Best iPhone GPS app for a hiker?
November 4, 2011 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Are there any great (or even good) hiking specific GPS apps for iPhone? Ideally, I'd be able to download a particular region of maps, enter and set waypoints, and show the distance and direction from my current location to a previously defined waypoint. Current speed and time to waypoint would be nice, but not necessary. The app must work without an internet connection.

I've got an iPhone 3GS that I'd like to repurpose as a hiking GPS rather than purchase a low end GPS specific device. I'm not opposed to spending money on this, but the GPS hiking search in the app store is a real mess and I'd really appreciate some first hand reviews.

If the app is going to store maps, it needs to do so in a cache (rather than needing an internet connection). I could be convinced to get an app without map storage if it's great at the other tasks I'm looking for.

This is not for serious, off-trail, hiking but more for day hikes that might have a few tricky sections where a waypoint could be helpful.
posted by jeffch to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just as a data point in your search, I use an app called simply Topo Maps that uses free USGS Topo maps. They're quite detailed raster maps and you download them in quadrants before your hike - everything is stored on the phone. The app tends to be a bit obtuse/nerdy though and if you want to use waypoints from the Internet you might end up having to do some command line wonkery with Gpsbabel. Still, it's what I use with my 4 and a ziploc, and it's been great.
posted by ftm at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2011

I think GPS Kit is the best of the bunch, but at $9.99 it is more expensive the some of its competitors. It works offline and supports the cacheing of map tiles (including prefetch based on intended area of use).
posted by RichardP at 8:15 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wonder about battery life, especially in the backcountry when the phone could spend a lot of energy looking for a signal. I guess it could help to turn off the cell phone portion of the phone and leave the GPS on. Can someone speak to this?
posted by exogenous at 8:24 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I keep waiting for this ability too, but no smartphone on the market works as well as a decent handheld GPS. They get the signal too slowly, usually can't update background maps if you don't have a cell signal, kill the battery too quickly, lose signals too easily in the woods or in a valley bottom, don't have WAAS to be very accurate, are fragile when dropped, can't be out in the elements, etc etc.

They are fine for goofing around locally, but I would not be caught too far off the beaten path with just a smartphone.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 8:32 AM on November 4, 2011

My favorite hiking app is AllTrails. It lets you download trail maps for offline use and take geotagged photos, and it's got reviews too. I'm not sure what waypoints are, but it does drop a pin on the map to show places where you stopped when you pause the app.
posted by evariste at 8:44 AM on November 4, 2011

Regarding battery life while using a GPS app: the nPower PEG sounds interesting for hikers. It uses kinetic energy to charge its internal batter, and then can charge your phone.

I have never used one, and due to its weight and size it seems worthless for day-to-day activities, but it seems like a winner for lengthy hikes. I'll probably pick one up before my next big trip.
posted by Tehhund at 9:07 AM on November 4, 2011

I used Everytrail for this, and found it excellent. It allows local caching of maps. I found the iphone 3gs GPS signal strength on the device to be just fine out and about in irish mountains, and think it compares very well to a gps. For me, battery duration was the main issue when using a smartphone as gps like this.

The other app i would strongly recommend is ViewRanger, which uses actual ordnance survey maps, which makes it a pricier option, but still excellent.

Hope that's helpful.
posted by kev23f at 9:07 AM on November 4, 2011

Thanks for all the responses. Just back from our first hike with GPS Kit and I can confirm it worked great. It's easy to cache maps (though, do this before hand- it took a while to download even on wifi). I wish it were a little easier to add waypoints at locations you haven't been yet (and it may be, I don't think I've fully explored it yet).

As for the battery, I decided to bring my 4S (rather than my 3GS). After three hours of hiking- not mapping my route, but having the app on and sporadically checking and marking way points - my battery had dropped from 99% to 95%.

The only annoyance is constantly having to recalibrate the iPhone compass to get the compass error screen to disappear.
posted by jeffch at 2:22 PM on November 6, 2011

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