Skip to main content

Smartphone Map Apps Versus Hansel and Gretel

Nothing convinces you how blind you normally are, outdoors, like getting lost on a disappearing trail. Until the moment of panic hits, the process is fascinating: it is a paradigm for outdoor experiences in general.

As the trail starts petering out, you need to become more and more observant. At some point, it really seems like you are imagining mere hints of a trail, and that is such a magical point!

I got frustrated trying to use a mapping app on my smartphone today, mainly because I lost the internet signal occasionally, and then the app didn't work right. Therefore I 'sorta' got lost.

These mapping apps are not designed for outdoorsmen, by outdoorsmen. They are cooked up by city boys -- cubicle rats -- at some software company. If the app works in their parking lot, they think they have succeeded. They are proud of all the features they have built into the app -- but that just means a more complicated menu. 

Could anyone really use all those features when the sun is too bright, the battery is getting low, or they are getting tired, or even injured and panicky?

All I really want is a GPS-based bread crumb trail, as well as learning the connectivity of roads. All of these apps sell you on the idea that they don't need an internet connection to work. 

They lie! I have yet to find one that lives up to that promise. If you know of one that REALLY works without an internet signal, please let me know of it! (Seven extra credit points.)

No extra credit points for a mapping app that you "heard" works without an internet connection.

But who am I kidding? The few moments of anger and panic that came from these crappy apps were actually memorable and enjoyable. Why wasn't I turning around and looking at landmarks every now and then, when I was bushwhacking today? What about observing my own footprints or tire tread? Was I avoiding lefts &rights and ups&downs, and keeping the route uniform? What about breaking a tree branch every ten paces?

The Uncharted surrounds us on every side and we must needs have some some relation towards it...  (Gilbert Murry, Five Stages of Greek Religion.)

Struggling with all your might with these issues -- and beating back a sense of panic -- preserve the sense of old-fashioned adventure much better than drowning in the menu system of some cursed gadget.   


Anonymous said…
I like Gaia. It has worked well for me. I bought the 12 month subscription version. it tracks my route and has good enough detail for me.
Jim and Gayle said…
We like BackCountry Navigator and it's only a one-time fee. Works without an internet connection but you have to download maps ahead of time when you have a connection.
You may be on the verge of winning your 7 extra credit points IF:
1. You downloaded a map when you had an internet connection.
2. Then you went into an area with no connection and made use of #1, including:
3. bread crumb trails, GoTo waypoints, (with you setting the waypoint WHEN you were off-line,)

The decision of the judges is final.
Requirement #4 (grin): are you forced to view the downloaded map at the SAME ZOOM LEVEL that you downloaded it at, because if you zoom in closer on a downloaded map, the fine details just aren't there?

edlfrey said…
I don't know if you have found this thread
but it may, or may not, answer your zooming requirement question.
Ed, amazing that you don't get discouraged looking stuff up on the internet: you just plow into it and find it.

OK, I looked at the link you provided, and the commenters were complaining about the same problem I have (with my app, US Topo Maps Pro).

Apparently we would all like to download the map for a fairly large area, say the XYZ National Forest, and then zoom in to small areas when we are offline and on the trail, so that the necessary details show up.
Good news: on both the "US Topo Maps Pro" app and the "Backcountry Navigator PRO", I was able to download the map of a large area, and then use it offline, while zooming in close. I had to specify the zoom level in US TopoMaps Pro. That involve finger tapping that I had not done correctly before. But once you learn how to do it...

Of course, the downloaded file will be rather large if you choose something as big as an entire national forest. But it HAS to work that way.