Bushwalking Navigation | How to Choose the Best iPhone GPS App

Which navigation features do bushwalkers need?  Which features do a selection of the iPhone GPS apps have? How do you decide which of the iPhone navigation apps suits you best?

 There are thousands of navigation apps for the iPhone, but only a small number are designed for non-motorists. From these I have selected just a few supporting the iPhone’s built in GPS and compass sensors which could be suitable for the needs of bushwalkers, trampers and hikers. I was going to eliminate those that only use lat/long for locations or don’t have metric units, but there are many friends who read these blogsand who live in the USA.

You should make your choice based upon your intended use, not on the number of features available, as often compromises need to be made by developers to fit in more features. Better to have a few key features fully developed and easy to use, than a multitude of features which are very limited in their capabilities.  Key deciding factors will be whether you wish to share your bushwalking with others via the web, whether you want to plan your hike using complementary desktop software and sync with your iPhone later and whether you really only want to view maps and need a limited set of GPS features.

Free versions of apps are often available which allow you to test features before purchasing and this option should be fully explored. Beware of seemingly low priced apps that require you to purchase each additional map or pay to use their integrated website. Some apps may initially seem expensive, but come with a full quota of high quality 1:50K topo maps preloaded.

A few of the most frequently mentioned iPhone navigation apps in bushwalking/hiking /tramping circles are

Which are the features that the ideal bushwalk navigation app could possess?

Disclaimer: The accuracy of the data in the table below is limited by the quality of the information supplied by the developer and, if critical, should be checked by emailing Support at the address above.

Features MapApp NZ Mud Map Bit Map Motion X GPS Memory Map
Offline Map Viewer, with fast scrolling and zooming
Ability to load, tile and show maps in a large number of formats


• #5
Display current position centred on map and share in realtime
• No


Display position coordinates in UTM and lat / long
• #4
Support metric units
Show tracklog (route taken) and allow trackback.
Create and edit waypoints and link to form routes
Import/export waypoints, tracks and routes (multi format)
Share routes and waypoints via email, the web or Twitter
View SOG, VMG, distance to and bearing to waypoint.
Show current speed, max speed and time to destination
Use compass to give current heading (course)
Display total ascent /descent and gradient graphs for a route
Live speed and altitude graphs.
Show sunrise / sunset and tide times
Placename index for searching
Voice announcements of user specified data
Desktop software which syncs with iPhone
Geotag waypoint and integrate photos taken along route
Background track logging with low battery consumption
Multitask with audio and phone
Search | GoTo
Links from POI to Wikipedia
1 Limited access to topo maps for Australian bushwalking areas
2 Topo50 NZ maps included in purchase price. One app for north island and one for south island, containing all NZ 50K maps
3 Topo50 maps for NZ are available free of charge but you need to buy additional maps for Australia eg iTOPO 1:250,000 maps (4×4 and Outback touring) • Westprint Outback maps (4×4 and Outback touring) • Gregory’s touring maps (4×4 and Outback touring) • Melway Street Directories• VicMap  1:25K
4 Lat / long only hence useless for bushwalkers but may be great for hikers.
5 Can acquire maps, .kml, .kmz, zip, by email. Can use OziExplorer  maps or scanned and calibrated maps
6 Limited access to USGS maps. Additional maps for a fee.Time limited Demo period on most maps to see if it is the map you want to buy and keep.


Unfortunately for trampers and bushwalkers there does not seem to be any ideal GPS app for the iPhone which also allows the use of high resolution uploaded maps. Either the maps available are of insufficient quality or if they are suitable then the GPS has limited features.

  • Bit Map allows the upload of high quality user supplied maps but has only a basic set of GPS features.
  • MotionX GPS has superb GPS features, equivalent of any dedicated GPS, but seems to lack suitable maps for Australian bushwalkers
  • MapApp NZ has superb free maps preloaded but, other than the ability to show current location, has  no other GPS features.
  • Memory Map has limited access to Australian maps but has a good range of GPS features.

Related Postings

Bushwalking Navigation | A Glossary of Frequently Used Terms 
iPhone Navigation and Map Viewer App Review | Bit Map 3 by Nixanz
Review: The iPhone’s Navigation Potential for Bushwalkers and Hikers 
Bushwalking Navigation
iPhone Apps

  Creative Commons License This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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