ to their maps – most notably what they call ‘Trendline Popularity Routing’, which is basically a variant of heatmaps. The main use for this is when you ask the device itself to create a route on the fly (such as roundtrip routing) that it leverages heatmap data to give you routes that people use more often. However, this is only applicable if you create/re-route on the device itself. You can still take advantage of that concept by simply creating the routes on Garmin Connect or Garmin Connect Mobile first, which will use that same data from the cloud.

In addition, there are some slight nuances to how the maps look in terms of exact styling. You’d never know unless you had the two side by side, which you’ll see below. At left is what the default Garmin maps look like, whereas at right is what the free OSM maps look like:

I find the shading/clarity of the Garmin maps to generally be better/optimized. But both are perfectly functional. However, you also won’t get topographic contour lines when using the free maps. Technically speaking you can download them and merge them together, but that’s beyond what I’m going to cover here.

Part 1: Downloading the Maps:

This entire post is ‘made possible by’ OpenStreetMap, which are free community-driven maps.  OpenStreetMap has become in many areas just as good as maps from traditional providers.  And best of all, they’re free.  The below site simply does all the hard work that you used to have to do manually a few years ago if you wanted to use OpenStreetMap.  Now, it’s literally as easy as 1.2.3. Seriously, you can do these clicks below in under 15 seconds.

First up, going to the site.  Which, will bring you here:

Note that every once in a while that website goes down – as if someone didn’t put enough coins in the slot. It’s a community-supported page after all. I’d strongly encourage you to donate occasionally (even just $5, it saved you like $100 anyway). I do. If the site is down, you can use another site here. The downloading steps are slightly different (select Garmin BBBike as the format, Map type OSM Mapnik), but ultimately all basically the same. I have no relationship to either site, it’s just what I’ve used for a long-long-long time now.

Once the page loads, you’ll want to select ‘Routable Bicycle’ as the map type.

Next, you’ll select the region/area of maps you want. If you simply select a pre-defined area (like a given country/state/province), then the site has already premade these for you, so they are instantly available. Kinda like picking up sushi from the case at the grocery store (except less sketchy). Whereas if you want something custom – perhaps across multiple countries/borders, then you can choose to create a custom map set.

If going for the preset sushi, you’ll start by choosing your continent, then country.  In some areas (such as the US and Canada), you’ll also choose the state/province. You’ll see that it automatically selects the coverage area in the map below.

If you don’t need anything custom, then just click ‘Download Map Now’:

That’ll bring you to this page. Select the one that the little MicroSD card icon next to it. DO NOT select the Windows, Mac, or Linux ones. It doesn’t matter what computer you’re using to download things, always-always-always select the one with the MicroSD card icon (also titled ‘GMAPSUPP.ZIP’ appended to the end of it).

Download and save that somewhere handy on your computer (like your desktop) and skip ahead to the installation section!

[Again: Skip ahead to the ‘Installation’ bulleted section if you’ve just downloaded your map!!!]

Whereas if you want to roll your own custom map with added areas, then you’ll select the checkbox titled ‘Manual Tile Selection’, and go from there. As a pro tip, if you’re just adding a bit more territory to an existing predefined set, then start by selecting that first, then checking the manual option. As you can see below, I started with the Netherlands, and then I checked the box and added a few more map tiles from Belgium/Germany/France onto the Southern portion of my Netherlands map:

Once you’ve selected everything you need to select, then put your e-mail address in the little box and select ‘Build my map’:

The reason you need to provide an e-mail address is because you go into a queue for the server to create your map. Like waiting for your name to be called at the DMV, except, more efficient. Here’s what it’ll show a second later:

And sure enough, just as it says I’ll instantly get an e-mail with my status:

And a few minutes later I get another e-mail with the download link saying it’s ready. Usually that’s all it takes. I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than 10-15 minutes.

Just like with the non-custom ones, select the one that the little MicroSD card icon next to it. DO NOT select the Windows, Mac, or Linux ones. It doesn’t matter what computer you’re using to download things, always-always-always select the one with the MicroSD card icon (also titled ‘GMAPSUPP.ZIP’ appended to the end of it).

And again, remember that there’s a ‘Donate’ button on that site (I have no affiliation with it). Obviously, good karma dictates that if you find their (free/community-hosted) service valuable, sending a couple of bucks their way is probably wise – especially given how much money you’re saving. Plus, it’ll probably make that map creation bit go faster for custom maps if they get more support.

Part II: Installing the Maps:

Installation of the maps is super easy. All you need to do is put the file in the correct folder and you’re good to go. All of the wearables we’re discussing here have plenty of space, so it’s unlikely that you’ll need to remove any existing maps unless you’re downloading a huge map or have a ton of music. If you do need to do that for some reason, then refer back to my older post with the Edge 520 instructions (even if you’re talking a wearable). That’s because that was a highly space-limited device and thus the steps would be the same.

To put it into context, the Garmin default map data sizes are roughly as follows (the maps you’d get by default for the region you purchased it in):

North America: ~5.6GB including topo data
Europe: ~6.3GB including topo data
Australia/NZ: ~2GB including topo data

And size-wise, you’ve got roughly 16GB of space on the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 5 Plus series watch, and 32GB on the MARQ units and Fenix 6 Pro Series. So you’ll want to do simple math to see if everything fits. For context, the download size for the Netherlands from the free maps is 0.37GB (337MB) – so pretty small. France is ~1GB. Again, should easily fit. But if you’re tight on space, you can always follow the custom instructions above and take a prepackaged map like France and make it smaller by removing areas you don’t need (if you’re staying in the Alps, you don’t need the entire Western portion of France for example).

In any event, let’s install things. First, connect your Garmin Forerunner/Fenix/whatever to your computer using the USB cable it came with.

Go grab that file you downloaded (openfietsmap_lite_gmapsupp.zip), and open it up (just double-click it). This is what you’ll see inside:

You need to copy that single file somewhere on your computer. Technically speaking, your ultimate goal is the Garmin folder on your wearable, but because of the way recent Garmin music-enabled devices show up in Windows, you won’t be able to copy it straight from the ZIP file there. Short version: Just copy that file to the desktop first.

Then select that file and then select ‘Copy’. Now simply paste that into the ‘Garmin’ folder on your watch. Do NOT copy/paste the entire .ZIP file, you need the file inside the zip file (like you see above). It’s called gmapsupp.img and needs to go into the Garmin folder on your device.

If you’re on a Mac, it’s a little bit messier these days. That’s because the Garmin wearables are in MTP mode, which is great for music, but sucky for installing maps. You’ll need to install a little (and crazy-widely used) utility called ‘Android File Transfer’, as well as then close/quit Garmin Express if you have it installed/running on your Mac (it’ll block access otherwise). Normally this utility is used to allow Mac’s to connect to Android phones. But works here well.

Once you’ve got it installed, open it up (again, remember to fully close Garmin Express first), and then plug in your Garmin device. It’ll show up just like below. Simply drag the gmapsupp.img file into the Garmin folder. Remember not to drag the .zip file, but rather the .img file inside the zip file.

Once it’s done copying, you should now see that file sitting in the Garmin folder. The names will be similar, but it’s the one ending in ‘Supp’ (like ‘supplementary’):

And with that, you’re done.

Side note: Need to have two extra downloaded maps? Simply append the country name to one of them to make it unique. Such as ‘gmapsupp-germany.img’ and ‘gmapsupp-france.img’.

It works perfectly fine.

Part III: Using the maps:

Actually, there’s nothing you have to do here. Once you’ve installed them they just work. If you haven’t added the map data page to your wearable, go into the sport profile of your choice (Hold the middle button > Activities & Apps > Choose your sport > Settings > Data Screens > Add New > Map:

However, in the event you want to turn off the downloaded mapset for some reason, it’s pretty easy to do (and you can always delete that single Supp.IMG file if you need the space after your trip.

To disable a given map though, on your device hold the middle button > Activities & Apps > Choose your sport > Settings > Map > Configure Maps > Toggle on/off the map that you just loaded. You can see below the Openfetsmap Lite-NLD, which is my Netherlands map. While above it is the Garmin TopoActive US Map since this was a US Fenix 5 Plus. By pressing the select button, it’ll turn on/off the different maps. Super easy.

And that’s it! You’ll be able to use these maps as normal. That includes things like elevation details for courses, planning between points, points of interest, and round trip routing. And on Edge series devices, even routing to specific addresses. But more on that later in my Edge-specific post.

As always, thanks for reading. And if you found this post helpful – consider becoming a DCR Supporter, I appreciate it!

(And stay tuned for the Edge-specific variant of this post on Friday)

DC Rainmaker:

View Comments (134)

  • I would like to add that if yo want to use these (OpenStreet) maps for something like a holiday, you should download them a few weeks prior. The OpenStreetMaps site is sometimes down, or very delayed (like 5000 waiting before you), for a week at a time. Can't complain, it is free, and when it works it is very good, but it can be a bit frustrating when you try to download on Sunday, when you fly to Mallorca on Monday for a cycling holiday… (yes, experience talking...).

    • " I would like to add that if yo want to use these (OpenStreet) maps for something like a holiday, you should download them a few weeks prior. The OpenStreetMaps site is sometimes down, or very delayed (like 5000 waiting before you), for a week at a time. Can’t complain, it is free, and when it works it is very good, but it can be a bit frustrating when you try to download on Sunday, when you fly to Mallorca on Monday for a cycling holiday… "
      I had that experience as well, 2 weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. Needed to leave for the airport and the download link only came in in the last 5 minutes. Thanks for fiber internet at that moment, but my wife wasn't happy and I had a bit of a headache...)

    • Ok, fair enough. Actually, OSMF is not the healthiest organisation right now as far as I know (https://blog.emacsen.net/blog/2018/02/16/osm-is-in-trouble/), and that exact argument of 100K non-profit vs endless business opportunities is highly divisive within the community, so I'd rather not go there and just appreciate what we have.

      And yes, it is whining, but that kind of whining is sort of cultural thing within opensource communities. Have you ever tried to maintain even a tiny project on github? :) People will file issues with anything electrical in their house, branding or no branding. You tell them off, you whine how people are stupid, you carry on. It's not necessarily call to action.

    • I see the picture, my point was far more subtle perhaps: Don't complain about things without offering solutions.

      I think it's great that OSM offers the data and tools. It allows for small sites to access it, as well as even big corporations (including Garmin), and medium size companies like Wahoo or Sigma - all leveraging it.

      My point was simply that Simon comes on here complaining about another site offering a solution that is perhaps confusing to end users (and that he has to handle confusing e-mails). Thus, my response is more direct: Fix the issue.

      If the issue is confusing branding from 3rd party sites - then fix the issue within the license agreement. Best I can tell from reading it - there's nothing meaningful there around that - hence why every site linked here in the comments comes off looking like the real-meal deal. So when there's nothing meaningful around that, then OSM only has themselves to blame.

      If the issue is confusing because users want the OSM data in other formats but can't figure out how to get it on their devices, so end up on 3rd party sites that make it easy - then again, OSM can't complain about that implementation if they don't offer anything at all to fix it. That's a gap. There's nothing that says that 3rd party sites can't do it too. I'm just saying for core data, there's no reason why OSM can't do it themselves (and yes, I saw the whole 100K argument, honestly, that's lame. If OSM can't find ways to get more revenue than 100K a year given how many companies and individuals leverage their platform for profit, then that's on them.)

      Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm basically saying my general rule in life is that you lose the right to beat the drum and complain when you don't offer a viable/alternative solution. Otherwise it's just whining. :)

      I'm sure others disagree, but that's just my take.

    • Ray, you don't see the whole picture. It's not a gap, it's a feature. Openstreetmap is all about data, it has much more data that you can see on any single rendition of the map.

      Hence there's a freedom to tune rendering style for your own use and liking. Visual representations of OSM data for hiking or cycling, off-road or urban use would be completely different, and OSM foundation deliberately stops there - they give world data and tools, not single product. That's why all those sites exist and cater for different needs of end-users.

      As a side note - that's also why Garmin in particular has a religious following from certain crowds despite of all the bugs. Ability to endlessly customise and layer maps mixing official, OSM, and specialised stuff like Trailforks layer is not offered anywhere else apart from Android phones. For MTB, off-road touring and general exploring, especially in countries or territories less covered by official mapping there's simply no alternative to homebrew mapping. Only Garmin's map format is well known and didn't change much since early 2000s with solid community tooling freely available.

    • As a general rule the OSMF does not offer end-user services, nor has funding to do so (the annual OSMF budget is ~£100'000), The model with third parties turning OSM-data in to end products works well as it would in this case if the operators of the site would make the situation clearer.

    • Not to point out the obvious here: But perhaps those folks (you) could actually offer a service that numerous other people have had to implement so people (consumers) can actually use those maps offline direct from the source, rather than through 3rd parties.

      The comments section here is full of 3rd party links/places where people have created solutions for ways to download the OSM data (and this is only a fraction of them). Which seems like a pretty clear indication that a gap exists to actually get that data to end users.

      Said differently: Instead of complaining about the complaints, actually address what people are complaining about.

    • To be clear, garmin.openstreetmap.nl is not "a" or "the" OpenStreetMap site it is a privately operated undertaking that uses OSM data to produce Garmin format maps.

      Unluckily it doesn't make that very clear which causes constant confusion and complaints to the people that -do- operate official OSM infrastructure that have nothing to do with the operation of garmin.openstreetmap.nl and really have better things to do than answer complaints about an unrelated site.

    • Yeah, as noted sometimes it does go down - I suspect due to funding. I linked to an alternative that people have used in the past when it goes down.

      But ultimately, totally agree with you (and also been bit before as well when travelling and forgot). Thankfully now with secondary options, there's at least a clear backup.

  • http://gmaptool.eu maintains really good TOPO maps of Africa and North America. I am an American living abroad in Africa so my Garmin came loaded with US Maps and not Africa. I have also purchased the Garmin versions and the GMapTool ones are as good or better and are updated more frequently. I have recently been in the desert South West US and found the GMapTool TOPO Maps had better trail coverage than the built-in Garmin maps -- which is also my experience in Africa.

    The OpenFietsMap light maps you are using are derived from the OpenFietsMap project http://www.openfietsmap.nl/. They have much higher resolution maps available for Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg (which they call Benelux) and to a lesser extent Germany.

    There is http://opentopomap.org which focuses on OSM with TOPO lines for European countries.

    Garmin has MapManager and MapInstall software which is useful for importing maps into BaseCamp and sending maps from BaseCamp to the watch. This all works great on macOS with my 5X but seems flaky with the 5 plus series. MapInstall kept failing with a useless error message with the 5 plus. It sometimes worked with a 5 plus I was setting up for a friend but mostly failed with a useless error. We ended up copying the img files between watches.

    • Great tips for Topo, I'll try and get these consolidated and added in, for folks that want to take the extra steps.

      Thanks!

  • I looked twice (maybe should've look three times?) but couldn't find anything about the Garmin 645 (sans music). Supported or not?
    Thanks!

    • Yeah, there's lots of options here people are finding. I think the common thread I'm hearing though is that many of them are specific to a certain type of activity, or better in a given region (but not as well outside those regions/activities).

      I think for across the board maps (no matter where you're going or most of the activities), Garmin.OpenStreetMap.nl seems to be the best 'just works' answer. Remember: The tiling only matters if you want to customize it, otherwise you just download a country as-is, nothing complex there.

      Whereas I'll try and consolidate other specific use cases or areas that might be better on other platforms into a list for Friday's Edge post (and then add them here too).

    • Yes Ray, when I saw the new article I thought you upgraded your map sources. Definitely explore MTBMaps, VeloMaps, freizeit karte, and my best frikart.no. You download a country, which is better than tiling. You have a table listing most if not all Garmin OSM maps on the OSM Wiki. Just google Garmin OSM maps Wiki.

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