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Smartphone Navigation
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Smartphone Navigation on 07/26/2011 16:03:56 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Smartphone Navigation

Clint Wayman

Locale: East Tennessee, US
Maps on 07/26/2011 17:38:56 MDT Print View

Great article! I have never been one to use a GPS (never have been too far into the absolute wilds to adequately warrant its use) but I have always enjoyed playing with a compass and maps. I volunteer at a Nature Center leading tours around the park for the kids, and a compass/map is by far their favorite tool combination to use! I mean, who doesn't want to find hidden treasure? And is that the TARDIS as the article icon? Good call.


Andrew Wilson
(andreww) - MLife

Locale: Vosges
France IGN on 07/27/2011 02:41:01 MDT Print View

For those traveling or hiking in France, the iPheGeNie app offers caching (saves tiles for 1 month) for all of France (even down to 1/3.25" vector graphics, including street names!) from the Institut Géographique National (IGN) for an annual subscription of $16. Sucks for track recording, but for navigation it'll save you literally thousands over buying packs from ViewRanger and the like. It accesses the same comprehensive data as ViewRanger.

If you have a connection (no caching), a similar, though clunkier web-based app can be found by directing your mobile to:

BTW: BPL should put up a wiki resource page for mapping and geo-aware apps, based on this article. This would be especially useful for people traveling abroad, but also for others to keep tabs on this rapidly growing market.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: France IGN on 07/27/2011 10:00:45 MDT Print View

be nice if apps were discussed for us Droid users.................

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Droid on 07/27/2011 10:32:39 MDT Print View

Hi Ken,

I have been using a Motorola Defy in the UK with view ranger and its very good, I put it in a Otterbox Commuter case and its very durable.

This is the third phone I have been using it on over the last 3 years (also Nokia n95 and Samsung I8910)



Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Thanks Andrew on 07/27/2011 11:00:52 MDT Print View

Hi Andrew,

That's great to know. I hike in France on occasion and this would be useful for me.



Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
A different kind of map app on 07/27/2011 11:02:56 MDT Print View

The Maplets app for iOS has different maps than any of the above: they scan free and public domain maps worldwide, most with GPS calibration. For example, you know those nice maps provided at the entrance to the US National Parks? They have scanned them all, and you can download and view them on your iOS device for planning purposes, then use them live when you're there. Many GPS maps, especially USGS topos, don't have accurate trails, but the trail maps available in Maplets are nearly always complete and correct. And not just hiking trail maps: subway maps, zoo maps, university maps, bike trail maps, municipal maps, airport maps, tourist info maps, ski area maps,...over 5000 maps, so far. They scan the complete map, including accompanying information (descriptions, campground details, schedules, etc.) You can also submit your own maps to their database, if what you want isn't already there. The app is $3.99; maps are free.

Edited by Otter on 07/27/2011 11:28:52 MDT.

sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
Another benefit on 07/27/2011 11:09:57 MDT Print View

What's great about navigating with a smartphone is the multi-use nature of it. It is my camera, video camera, mp3 player, GPS unit, audio recorder, reader, unit converter and my watch. It has saved me considerable weight. I am an Android guy, so Backcountry Navigator and Trimble outdoors have been my go-to apps. Both have strengths an weaknesses. I just pull fixes when I need to.

Just be sure to have a real map and compass as they really work great in concert. Limited screen space really limits your long-view line of sight ability. Oh and don't forget to put the phone in airplane mode. I can easily squeeze 4-6 days out of my EVO 4g with light trail use. I travel with two batteries and a home made 3 ounce 1.5w solar set up. I charge one while I use the other. I should do a post on that some day..

Chris Carney
(ccarney) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
for android users on 07/27/2011 11:23:38 MDT Print View

I have found Backcountry Navigator for Android useful. Free demo mode available, fairly cheap Pro version (around $10, if I recall correctly).

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Topo Maps App has better quality maps than that screenshot! [UPDATED] on 07/27/2011 11:47:53 MDT Print View

[Updated: the screenshot in the article has been updated to show the HIGH-RES map, so this post isn't as relevant. However, the low-res/high-res option remains a useful feature for reducing storage requirements.]

Please note that the screenshot of the Topo Maps app is the LOW-RES map of that area. Topo Maps app allows downloading a quick low-res version, which is useful for road navigation and area overview when zoomed out, but you can also download the high-res map, which has resolution at least as good as the picture shown for the Memory Map app. You can also convert downloaded high-res maps to low-res, to free up memory after you're done hiking in the area while still keeping it around for later reference.

Edited by Otter on 07/27/2011 14:11:19 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Topo Maps App has better quality maps than that screenshot! on 07/27/2011 12:46:38 MDT Print View

great replies. I do have backcountry navigator and I have been trying to figure out how to use it. Youtube does have some videos on it but I am still stuck.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: France IGN and new version of iPhiGeNie on 07/27/2011 13:55:49 MDT Print View

@Andrew: Good news regarding "iPhiGeNie, maps of France", their new 3.0 version, released July 11 2011, "Cache no longer expires after one month. It is now purged when the subscription to the map services expires"

This is a good example of the beauty of the iPhone apps, as Ken mentioned, they are steadily improving. I started studying them in February, and the apps I use have been steadily improving.

FWIW, I'm using three apps on a regular basis: Gaia GPS, Topo Maps, Maplets, And there are three special purpose apps I like for limited areas: iPhiGeNie (for France), National Park Maps HD (great Trails Illustrated maps, but only 15 parks parks are included), and Marine Charts (by EarthNC, for high resolution NOAA Marine Charts).


Edited by drongobird on 07/27/2011 13:57:22 MDT.

John Nielsen
(johndn) - MLife

Locale: Matanuska Valley, Alaska
Limitations on 07/27/2011 13:57:53 MDT Print View

Phone based navigation is limited to cell phone coverage. In many places this is not an issue. In most more remote locations it is. In Alaska for example, there are very few areas in the mountains that have cell coverage. That is why satellite based devices (gps, emergency beacons, and satellite phones) are the way to go.

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: Topo Maps App has better quality maps than that screenshot! on 07/27/2011 13:58:14 MDT Print View

Thanks Douglas - I grabbed your supplied photo. Much obliged!

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Limitations of iPhone GPS? on 07/27/2011 14:12:40 MDT Print View

@John, it's true that the Google Map app that's built into the iPhone is dependent on cell phone coverage. And the same is true of many of the iPhone map/GPS apps.

But all of the apps that Ken mentions in his article allow you to download your gpx/kml files and map content when you still have WIFI (similar to prepping your GPS device when you still have your computer). Cell Phone service is NOT required for the iPhone4 to be viable. I just used an iPhone4 with Gaia for a six week hike in Turkey. All maps and gpx files pre-downloaded. My SIM was disabled, I had no cell or WIFI service and everything was great.


Laural Bourque

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: France IGN on 07/27/2011 14:15:06 MDT Print View

I use GaiaGPS on the Droid. I joined the mailing list and sent my phone ID to the owner, and he sent me a link to the private beta.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Limitations on 07/27/2011 14:24:42 MDT Print View

> Phone based navigation is limited to cell phone coverage.

Not true. Many phone apps (or iOS or Android devices) can cache maps, at that point they work in the same manner as traditional GPS units. That is they get a GPS fix (using their built in GPS) and plot that fix on the cached maps. Absolutely no cell phone coverage required.

They can handle importing, creating, and exporting GPS waypoints and tracks, etc.

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Smartphone Navigation on 07/27/2011 15:02:25 MDT Print View

This is an insightful article. I would point people to this as well as Steve wrote a great bit about using smart phones for navigation recently

Anything that helps to keep located on a map and on track has its place. People claim they don't get lost or make a navigation mistake. But it happens and in the UK we often walk high in the mist in the hills and moors. Good navigation skills are a must and a GPS of smart phone to me is a sensible addition to navigation.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
iPhone GPS - Battery Drain is manageable on 07/27/2011 15:45:54 MDT Print View

Ken has covered information about gps/mapping apps available for the iPhone. There's a second big piece of the puzzle to making the iPhone work well as a tool for backpacking --- battery life.

Find more about battery conservation on the iPhone4 in this article about using iPhone as Backpacking GPS/Mapping device..

By following all the steps, the battery life is very viable for 4-5 days of backpacking, even without carrying a supplemental battery.

In summary (read the whole article for details):
1. Make sure you can see your battery level at all times.
2. Tweak all the Settings as per Apple’s recommendations.
3. Shut down all extraneous apps.
4. Disable the phone while backpacking.
5. Don’t use the Tracking feature on multi-day trips unless you have supplemental battery solution (it's fine to Track on day trips)
6. Be EXTRA cautious about leaving the GPS app in the foreground during sleep.
7. Beware of Auto-Lock.
8. Keep the iPhone warm.

What to expect in the field? On a six week hike in Turkey we used the iPhone 15-30 times per day for 30 seconds to perhaps 4 minutes per use. Our battery drain was between 7% and 20% per day. The SIM was disabled, and we used all of the battery conservation measures listed above. We recharged in shops, and we were never more than 4 days between shops. We only used WIFI (a power hog) in towns where we had access to power.

My intention is to keep that article up to date as we learn new things. For example, I learned details about the Verizon iPhone battery issues from others on the BPL forums, and just added that last week. And I recently learned about Maplets from BPL forums and just added that in the past couple weeks. The world of iPhone apps is changing rapidly, and I'll try to keep up. And soon the iPhone5 will come along and the Battery Conservation stuff may change again.

AmyL, Palo Alto

Edited by drongobird on 07/28/2011 07:21:59 MDT.

James Thomson
re: John, limitations and Amy on 07/27/2011 17:44:41 MDT Print View

I have a very specific question regarding your use of "GPS" in Turkey with the cell coverage off.

I have been trying to determine for some time if the iPhone has a satelite based GPS system. The term GPS seems to be used rather loosely. As best as I can tell it does not, in agreement with John's comment. A satellite GPS would require an additional antenna and radio which I have never seen in any diagram of an iPhone. I believe that the iPhone determines a fix based on cell phone towers and perhaps wi-fi stations. I tried to get a fix on the Washington coast using the standard maps program and got nothing. It always works wherever there is cell coverage.

When you were in Turkey did you actually determine your location on the maps using the GPS in the iPhone, a blinking blue dot or something similar, or were you simply able to see and use the maps? I truly want to understand and am confused by this article and your comments. Best regards, Jim