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Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Seeking assistance to update iPhone for Backpacking article on 11/09/2012 11:50:31 MST Print View


Over a year ago AlanD and I wrote Instructions for using iPhone as Backpacking GPS/Mapping device.

The article now shows up in the first few hits if you google the words iphone and backpacking. We invested time in this article for the sole purpose of providing useful information to backpackers, we have no ads or revenue. Hopefully cuts through the clutter in most app reviews which are simple rehashing of each app's marketing material and don't drill down on the unique needs of backpackers.

We also published a list of all the iPhone mapping/gps apps I've evaluated. When I learn about an app I've missed I put it on my list to evaluate, and try to get to it when I have a chunk of time (it's not a fast process).

I have made some effort over the past year to keep the article and the list current, which is a fairly time consuming task, since there are so many new apps and new versions of old apps. In the next month I hope to update the article and list of apps. A few things I plan to update in the article:
- The info applies to iPhone models 4 and 4S and 5
- iPad (iPad, iPad2, iPad Mini) with WIFI only has no GPS chip. All iPad models that have 3G or Cellular ALSO have GPS chip and behave like an iPhone.
- ViewRanger recently fixed the battery drain problems in their app, so it's now a viable candidate (and quite possibly the best candidate for National Agency maps for many European countries). My original comments about ViewRanger are now completely inaccurate.
- Gaia GPS has made numerous improvements and is now clearly superior to GPS Kit or MotionX, which IMO are no longer worthwhile for a newcomer to spend time evaluating.
- The UK Map app provides OS maps, but they aren't the gold-standard Explorer/ViewRanger series maps (I didn't realize that at the time)

Things I need help with:
- As far as I know, the battery drain problem with a Verizon device is still true: you can't disengage the Verizon cellular service without concurrently disengaging the GPS. This is a absolutely critical issue for backpackers, and I want to be 100% confident that I'm still correct about this. If you have a Verizon iPhone and you have found a solution, then PLEASE send me a link to the instructions for how to do this! You'll know you have a solution if you have the GPS enabled (you can open a mapping app and display your current location) and still maintain a background battery drain (phone asleep, but not shut off, and all battery conservation measures described in the article are in place) on the order of 1% per 24 hour period.

- Is anything in the list of all the iPhone mapping/gps apps inaccurate? I worry that new versions of some of the apps I evaluated make my comments obsolete. I'd like corrections to data in that table, and also will consider adding apps if you give me the necessary info. (List of evaluation criteria is in the yellow section at the bottom of the table.)

- I'd like to provide more information about the best apps for National Agency maps for different countries. I've got good info on apps for US (USGS), Canada (NRCan), and New Zealand (LINZ). I've got info about ViewRanger and the countries it covers. I know about Mud Map for Australia. I could use help identifying other viable apps that provide National Agency maps. Also, for the European countries for which ViewRanger provides access to National Agency maps, is ViewRanger the only viable app, or are there others that are as good or better?

Thanks much for any help, Amy
P.S. please don't side-track this post with discussions about why one ought or ought not use electronics, or why Android or Garmin or whatever are better solutions. My goal is to assemble the best info possible about how to use iPhone as a gps tool while backpacking for those folks who choose that path :)

(jhaura) - M

Re: Seeking assistance to update iPhone for Backpacking article on 11/09/2012 17:37:05 MST Print View

Hi Amy, I've used the resources in your guys' article and thank you for putting it together. Really helped me get started using my iPhone for backpacking. Have since had it all over the woods on my trips and works very well.

I can't believe we have to jump through so many whoops to enable GPS and exclude cellular data etc. So frustrating.

Anyway, I can't comment on much of your needed updates, except to say that I've found the Topo Maps app to be spectacular and use it regularly. I can't remember 100%, but I think the latest version lets you import files via iTunes using the Shared Data feature of iTunes on the Apps page of Sync.

As for a GPS app, as much as I'd like to, I never could get comfortable with Gaia. They are great guys and all, but for me it was just too clunky. Unless you need lots of tracks or routes, I've found the UTM coords and pin features in Topo Maps just fine for basic breadcrumbing.

I'm still open to trying a dedicated GPS app, but so far haven't found one that does enough better than Topo Maps to warrant.

Just my 2c

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
I updated the iPhone for Backpacking article on 11/09/2012 18:20:02 MST Print View

Jhaura -

Thanks much for the info about importing files via iTunes in Topo Maps; I didn't know about the change. I'll be sure to look at that when I rewrite.

I agree with you that Topo Maps is one of the easiest and most elegant of all the apps, and I'm not surprised to hear you describe it as spectacular. I find that Maplets and National Park Maps HD (by National Geographic) have a similar level of simplicity. Part of the simplicity of all three of them is that they each have limited capability and therefore little to learn and little clutter to get in your way. If any of those apps give you what you need, then there's no need to use an "all purpose" app like Gaia GPS. Topo Maps only provides USGS maps. National Park Maps HD only provides maps for ~20 national parks. And Maplets offers a very unique set of maps that complement other apps, but would rarely be adequate for backpacking on its own.

By "all purpose" I mean: 1) access to downloadable satellite imagery AND National Agency Maps (like USGS and NRCan) AND OpenCycleMaps (because all three sources are useful in different ways); 2) ability to import, manage, and export gpx and/or kml files; 3) ability to display imported routes/tracks, 4) ability to create waypoints. Those are what I consider to be the key requirements for backpacking. There's a long list of other things that don't matter for us -- Social Networking (integration with twitter, facebook, etc); real-time tracking of your friends (Squawk, Buddy Beacon, etc); integration with trail databases like EveryTrail; in-app route planning tools; search for locations; creating tracks and all of the trip statistics that go along with that (too battery intensive); Integrating photos; Showing current weather conditions; OSM POIs. Some of the additional features might be nice-to-have, but none are core. Ease of use while on the trail matters a lot more than bells and whistles.

In my research and experimentation, I have found that Gaia GPS is the best of the "all purpose" apps, significantly better than GPS Kit or MotionX for example. But there's no doubt that the extra functionality it offers (compared to Topo Maps for example) makes it more complicated to learn and use. If somebody has another candidate for best "all purpose" app, I'd like to know about it.

[edited 11/10 by mistake, then recovered the original content. dope]

Edited by drongobird on 11/11/2012 17:50:59 MST.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
I updated the iPhone for Backpacking article on 11/11/2012 17:52:38 MST Print View

Today I updated Instructions for using iPhone as Backpacking GPS/Mapping device.

If I get any corrections I'll update it again.

Next, I'm about to start going through the long list of apps to see if new versions of any of those apps change my opinions. Time consuming stuff, but worth it in the long run to separate the wheat from the chaff.