Jul 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm #1277235
Companion forum thread to:Jul 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm #1763333
@cwayman1Locale: East Tennessee, US
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.
-ClintJul 27, 2011 at 1:41 am #1763491
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 geoportail.fr 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: http://geobar.pureftpd.org
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.Jul 27, 2011 at 9:00 am #1763581
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
be nice if apps were discussed for us Droid users……………..Jul 27, 2011 at 9:32 am #1763593
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
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)
StephenJul 27, 2011 at 10:00 am #1763602
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
That's great to know. I hike in France on occasion and this would be useful for me.
StephenJul 27, 2011 at 10:02 am #1763603
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.Jul 27, 2011 at 10:09 am #1763609
@seannevesLocale: City of Salt
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..Jul 27, 2011 at 10:23 am #1763619
@ccarneyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I have found Backcountry Navigator for Android useful. Free demo mode available, fairly cheap Pro version (around $10, if I recall correctly).Jul 27, 2011 at 10:47 am #1763632
[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.Jul 27, 2011 at 11:46 am #1763660
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
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.Jul 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm #1763691
@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).
AmyLJul 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm #1763692
@johndnLocale: Matanuska Valley, Alaska
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.Jul 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm #1763694
Thanks Douglas – I grabbed your supplied photo. Much obliged!Jul 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm #1763702
@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.
AmyJul 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm #1763704
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.Jul 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm #1763711
> 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.Jul 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm #1763728
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 http://www.stevenhorner.com/?p=1465
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.Jul 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm #1763742
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
amyl.smugmug.comJul 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm #1763792
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, JimJul 27, 2011 at 4:55 pm #1763800
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
If you refer to GPS, then you are referring to the Global Positioning System which is satellite-based. Some portable devices have this capability, and it is based purely on signals from high in the sky.
Some portable devices do not have a GPS antenna or receiver, but they do "cell tower positioning" or "cell phone positioning" which obviously use a working cell phone connection. This is based on terrestrial signals that are not high in the sky.
Some people don't know what capability their portable device has, and they don't care… until, of course, when they get outside cell service with a portable device that needs it.
–B.G.–Jul 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm #1763805
The iPhone 4 (and I think 3 and 3GS) does indeed use satellite-based GPS. It also uses cell towers to get a quicker fix of where you are when cell towers are available, or if GPS isn't readily available (like indoors). This is called Assisted GPS.Jul 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm #1763808
James asks the same questions that confused me when I started my research. Does the iPhone4 really have a GPS chip. The answer is YES.
In Turkey, we used the SIM PIN feature to lock the SIM, so even if there had been cell coverage, we did not receive it. Others have just removed the SIM card to get the same result (the goal being to prevent the phone from draining the battery searching for a signal). We were far from any WIFI. We absolutely had our location showing on our maps, and we could use it to relocate a lost path when we were just 5 or 10 meters from it in dense brush, or to find hidden buildings when we were in white-out fog conditions.
Part of the confusion may be that the iTouch does NOT have a GPS chip.
The WIFI-only-iPad does NOT have a GPS chip.
The iPhone and the WIFI+3G-iPad DO have GPS chips.
If you're not careful when you talk about iThingies, it is easy to get mixed up about what does what.
As I understand it (hopefully Bob Gross, the BPL GPS expert) will chime in here), the iPhone uses WIFI to accelerate the first location fix. Without a WIFI signal, it takes the iPhone roughly five minutes to establish the first location fix after a full power cycle. However, once our iPhone was powered on, we never turned it off, we just put it to sleep. When awakened from sleep, it takes perhaps 10 seconds to get a new location fix (I haven't timed either one, I'm just giving you my impression).
When I went to the Apple store to buy my iPhone, I told the sales agent that I didn't actually care about the phone, I was just buying it as a GPS device, and the agent assured me that it would not work. Totally confused, as I had read many forum posts about it already, I bought it with the 30-day-return assurance. The first thing I did was remove the SIM card, turn off WIFI, and head out to the baylands where there is no WIFI anyway. It worked just fine. I returned to the Apple Store to tell the Sales Rep about it, and the other reps concurred that the GPS chip works just fine without WIFI or cell, and the one rep was misinformed. I tell this story to illustrate how hard it can be to sort this stuff out.
James, you said " I tried to get a fix on the Washington coast using the standard maps program and got nothing" — I wonder if you were getting a GPS fix just fine, but could not see it because the standard maps program does not store maps for offline use. This is the essence of Ken's article — you need an app that allows you to pre-download the maps for offline use. If you have an iPhone and you're in the US, then invest 8 bucks to buy Topo Maps. If you think it was a waste of $8 send me a PM and I'll buy you a drink! (this offer applies only to James, not to everybody!)
Keep asking questions and I'll do my best help out. AmyL
PS, my understanding is that iPhone3 has a GPS chip but it is not as powerful as iPhone4's GPS chip, but that is rumor I can't substantiate.Jul 27, 2011 at 5:20 pm #1763814
I used both Backcountry Navigator and Gaia on my recent AT hike. I never could get BN to load a track I had but it loaded waypoints fine. Both worked reasonably well but I think I prefer the interface on Gaia.
Battery life on the smartphones is definitely a concern. I ended up purchasing 3 additional batteries for the trip and my Thunderbolt sucked them dry. I only used the GPS occasionally and otherwise kept it in airport mode with all services disabled.
If battery life can be improved the full-featured phones will really be giving standalone GPS units a run for their money.Jul 27, 2011 at 5:33 pm #1763822
I suspect the Android battery drain may have similar issues to iPhone, and wonder about your experience.
With the iPhone, it drains 5% per hour battery if you are in Tracking mode. So Tracking is not viable for multi-day trips unless you have a battery recharge solution. And it drains 1.2% battery capacity per hour (30% per day) searching for a cell signal when one is not present. So it is essential to disable the phone (how-to info). You said you were in Airplane Mode, so that should turn off the phone.
Do you know what your baseline daily drain is, i.e. with all functionality disabled and the device sleeping? It took me many dozens of hours to figure out how to get the baseline battery drain down to 1% per day on the ATT iPhone4. If somebody has done that research for various Android model phones, that info is golden.
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