Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Three Awesome Free Phone Apps For Navigating And Trip Planning

Posts of this nature have to be prefaced by a disclaimer these days, since common sense is unfortunately not always very -well- common. No Navigation or Route finding App will ever be 100% accurate, fail-safe, replace common sense or make the usefulness of being able to navigate with a paper map and a compass obsolete. Trails wash out or get overgrown or rerouted and new ones are built all the time. Always ask yourself if you will still be able to get back home safely in the event that your GPS device fails you.

Having said that, there are currently 3 apps that I love for trip planning and route finding that I want to share here. They all have different strengths and functionalities that make them very useful.

I am not much of a geek and will try to describe their advantages and limitations to the best of my abilities.

1. OsmAnd  free for iPhone and Android

Elsay Peak Screenshot on the OsmAnd App
This app is based on Open Street Map which is an open source map meaning it can be updated by the trail users themselves. Therefore the quality of the map in terms of being complete and accurate varies from region to region. As for my neck of the woods - Vancouver's North Shore - the detail of the map is excellent thanks in large part to a few dedicated local adventurers. I have traveled in other areas that were not very well maintained at all. The basic version of this app is free on Android and iPhone, but the pricing strategy beyond that seems to be different. The basic version for Android is free and includes ten map downloads, which are usually grouped by state / province. The maps are very detailed and can easily add up to a couple of gigabytes on your device, so you want to make sure you have storage space for that. A useful plugin are the elevation contour lines especially when you travel in the mountains. The plugin costs $ 1.99 on Android and is free on the iPhone right now. The upgrade to the full Android version of the app will set you back $ 8.99 and it gives you access to unlimited map downloads and offline Wikipedia articles. The iPhone version of the app is free the map files however need to be purchased. The files for North America will set you back $ 3.99 and the available files for the entire world cost $ 8.49.

The app is also awesome as a full fledged turn by turn navigation for driving in areas where your data plan might not cover you and navigation through your phone would therefore be too costly.

Although I found the interface and navigation of the settings takes some getting used to the screen is fully customizable and you can display all the info you could wish for.

2. Trailforks free for iPhone and Android

Example of a trail in the Trailforks App

This is a mountain biking app and it gives you the difficulty rating, length and elevation profile of the trails within a given geographical area. It shows your position on the map via GPS, so it is helpful to get your bearings if you are in an unfamiliar place or to check for the availability of trail networks if you are visiting a new region whether you are biking running or hiking.

3. PDF Maps free for iPhone and Android

(Update Nov 2016: It appears that the app has now been renamed to Avenza Maps and the maximum number of free maps is now 3. The links still work though as of right now.)
Fat Dog 120 Course Map on the PDF Maps App

If you happen to have a PDF map of the area you would like to explore you can import it to the application on your phone and you will then be able to see your own location on the map. The hitch is that the file you are uploading must be GPS referenced, which means it has location data embedded in the file. Usually you will not know in advance whether or not this is the case, so just import the map and hope for the best. This App is particularly awesome if you find a race course map for an event that you would like to explore. Just import the file and follow the course.

OsmAnd and PDF Maps will work entirely without the need for a cellular network connection. This will enable you to put your phone in airplane mode while being out and about. This dramatically extends your devices' battery life especially while you are in the back country. With Trailforks you will have the ability to download the actual trails onto your device. These are then layered over a google map and will require a data connection unless you make the area in question available offline in your mapping application.

I am personally using an Android device that still has a removable battery, so I can exchange it on the fly if I run out of juice. Most newer model cell phones will sadly not allow you to swap the battery without the use of tools anymore. There are powerbanks and other options available to recharge on the fly too if you fear that you will deplete your battery.

Be save and have fun exploring,