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iphone navigation - my experience

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Offline mini64

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iphone navigation - my experience
« on: January 02, 2016, 10:11:05 PM »
First I’d like to say this was our fourth trip to the park as explorers and the first time to use anything other than maps and maybe some printouts from google earth (including Lance’s excellent big bend google earth project), and I have to say the adventure of looking for a cemetery or such with only a point on a topo map and you and your partner spreading out and searching is more fun, but I wanted to see what my iphone could do.

Summary

I downloaded both topomaps and google earth to my 5S iphone.  Both programs allow you to preplan your trip on your laptop, saving points of interest and routes, then a clumsy process of transferring this info to your phone via an email attachment (see below section on trip planning). 

Google earth has such potential to be awesome but it falls short because you cant save anything on the phone version for use off line!   You can download routes and points of interest but once you leave cell signal, such as in the park, it only caches 2 meg worth of data.  This cached data was actually quite a bit as far as the cool google earth view went but you end up losing your paths and way points.  Also Earth lacks some features you would want, such as orienting the map to the way you are walking and any easy way to show you are here and going there and there is ‘x’ miles away.

Topomaps does all the things google earth misses with the exception of not being able to save paths, only points.   It was actually quite fun to use once I figured it out.  I could drop a pin where we left the car, turn on the real time orientation and distance rings and head the way it told me to go.  If only I were a bit better at reading topo maps we wouldn’t have gone up and down so much! 

Battery life turned out to be not a problem.   Full charge in the morning (year old phone) lasted a  4+ hour hike out to Dodson and back including the dam, then the drive down to Solis to go to the Solis ruins.   This is with leaving google earth running the whole time (from the hotel in terlingua) so it wouldn’t lose its cached data, and bringing topo up when I needed to (not that often). Had half a battery left at the end of the day.  I thought I was saving battery by turning airplane mode on so the maps wouldn’t be tracking me the whole time but turns out the gps works even in airplane mode so no battery savings there.  This does turn off the wifi which helps I’m sure.

It was fun to have both maps.  Topo is far more useful for navigation but Earth shows you the landscape and makes it easier to see what is the roughest route or maybe identify exactly which little draw you are in.  This could be made so much easier though if the map would orient to the direction you were looking.  You find yourself swapping back and forth between earth and your compass to get everything oriented the right way, and its so easy to spin the view with an errant finger swipe.  Topo can orient real time on its own, just as you’d want.

Trip Planning software and the transfer

There has to be an easier way, but this is how I did it.   Using google earth back home I would drop pins at places of interest, maybe including some paths.  Be sure to move the pin point where you want to go, not the big head.  These are saved in the “my places” section of the software’s search pane.  Right click on them and name them something descriptive.  I would then right click on them again and save it as a .kml file (.kmz will not work on the iphone).  I then collect related ones for a  hike and email them to myself as attachments.  Opening the attachments on your phone they open as a text file.  If you click on that file you get the little “clipboard box with an arrow” and if you click on this it will allow you to open them in topomaps or earth.   In topo you then navigate to them and click the little button to show them on your map after which they will always be available.  In earth only open the ones you are going to use that day then don’t close the earth app!  If someone knows a better way to do this please let us know.

TopoMaps details

Topo costs $10 but then map downloads are free.  Not sure if there is a limit on waypoints you can save, other then maybe the phone’s memory limit.  I downloaded a couple dozen high res versions of all the park maps with no problem.  I said earlier you cant download paths to Topo.  Actually you can but they show up as a series of points for which you cant save on the map. You can go to the points one at a time but they don’t show up as markers that stay on the map. 

Having the map orient real time as you walk means it can lead you right to a point of interest with no map reading required (feels like cheating!).  And being able to drop a pin where you left the car is reassuring.   

Earth Details.

You cant drop a pin where you left the car. Why not mr. google?!  And why cant you save paths and points?  Apparently in an earlier version you could according to the world wide web.  Why did they get rid of this feature I wonder?   Here is one day’s experience of how the cache worked- Back at the hotel I opened Lance’s big bend project, then opened a path to the solis ruins and a pin at the ruin, zooming into the area so the views would be in the cache, then I downloaded pins for Dodson ruins, the dam near the trail, then an alternative path back going down to elephant tusk trial then up the silky spring draw.   When I did this I noticed the big bend project was no longer showing up. I scrolled down to solis and those pins were gone but I could still zoom in and see the terrain well.  My loop back stayed along with the points up around Dodson so that was good enough.  Sure would have been cool if the whole big bend earth project stayed though – then you could pretty much adlib the day in the park instead of having to plan ahead. 


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Offline ambersdad

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2016, 06:27:02 AM »
That's good to know. Thanks for sharing.

I've been playing with an app called ramblr.  I've not spent any money yet on maps, I've just been using the freebie google terrain map that comes with it.  Google terrain shows most of the main trails at BiBe.  So far I'm pleased as far as tracking, dropping points, distance, duration (active time tracking), total ascent, highest point, and lets me rank the hike.  Last time out at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, I had 2:24:03 hour track time and used about 14% of battery on my iPhone 6 while it was on airplane mode.  Part of the battery use was turning off airplane mode for a couple minutes at a high point in the hike to send a text to the better half.

Here is the last time I used it while I was stalking a buck during the rut.  I throw that in in case you wonder why I was moving so slow.   ;) Stalking wildlife is not a dash, it is imitating the way wildlife moves through the landscape.

http://www.ramblr.com/web/mymap/trip/177915/236958

I need to download a topo and  pin some destinations on it and test that out.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2016, 07:49:34 AM by ambersdad »
Having decent gear is nice, but wildlife photography is knowing your subject and getting lucky, and I love getting lucky.
https://www.facebook.com/randy.jones.33234
http://randyswildlifeandnaturephotography.com/

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Offline RichardM

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2016, 03:50:24 PM »
I have the US Topo Maps app on my Android phone. This last week was the first time to try it out without cell coverage. Got out a couple of miles on the Marufo Vega Trail and opened it up to see only a gray grid. Zoomed out and it showed a very blurry section of the map, but not the section I was in, naturally. Tried it out in the Basin and it brought up a map, but didn't want to let me zoom in. Good thing it was free. Of course, it could have been operator error...

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Offline tusker

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2016, 11:55:04 PM »
I like iHikeGPS.  The topos get downloaded to the phone and it will track your hike.  I am not familiar with the others, so not an authority.

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Offline BlindWilly

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2016, 08:06:06 AM »
I've downloaded PDF maps by avenza. I found some topo maps of the area that I will try out once I get down to Big Bend.
http://www.avenza.com/pdf-maps
I played around with it on my Samsung S5 and my ASUS tablet here in Arlington. The maps I downloaded worked great in the area. I'm going to go test out the topo map up in Bridgeport, next time I go 4 wheeling at the park up there. I'm going to test the dropped pins, etc.
I also just downloaded Backcountry Navigator and splurged on the sale they had for New Years. It's a 1 time buy of $9.99 so why not.
http://backcountrynavigator.com/
Both of them came recommended by some other fellas that explore Big Bend and other areas of Texas.
"No matter where you go, there you are"
-Buckaroo Bonzai

www.txpedition.com

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Offline Homer67

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2016, 11:19:40 AM »
I've noticed with the app I use that parts of the park are not included in the maps. I have only used it once, and to success, when I was down by Double Spring once when the pour off was a bit too green for me to go down.  I wasn't familiar with this area and it was nice to get a look to make sure we were where I thought we were and to help find our way up and over the hill and out the other side. I've just left it as back up lately.
Ah Big Bend, we will soon return to reacquaint ourselves in our ritual of blood, exhaustion and dehydration. How can we resist the temptation to strip ourselves of the maladies of civilization?

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Offline Lance

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2016, 11:37:42 AM »
Good post and I'm glad you're finding the Big Bend Google Earth Project useful.  I've haven't played around much with using my iPhone as a navigational device in Big Bend simply because of the poor cell reception and the accuracy wasn't that great compared to a true GPS device.  It's probably time to experiment again with the iPhone and some of the apps mentioned.  As for Google Earth on the iPhone, it was just too clunky to use in my opinion and paled in comparison to the Garmin GPS.  However, the user interface and screen size of the iPhone is much better than most of the Garmin GPS devices I've used.  If I could have the accuracy of a true GPS device in the iPhone (in airplane mode), I'd probably ditch the Garmin GPS all together.

Back at the hotel I opened Lance’s big bend project, then opened a path to the solis ruins and a pin at the ruin, zooming into the area so the views would be in the cache, then I downloaded pins for Dodson ruins, the dam near the trail, then an alternative path back going down to elephant tusk trial then up the silky spring draw.   When I did this I noticed the big bend project was no longer showing up. I scrolled down to solis and those pins were gone but I could still zoom in and see the terrain well.  My loop back stayed along with the points up around Dodson so that was good enough.  Sure would have been cool if the whole big bend earth project stayed though – then you could pretty much adlib the day in the park instead of having to plan ahead. 

I think the reason that it wasn't showing up is the Big Bend Google Earth Project is a 'Network Link' to use Google's terms.  When you download the file in my signature, you are just downloading a link that points to the waypoints and trails on a remote server.  The waypoints and trails are not actually in the file you are downloading.  That's why the file size is so small (2KB).  I've set it up this way so I can make updates that are automatically pushed to the user without them having to download the file (in my signature) again.  Hope that makes sense.  If you PM me your email address I will send you the 'Offline' version that has all of the waypoints and trails embedded in the file.  That will probably resolve your issue.  Just know that the 'Offline' version is a snapshot in time and if any changes are made in the 'Network' version the 'Offline' version will not reflect those changes.

I have also created a custom Garmin GPS mapset for the Big Bend region (Big Bend 24K Topo) that you can install on your PC and push to your Garmin GPS using BaseCamp.  It basically has everything the Big Bend Google Earth Project has but can be used on a Garmin GPS.  I've been field testing it for the past year and I'm pleased with the results so far, but there are still some things I would like to do before I release it.  For the Big Bend region it is better than Garmin's official mapset since the trails in the custom mapset are marked using Google Earth's terrain.  In some cases, this makes them far more accurate and they have better visibility when looking at the small Garmin GPS screen.  Plus there are far more trails included in the custom mapset you wouldn't get with Garmin's official mapset.   One of the biggest advantages of using the custom mapset is all the waypoints and trails are 'built in' so you can skip the step of pushing it to the GPS device.  Once you install the custom mapset, you're done.  So if you forget to push your OML track to the GPS, no worries because it's 'built in'.  I'm debating whether to monetize it since it requires a lot of work.  With the prevalence of smartphones nowadays, I'm not really sure if there will be much of an interest in custom mapsets for the GPS in the future.  Who knows, maybe smartphones will replace GPS devices all together.

What navigational device do you all prefer in Big Bend?  A smartphone or a true GPS device?

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Offline Reece

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2016, 07:16:25 PM »
I use Lance's Google Earth Project a little differently. I save the GE places and trails (waypoints and routes) for the hike I'm planning as .kml files. Then I convert the .kml files to .gpx format. I load the .gpx files to my Garmin through Garmin Basecamp. Then for a backup, I load the same .gpx files to my iPhone 6 through iTunes drag and drop. I use MotionX GPS on my iPhone. With MotionX I can then download for free the map portion for my hike. Several different terrain and satellite map images are available, including Google Earth. The images stay in my cache so I can access them without cell service. The trick is to download the magnification you need without going over your cache limit. The iPhone GPS locator seems accurate enough to keep me on track even without cell tower triangulation but I haven't tested it extensively.
Thanks Lance!

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Offline Slimkitty

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2016, 10:15:17 PM »
I've just bought the Gaia navigation app ($20) to assist in my upcoming trip to BBNP in February.  It was highly recommended, and the ability to download highly detailed maps of multiple formats had me sold.  The app is designed to work in areas without cell signal, and it will record our routes and stats for us. 


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Offline Reece

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2016, 10:01:30 AM »
That'll be much less cumbersome.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Offline alanmalk

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2016, 04:42:36 PM »
What navigational device do you all prefer in Big Bend?  A smartphone or a true GPS device?

I have a Nokia 71, GPS enabled, with a base map that is so poor I figure I am lucky to determine which state I am in.
(yes, confusion...)

Any possibility of trying out your "custom Garmin GPS mapset for the Big Bend region (Big Bend 24K Topo)"?

Thanks,
Alan

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Offline Lance

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Re: iphone navigation - my experience
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2016, 03:57:33 PM »
Any possibility of trying out your "custom Garmin GPS mapset for the Big Bend region (Big Bend 24K Topo)"?

Yes.  PM me with your email address and I'll send it to you.

 


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