Smartphone Trail Navigation – A fad or useful tool?
You want topographical maps and offline GPS navigation when you’re hiking into the wilderness? Have you considered smartphone trail navigation apps? Google Maps certainly isn’t going to cut it so you need to look for more detailed apps that contain offline topographic detail. To be honest, your smartphone should not be your primary navigation tool but I am not about to argue this with the thousands of hikers who use them. My recommendation, always carry a map and compass and leave electronic devices for your photos and as a navigation backup only.
Smartphone Trail Navigation is very common as a hiking tool. Unfortunately, some people think they are magical devices that keep people from getting lost – Nope! They are useful tools but should never be relied on. Continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life. If they run out of batteries, get wet, or break, then it is a good idea to have a compass and a map as a back-up.
For all hikes I undertake I actually use my smart phone and hand held GPS as a quick update on my current trail position but I always plan my hikes using a scaled topographical map and I always carry a map and compass in my pack.
Most important tip is to select an app with off-line map mode to ensure that you are never left stranded without mobile coverage and it will save your battery life too.
Here are a handful of the Smartphone Trail Navigation apps I have used, in no particular order of recommendation.
$7.99 with in-app purchases for detailed topo maps
I use this app on all my hikes as I find the trail information to be extremely accurate. The ability to download topo maps of large areas for off-line use ensures that you are better prepared. I purchased the full upgrade which cost an additional $7.99 for worldwide topo maps. So now I can take it anywhere with the knowledge I will have detailed maps with me.You are able to easily pinpoint your location when on the trail and the blue arrow, that indicates your position, will also indicate the direction you are facing. This is great at trail junctions if for some reason you have become disorientated.
What the developer says…
Pocket Earth app works completely offline with GPS. This app offers detailed and interactive worldwide maps with more than 100,000 places. You can personalize the maps to show the info you want, save your multi-stop itineraries for offline navigation.
- An in-app purchase option offers topographic maps. Get high performance, high accuracy 10m / 50ft contour display world-wide (60N to 60S). The ONLY offline app that lets you download large areas, even entire countries! Contours are displayed on our existing maps for all Activities.
- Hiking and Cycling maps! Great for geocaching and getting off the track!
- GPS track recording lets you see what route you took! Great for hikes, cycling and off road! Never get lost again!
- Import/Export support for GPX and CSV files! Share with friends using PE Archives.
- Displays and lets you search for map coordinates (including DD, DDM, DMS, MGRS, UTM/UPS, GeoHash, and what3words)!
- Numerous GPS settings for your preferred configuration including compass and heading arrow or rotation, look ahead mode, accuracy and recording settings.
Free for the 1:250,000 maps but you will pay for detailed topo maps.
VicMap 25K Topo – Mobile Licence $69.00 US
VicMap 25K Topo – PC Licence $69.99 US
VicMap 25K Topo – PC & Mobile Licence $99.99 US
This was the first off-line topo app I ever used. The main reason I purchased is that it comes with a desktop package that allows you to create routes and edit tracks. GPX files can then be imported into the app for use on the trail. As I hike predominantly in Victoria I paid the $99.99 (then in AUD) for the Vic Topo map set. The downside to this is that when I travel outside of the state I am limited to 1:250,000 scale and only in Australia and New Zealand. To purchase maps for other states and NZ then costs additional so it could prove to be quite an expensive solution.
Memory-Map navigation software is easy to use on a PC or Smartphone. It helps you plan your routes and print maps or charts. With a GPS connected it will show your position on a full colour detailed map and help you navigate your way. When you return home, the Performance Plan routes, Print maps, Plot live GPS, Program GPS, Performance review. Review features let you see exactly where you’ve traveled, distance covered and speeds. You can even add your own notes, digital pictures or any other files directly to the maps. Finding your way becomes easier, safer and more fun!
The Memory Map product will support a wide variety of map types and even allow you to scan and create your own maps. These programs use raster-based maps, not vector based like the road navigation programs. This means that there is no “snap to” a road or any point on the map. Your position is displayed without any software finagling. It also means you get a map/chart with much more detail (showing buildings, elevations, railroads, nav. aids, etc.)
I use the desktop version for all my planning and a combination of Memory Maps and Pocket Earth Pro on the trail to ensure I always have all the information I need.
What the developer says…
Memory Maps turns your iPhone/iPad into a powerful Outdoor, Off-Road or Marine GPS. If you’re looking for Topo Maps, 4×4 Maps or Marine Charts for Australia or New Zealand to work offline on your iPhone or iPad, this is the place to start.
This app provides free access to 1:250,000 scale topographic maps for Australia, New Zealand and many other free maps around the world. It is compatible with all maps published in the Memory-Map format and works with maps you may already have on your PC or downloaded from the Digital-Map-Shop (1000s of worldwide maps available for download and use on most PCs, Tablets and Phones) See the Memory-Map Aus/NZ web site for details.
Once maps are loaded to your iPhone/iPad, cellular network coverage or internet connection is not required for real time GPS navigation.
Although the app can be used standalone, it works in conjunction with the Free PC app where maps and GPS data can be shared with your home computer for planning, printing and 3D visualisation. Then upload everything to your iPhone/iPad and enjoy navigating outdoors with high quality maps.
If you’re serious about your outdoor adventures, you’ll appreciate this no frills, full featured navigation app and the availability of high quality maps and charts.
I have used this app a little on my hikes. I found that it displays the necessary data for navigating the trail as it used OpenStreetMap. It has some difficulty displaying maps when mobile coverage is not great as it does not have an offline mode. As the maps are being downloaded as you navigate it also places considerable strain on your battery. In my opinion is not a great tool for hiking anywhere where coverage is an issue.
What the developer says…
Navionics Hike & Bike app lets you record your outdoor activities. View your tracks on the map, review results, measure performance, share with friends!
Beginners to experts will love the easy-to-use intuitive interface, specially designed by Navionics, a leading provider of location based products known throughout the world.
Never lose focus on your activity with a full display of metrics in an easy to read console. Real-time stats will display your speed, distance, time, elevation and vertical so you can adjust your movement anytime. View your location on the map with either satellite or terrain overlay. Once your track is saved, view paths in playback mode with the fun interactive interface. Keep track of your performance over time as you save your trips to compare current to your bests and challenge yourself to improve. Plus, easily share your data with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter or Email.