Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Those of you who already use a GPS (or an iPhone for that matter) will probably roll your eyes throughout most of this post. But for me, both are a novelty, and “the new” hasn’t quite worn off yet, so I appreciate you letting me have my moment.

A couple weeks ago I blogged about my trip to the Brecon Beacons and learning (the hard way) that a GPS would be a very handy device for the lone walker to carry around. I actually had a Garmin eTrex GPS, but sold it for two reasons: (1) I barely ever used it because the Mac software was crap and I usually didn’t have the time or patience to spend hours configuring it before each and every trip; and (2) I just bought an iPhone, which I knew had GPS and could could get me out of any scrapes if necessary.

When I first moved to Orchard Cottage and “went country”, I always had this idea that I’d spend a fair bit of my time walking and exploring the Cotswolds, especially on the weekends. But as reality would have it, I do most of my walking from the cottage in short 30 minute to one hour bursts. Where is my sense of adventure? And if the walks in Brecon taught me anything, it’s that I need to walk up more hills. I just don’t remember hillwalking feeling as hard as it’s been on recent trips. The only way to make it easier to is to walk up more of them.

Which brings me to today. I decided to take a 7.5 mile walk in “Laurie Lee Country”, a route detailed in my Pathfinder Guide of Cotswolds Walks. Now seemed like a good time to test out the iPhone as handheld GPS unit. A little Googling turned up ViewRanger, “the Mobile App that will turn your Smartphone into a Complete Outdoors GPS.”

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Within ten minutes, I’d installed the app on my iPhone, figured out how to use it, and loaded it with OS Explorer maps for the walk I planned to do.

After the Garmin, this experience just totally blew my mind. Admittedly, I didn’t do anything fancy like program my route or add waypoints, but I did have maps on my phone that gave me a bit of security and peace of mind.

Of course, the real test was how it faired on the walk. It was all very straightforward: I hit a “Start” button when I set off and it recorded my trip, which I was then able to upload to the ViewRanger website and save as a “route”. How cool is that? Almost as cool as the typo in their embedded iframe map:

I will forgive ViewRanger the typo (UPDATE: the typo is now fixed!), because everything else about it was awesome. It proved extremely useful on my walk: a large part of my journey was through forest, completely covered in fallen autumn leaves that obstructed path visibility just like snow. I referred to the ViewRanger app many times. Sure, I probably could have made my way without it, but this in conjunction with my book and compass eliminated most navigational questions so I could actually relax and enjoy the walk.

And what a beautiful walk it was, on a most splendid, blue sky autumn day:

More nice valley

Of course, the big downside to the iPhone-as-GPS is battery life. I started with a fully charged iPhone and by the end of my walk (about 3.5 hours), there was about 20% battery power left. This just won’t do on really long walks. Of course, this morning I was using the GPS constantly – in the future I will skip recording my track and possibly even turn off the phone unless I need it. Another question in my mind is: what if I went camping for a few days or weeks? How will I charge my phone? I know there are portable chargers for such purposes, but that is research for another time.

The ViewRanger app cost £7.99 and came with 1000 “credits” for downloading maps. You get a Great Britain overview map for free, then you can select small portions (“grids”) of the map to download detailed OS Explorer or Landranger maps. I downloaded two “grids” to cover my walk, which cost 48.5 credits each. I felt this a very fair price.

One other thing I discovered I love about the iPhone: Instagram! I took these shots while on my walk. I’m really impressed with the iPhone’s camera and Instagram seriously ups the fun factor:

Good morning Slad

 

Requisite

 

I just really loved the name and the signage. Stroud 2m!

And since I’m sharing photos, I saw a few funny things on my walk, including this bizarre collection of rubbish on the trail…

A funny collection of trash on the trail

… is she the gatekeeper?

Goddess of the footpath?

And this motley crew of old disused motorhomes:

Has-been motorhomes

The morning has left me thoroughly exhausted: this is why I need to walk up more hills – so that it doesn’t total shatter me every time I do so. Not sure where I’ll go next but I’ve only ticked off a few walks in the book and the next weekend isn’t far away. Bring it!

More photos on Flickr: Laurie Lee County

9 thoughts on “Discovering GPS on my iPhone

  1. Mom

    Great post, Monica… if you think YOU are behind the techno-buffs how do you think your mother feels? Like a crone to be sure. I just got a Smartphone and need one-on-one lessons in using it.

    Yes, battery life is a concern, there are solar chargers out there. Of course they do not have the speed of other chargers. Also a concern is signal reliability. That could render you mapless when you need it most. So I’d suggest having a paper map “just incase”. I know walking uphill is very tiring. For awhile we were changing our neighborhood walks to avoid getting breathless at certain places where the walk was uphill for a bit of a distance. After a few days we could walk these with ease however. Just shows how consistency pays off. But it’s really weather that dictates when and where we walk. I’m so glad you are enjoying your phone and discovering all it can do. Good luck with walks to come!

    Reply
  2. Monica

    Yes I always carry a paper map and compass in addition to the “GPS”. I’m always amazed by how quickly the body atrophies if I don’t go for a hill walk in a while. Consistency DOES pay off. Hope I can find some hills to walk up in the flat lands of Illinois this winter. :)

    Reply
  3. Dhiren

    Nice. I recently got myself a Garmin Edge for cycling (tracking cadence and GPS on trails). I’d totally use ViewFinder if I didn’t need the robust cycling stuff.

    Reply
    1. Monica Post author

      The guy who bought my Garmin etrex was using it for his bicycle. Are you using the Garmin stuff on a Mac or PC?

      Reply
    1. Monica Post author

      It’s a great idea! Unfortunately, changing the battery of an iPhone isn’t exactly straightforward. =( Might work better with other smartphones, though.

      Reply
      1. Ian Pond

        Monica, thanks for your positive comments about our app. I’m glad to read that it worked well for you. Regarding the battery question, you can get a number of external battery boosters for iPhone – we use ones from PowerTraveller.
        PS we’ve fixed the typo now – and for the record we are ViewRanger, not ViewFinder. Thx

        Reply
        1. Monica Post author

          So I guess we’re even as far as typos go. ;-) Thanks for the tip on the battery boosters. Adding this to my x-mas wish list! And thanks again for the great app – I’ve already used it on several walks since. It’s fabulous.

          Reply
  4. Ian Pond

    Yes, all square – thanks for sorting. We’ll look out for some more published walks from you on the system then – don’t forget you can embed your pictures into the route as well, if you want.

    Reply

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