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iPhone Apps for Bushwalkers Revisited

It’s over a year since I began reviewing iPhone apps for bushwalkers. During this time I have tried hundreds and found that I only use a few regularly.

While there are hundreds of iPhone apps useful to bushwalkers and growing every day, what you personally find useful is determined by your past experience, the type of walking you do, your interests,  and your willingness to be dependent on high tech devices.

After trying most, I regulary use only a few of these. On bushwalks, my choice will vary as it is dependent upon on the duration of my walk, and hence how important it is to save battery power,  and upon how much non-walking time I will have available.

My iPhone Apps

Navigation: Bit Map, Declination, Maps, Google Earth, Compass
Field Guides: Good Reader, BooksApp, Kindle, Aus. Birds (Morecomb), Field Guide Fauna Museum Victoria, Bird in Hand, WhatBirdNZ, Wikipanion, MyEnviro, FrogLog
Bushcraft / Survival : KnotsGuide, SASSurvival, Knots, GoneTrekking
Camp Food: Jamie Oliver’s Recipes, Poh’s Kitchen, Nigella Quick (….LOL)
Fitness: Walkmeter, Beat Monitor, Cadence, iHandy Level
Weather: Pkt Weather, Rainspotting, Clouds, iBarometer, ShralpTide, Clouds,WeatherNZ
Travel: Frequent Flyer, Webjet, Plane Finder, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor
Astronomy: Star walk, Star Guide
NZ: WeatherNZ, WhatBirdNZ, SnowReports
Photography: Flickr
Medical: Elastoplast, MediProfiles, St John NZ

Disclaimer: Navigation using your iPhone always needs to be backed up with a compass, map and a dedicated GPS. 

I have written reviews of many of these iPhone apps previously in this blog, several articles about how to use iPhone apps in general while bushwalking, and detailed articles which focus upon iPhone apps for navigation, fitness and NZ.


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Bushwalking Navigation | GPS vs Paper Map vs iPhone

Which is better for navigation, your GPS or a paper map? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Do you need to carry both? Are there any alternatives to a dedicated GPS and map?

In bushwalking circles there are always vigorous debates about which is best, a dedicated GPS or a topo map?  This is sometimes generational with older members preferring the map, with which they are familiar, and younger bushwalkers preferring the GPS. To some degree the dictum “each to their own” applies in bushwalking as a walker who doesn’t understand how their GPS works is a danger to themselves and others in their group and would be much safer navigating with a map .

Of course the argument is not that simple, as many modern GPSs now contains maps which can be viewed and overlain with waypoints and your current position. You can now take your digital maps with you when you walk. Fortunately the opposing viewpoints are not exclusive as it is possible and in my view essential to take both, especially when bushwalking in difficult terrain.

I love to walk “thumbing ” my laminated map which allows me to get the “big picture” around me, orientate myself using distant features and anticipate what’s around the next corner. I do however use my GPS to check my location at each stop or at critical “decision points” such as creek junctions, waterholes or ridge descents.

Paper maps have some disadvantages:

  • they get damaged easily, especially at the folds, and require laminating
  • they are cumbersome in a strong wind if you have to open them
  • multiple maps are often needed and changing from one to another in your map case is often difficult
  • they require special storage facilities at home
  • the printing is often too small to see without  reading glasses.

HINT: try laminating your maps in A4 sections, with maps both front and back, which will fit individually into your map case.

Paper maps do however still have many advantages:

  • they allow you to orientate yourself using distant features
  • they can’t go flat as they don’t rely upon batteries
  • they may be more waterproof than your GPS, especially if you are using a “smartphone”
  • they are cheaper in the short term 
  • they work even under a dense forest canopy trees or in narrow gorges.

A GPS has several advantages over paper maps:

  • it can compactly store large amounts of data, plotted on a large desktop computer screen, and then uploaded via a cable, infrared, bluetooth or wireless.
  • if the GPS has a large colour screen and sufficient memory then you can store a large number of maps, which can be scrolled and zoomed. You need never go off the map as they will be seamlessly “stitched together”.
  • it allows you to determine your location quickly with high accuracy and reliability, subject to several limitations: not under a dense forest canopy trees or in narrow gorges.
  • if you have a large touch screen (eg iPhone) then you will be able to effortlessly scroll and zoom, so that your reading glasses are never needed.

Of course there are many features they share, such as the ability to determine location. Experienced map users will be able to lay a compass on their map and do a resection using prominent features to find their current location. Even better they will have “thumbed” the marked route on their map from the beginning and never become lost!

Alternatives to a dedicated GPS

There are alternatives to a dedicated GPS such as a  smartphone, many of which have large colour touch screens and excellent built-in GPS’s. The iPhone is a good example of such a phone, and as most bushwalkers should be carrying a mobile phone with them anyway, this can serve as a good back up for those who prefer to use maps but don’t want the expense of purchasing a dedicated GPS. There are several excellent mapping apps (applications) which are very easy to use on the iPhone and while they don’t match a dedicated GPS for versatility, they only cost a few dollars.

The iPhone does however have two major limitations: battery life and lack of waterprooofness, but both of these can be overcome with solar panels and waterproof covers.

Read more about the uses of the iPhone for bushwalkers

Related Posts

Can my GPS replace My Map?
Why am I Lost When I Have a GPS?
How to Keep your iPhone Charged in the Outdoors 
Bushwalking Navigation

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

How to Keep your iPhone Charged in the Outdoors

The iPhone has a reputation for using up batteries fast, but the new iPhone 4 seems to have an improved battery life, despite its ability to “multi-task”. You must however be extremely careful though that power draining apps such as wi-fi, bluetooth, and the GPS are not working continuously. Turn it off in the bush when you are not using it!

Despite all of this, there is little doubt that the iPhone will not last more than 6 hours with heavy use eg if using the GPS  or compass continuously. This of course is not long enough for an overnight hike, let alone a 5 day backpacking trip.

There are some obvious ways to keep a smartphone charged:

  • replace the batteries when they are flat
  • trickle charge with a solar panel
  • USB connection to computer
  • connect to an AC power supply
  • connect to an external battery pack

Well, the batteries of the iPhone are not replaceable, so that only leaves four alternatives.

I have just bought a PowerMonkey eXplorer, which offers all four options. It is available online from Paddy Pallin’s store at a bargain price for members. (PS I have been a member for more years than I can remember but I don’t stand to gain from this recommendation.)

PowerMonkey eXplorer (PowerTraveller)

There are alternatives to the PowerMonkey eXplorer (PowerTraveller) but none that I am aware of offers all 4 options.

  • Rechargeable Battery pack:  Energizer AP1201
  • Solar Charger only: try Powertraveller website below
  • Universal AC charger with adapters: comes with the iPhone too
  • USB connector: comes with the iPhone too

Why did I choose the PowerMonkey eXplorer?

  • Good quality for the price, rugged body and water resistant
  • Works with other battery operated devices such as cameras, phones, iPods, PDAs
  • Versatile: battery pack, solar charger which can hang from your pack or tent, AC power adapters for most overseas countries
  • Comprehensive range of adapters to suit most devices
  • Consistently good reviews on the web going back several years
  • Capacity to give 3 full charges for your iPhone in ideal conditions

If you haven’t seen the need for additional battery for your iPhone check out some of these articles:

Read a current review or visit the manufacturer/s website

Powertraveller Powermonkey eXplorer Review from FitTechnica
Powertraveller website

NB This product has been around since at least January 2008 and has undergone several improvements since its release. Be careful in placing too much faith in early reviews as there have been improvements.

View other related iPhone posts
Creative Commons License
This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.