Two of the ten hiking essentials involve location: a map and a compass. Know where you are and where you are going, and things will be fine. Now, these two pieces are rapidly being replaced by their digital brethren in the form of smartphones, which are taking mobile mapping in entirely new directions.
The poster child for this innovation is Apple’s iPhone, with its GPS, accelerometer, and compass (available in the 3GS version). Since the release of the iPhone in 2007, maps in your pocket have taken on an entirely new meaning. With each new edition of the device, the iPhone has become a better player in the location space. And while the hardware is all well and good, it is the software that makes the device shine brighter in the backcountry. Here are seven apps that will make your mapping experiences a little more interesting (and fun).—Keene Haywood
Trails ($3.99) – This mapping app is one of the better ones out there. It allows for import and export of GPX data, which is the format that most GPS data is stored in these days. It can import GPS files from a number of major online mapping services; it allows you to cache maps for offline viewing using OpenStreetMaps (which provides terrain views too); it can track you without an Internet connection while your phone is in your pocket; and it can pause and resume tracking on multiple tracks. It has a streamlined interface and gives you wealth of information that can can be exported for use in other GPS mapping application or to help with geocoding photos.
Topo Maps ($7.99) – This is one of my favorites. This app gives you access to all the topo maps in the U.S. and Canada. Yes, all of them, for free. It can download these to your iPhone for use offline, which is a sweet deal. The beauty of the app is its speed. The maps load fast and scroll smoothly. They can be seamlessly tiled together so you can move from one topo to the next without a hitch. You can add waypoints; see what’s visible around you based on the terrain; search for locations on the maps; show distances and bearings; and turn on 3-D shading for terrain…and that’s just for starters. Check out the user guide for details. This app does a great deal with the topos!
EveryTrail (free or $3.99 for pro version) – This very nice app is made to work in conjunction with the free and excellent EveryTrail.com service, which will be reviewed in detail in the near future. Both the app and the service are very well implemented and filled with features. This app allows you to track your movements and snap pictures with the iPhone camera, which are then geocoded to your GPS trail. You can add notes for the pics and get detailed GPS info about your pace, distance, altitude, and time. Then, when you are all done, you can load up the picture and GPS track to your account at EveryTrail.com. From there, you can download the file to view in Google Earth or other GPX friendly mapping software. You can share your trails on the major social networking sites or lock down your travels for private viewing or sharing with others. While this app uses Google Maps, you can still track your movements when not online, then you can see it overlaid on a Google Map when you within cell or Wi-Fi range again. The Pro version eliminates the ads, allows you geocode iPhone videos taken on the trail, and makes it possible ro download all your trips and other people’s trips from Everytrail.com.
You R Here (free or $1.99 version) – This is one of the more innovative mapping iPhone apps out there. This app creates maps from pictures of maps. Huh? Well, let's say you are at a trail head and you see a map posted. You don’t have cell service (or a map) but you want to find your way around. Take a picture of the map, calibrate it (it's not hard) and then you can use the image as a map. While it may not be the best map you can get, its better than nothing. Quite original. You can also use images of scanned maps, maps found online and tourist maps of locations. The free version only allows you to save three maps.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
AccuTerra (free for the app but map costs vary) – This mapping app offers the ability to download the developer’s own custom maps for specific regions and use them for offline use. The HD versions offer the most detail (HD is one the map icon in the app’s map store to differentiate). The interface is streamlined and makes good use of the iPhone’s small screen. It allows you to import and export Google Earth KMZ/KML files, track your movements and more. You can purchase maps within the app for the area you are traveling (mostly U.S. coverage, but you can download a world base map for free) . The app Map Candy by the same developer also allows you to purchase all of its AccuTerra maps for $9.99
MotionX GPS (free or $2.99) – This was one of the early GPS iPhone apps, and it's still one of the best. It essentially turns your iPhone into a full blow GPS with a complete interface for tracking your position and giving you geo-details about your movement. You can export your tracks, waypoints, and location for use in Google Earth or social networking sites and can cache maps for offline use. Also integrates with the iPhone’s iPod app to play music while you track your movements. The developers also offer a turn-by-turn GPS app for driving.
oMaps ($1.99) – This app (the “o” is for offline) is aimed at travelers abroad who need maps but don't want to pay the hefty bills for online data overseas. Many of the apps listed above can do similar caching of offline maps. Before you leave the U.S., you can load up the maps you want for the area you are visiting and they will be downloaded to your iPhone for use offline while overseas. The maps used are the OpenStreetMaps which have a large community contributing to their accuracy and detail. You can add placemarks, as well which are also stored on your phone so are accessible without an Internet connection.