Using Arc Explorer Desktop on Windows Surface pro tablets offline.

Blog Post created by Schroeder333 on Oct 7, 2014

We were presented with the problem of finding a way to use our maps that we create in ArcMap on tablets in the field with no internet connection. Here following is how we accomplished this.


I'm sure there's already something online about this but I'm sharing this here because I've never found all of this in one place. And I want to share how I've managed to get our water and sewer system onto the hard drive of a windows surface pro 2 tablet running in offline mode so our people can carry these out in the field and not have to drag paper maps all over the place with them. Specifically in case anyone else wants to do this and hasn’t found all the information in one place.


And as an added bonus, with the help of Mark Bockenhaur, I have gotten custom icons in my "add a point" feature on explorer, so if one of our guys sees a fire hydrant that is not where it should be, they can just add a point, use a custom hydrant shaped symbol, and add notation to the point, then share it as a layer package to a thumb drive, give it to me to add to arcmap, and voila, the hydrant shows up right where out guy / girl whatever said it should be.

First and foremost one has to decide what information is going to go on the tablets, and what type of file will be used. I've tried using shapefiles, .kmz files and layer packages. Shapefiles, no matter what I do, come up with the default Explorer lines and stick pins, and the tablet is sort of slow. .Kmz files, though they bring perfect images of all the icons we use in arcmap with them, bog down the tablet to where it is totally unusable unless you turn off almost every single layer you're using when you want to navigate, and it still bogs the tablet down to near unusable status. Layer packages, on the other hand, work great, but there's some set up that has to be done to perfect it. This involves using the correct fonts, and choosing how you want each layer to be used, and will be explained shortly.


So, what to use and how to use it:

In ArcMap 10.2! (or not, I’m sure this works for probably all iterations , there might just be different ways to do it)

The imagery for our entire county is in .sid format, I put them in a group layer, then right clicked on the group layer and clicked, "Create Layer Package". (This is what I did with each group layer I used, so I'll only be specific on how to do this this one time, so pay attention to how to create layer packages, please. You will do this with each group layer or layer you use to create a layer package.)

You will see a window pop up that says, Layer Package. Click on the green arrow where it says Analyze at the top right. You will see at the bottom of arcmap, a window pop up titled Prepare. If you've used good practice in creating your shapefiles and layers (unlike me), you probably won't see any red xs anywhere, but if you do, hopefully they're just described as "Missing Tags in Item Description" and, "Missing Summary in Item Description", if so, you can click Item Description in the right side of the Layer Package window and fill in the two areas mentioned. In the right side of the Layer Package window above Item Description, click Layer Package, and look to see where you are saving your package file to, and edit if necessary.

Now click Share at the top right, and you will have a new .lpk file waiting for you where you chose to save it.


  • Helpful Hint: seeing as you're testing as you do this, you might choose to create a directory for these first layer packages, and where the name of the file is, you might want to add the date or something like _test_1 to it to keep up with which file you're using, because things can go wrong.

The imagery file I created, "Background_9_24_14.lpk", is 721 Mb. Huge, for sure, but the rest of my files are smaller.

One thing to consider at this point is, exactly what do you have to have on your map? Put only what you need, don't bog your device down. You can make more than one map, anyway. Also, consider whether you want labels visible for all items, or if you want to just have them pop up when you click on them, or if you want them to show up when you do a mouse over. It's best to have as little as possible going on when the layers are being displayed by any device. I only have street names appearing on my set up. I'd have them only appear when zoomed in to a certain level, but as yet I see no what for arc Explorer to do this. (hint for developers to follow, thank you very much) Parcels with addresses and such only show when you hover over them, and attributes for fire hydrants and manhole inverts elevations, etc are only available when you click on them. The least amount of stuff for your device to handle the better, remember we want the tablet to function as quickly as possible.


  1. What I did with the rest of my information was to put all my water mains, hydrants, and valves in one group layer, saved it as an .lpk file, all my sewer mains and manholes in another as another .lpk, and all my water tanks, lift and pump stations and property polygons into another and saved as another .lpk file. The roads and parcels went into another group layer and was also extracted as another .lpk, so I have 5 .lpk files equaling a total of 737Mb to use in ArcExplorer on my tablet. This is the entire water system for Rome, Georgia and the entire sewer system for Rome and Floyd County, Ga. On a tablet. Offline. Cool.


Now if you open these as they are right now in arc explorer, you won't see the icons or symbols you're used to seeing. There's a fix for this. Copy your Esri Fonts from your ~\Windows\Fonts\ directory on your computer that has arcmap on it (they all begin with Esri so they're easy to find) into your ~\Windows\Fonts\ directory on your tablet. Now you can see the same icons/symbols on your tablet as you see on your original map. Continuity- gotta love it.


  • Helpful Hint: If you're using a tablet that will be used by several people with different accounts, put all your .lpk files in c:\communal so they can be shared between users.

Open Arc Explorer to a new map, click on Add Content on the Map portion of your Home tab, then click Arc Gis Layers, then navigate to the directory where your layer packages ( those .lpk files) are placed, and highlight them all, then click Open.


You have to understand a few things at this point. Arc Explorer is going to bog down while it gets all this information going for the first time. This is normal, and should subside with use. (if not, you might have extremely huge layer packages and need to go to each grouping and turn off some layers until needed. I just keep the back ground image, roads and parcels and either water or sewer on. And water has a lot of stuff, so I keep hydrants and valves turned off by default. This speeds things up immensely) Also, your layers may appear in a certain order on the right under contents, but the bottom layer might be sitting on top of all the others. This can be corrected in the Map section of your Home tab under “Manage Layers”. Click that and just click a layer you want to move up or down, and on the right, click move up or move down until you get them where you want them.

Save your map to whatever you want, but if it's going to be your default map, save it as My Default Map and it will be what you see when you start the tablet.


Now you have your map on a tablet where you can carry it out in the field and use it without relying on having an internet connection.


But what if, as mentioned earlier, someone has a tablet and sees something in the wrong place? Or something is there, but it is not on the maps? We live in an imperfect world, so we know these things can happen. And what if a crew just put a new hydrant in? Arc Explorer allows you, the user, to create maps using the Create portion of the Home toolbar. But the out of the box version of Arc Explorer is limited to just basic symbols, so we want to add our own.

And here's how to take control and get the exact same icons/symbols you use for your create function. Create a kmz file that has every icon/symbol you use in it, change the file extension from .kmz to .zip, and now unzip the contents, and you have .png files for every icon/symbol you use. These can be added to Explorer following the instructions laid out by Mark here in this thread.

Notice that you can't use images larger than 64X64. I think I can help here with this, I've only tested it once, and on fire hydrants, so I don't know for sure if it will work on all the symbols used in arcmap, but I found that the size you choose for your symbols in arcmap are basically going to be half the size of the image when it is extracted from a .kmz file. If you have a hydrant sized at 32, it will create a png file that is 64 by 64. Therefore, let no icon/symbol in ArcMap be of a size larger than "32", and you can use it in a kmz file for arc explorer. You will need to give them specific names, of course so you can keep up with them, just right click and rename them as you go.


Sorry this is so long winded, and I know I should add images, and will probably do so later when I have time, but I wanted to go ahead and get this written down while I am thinking about it. Please forgive me if I’ve made any mistakes, but trust me, this works like a charm for us on my test tablet, and we’ve ordered another one for use in the field and will be getting tablet 3s once they get stable enough to use.