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US Topo GPS phone app

Discuss 4x4'ing, Hiking, Backpacking, Camping
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MojaveGeek
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US Topo GPS phone app

Post by MojaveGeek » Tue Sep 08, 2015 6:16 pm

I've been a long time user of GPS, Garmin etrex series mostly. Only recently did I get one with decent color display, USB, and memory to hold the topos that I found free online. Works nice but the screen is small and it's not the real USGS topos.

I'm just back from a trip to the Northwest where I tried US Topo on my Android phone. Impressed. There's a free version but the pro version for $6 let's you cache the map tiles for disconnected operation. You specify the area and it picks up the maps, various maps for various resolutions. You can pan and zoom on the familiar topos, and it seems to support most common GPS functions (set way points, goto, store and export tracks, elevation info, etc). And with my Galaxy phone I have a nice sized high res screen for viewing.

It's especially good for the "what's around here, what's that peak I see?" kind of question. I'd love it and leave my Garmin at home if the GPS didn't consume so much power on the phone. Very useful addition, and adequate by itself for day trips.

pluton
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Post by pluton » Tue Sep 29, 2015 10:46 pm

Topo Maps and Gaia GPS seem to be decent on iOS, don't know if they are same for Android.
They all seem to have an incomplete, home-made feel; certain functions that would seem to be obviously needed AND doable are strangely missing....
Like being able to see all your downloaded, cached maps superimposed and labelled on a master map.

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Wed Sep 30, 2015 7:39 am

Topo Maps for iOS is fantastic – I've used it for all sorts of 4x4 & backpacking trips. When looking at the main overview map, sections with downloaded USGS maps are shown in a different color so you know where you can easily zoom into.

Works great offline, but I don't think it does route recording. That's not a feature I've ever wanted to use though, so don't quote me on it.

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Candace_66
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Post by Candace_66 » Wed Sep 30, 2015 2:05 pm

I'm still using the old Nat Geo TOPO! USGS topographic maps on CD-ROMs! :oops: Along with a Garmin eTrex.

In order to keep using that stuff, I had to downgrade my new little laptop I take on trips, from Windows 8 to Windows 7. There's no support in Windows 8 for COM ports, so I couldn't directly import/export waypoints. The software itself worked.

(Technically, COM ports are supported in 8, but it requires some actual programming to get them to work with such legacy software. The local techies who helped me were aware that other users of legacy stuff, in particular legacy GPS applications, had run into this problem).

Oh yeah, I also found that the newer model eTrexs (with actual UBS cables, instead of the old proprietary GPS-to-serial connection cables) won't work with the old TOPO! sets. I bought one at REI but ended up returning it since it wouldn't do what I needed. Found an older-style eTrex someone was selling online. So now I have two of them, a primary and a spare.

I've been looking for something else that will provide the same functionality, without requiring a connection to the internet. But since MS will be supporting Windows 7 for about five more years, I guess I can keep using my current set up. Then worry about a replacement (assuming I'm still out doing this stuff then!). :razz:

CanyonmanClark
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GPS apps

Post by CanyonmanClark » Wed Sep 30, 2015 2:21 pm

Great info about the app. I was looking at the website and it says you can use it offline but not to engage airplane mode??? I don't get it. If you don't activate airplane mode, then your battery dies with the quickness. What's your experience been with this?

I'm currently testing IHikeGPS for Iphone. Very user friendly. You can easily switch datums, plot waypoints, upload tracks, etc. Works well on airplane mode. The USGS topos are small file sizes and all free. You can also buy other brand name maps like Nat Geo.

In addition to this app, I'm testing Maps 3D. It has a variety of map layers to choose from, but only has the option for lat/long readings. The files for map downloads are free but a little bigger. What's cool about this app is that you can switch from 2D to 3D view and kind of look around corners with it. You can kind of face the canyons much like in google earth. Not sure how well it works in the field, but I'll let you all know. :cool:

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Wed Sep 30, 2015 3:07 pm

If you turn on Airplane mode it disables GPS ... which kind of sucks when trying to pinpoint your location on an offline topo map! :cool:

Topo Maps has a help page on their website where they list all the items you can turn off in your settings – including cellular phone & wifi access – to prolong your battery life.

I put a heavy drain on my iPhone in the backcountry because not only do I use Topo Maps, but I also shoot all my photos with the phone. My 4Runner is setup to charge my phone though and on backpacking trips I bring along two small Mophie chargers that I was given as a gift, allowing me to squeeze just enough juice for a 5-night trip.

CanyonmanClark
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Post by CanyonmanClark » Wed Sep 30, 2015 5:49 pm

My Iphone still has GPS when I activate airplane mode. I looked on the apple site to see what's the deal,and it says that if you have IOS versions 8.3 and later you still get GPS while airplane mode is active.

So I guess all newer phones should be good on this. Also, I had a Windows phone the past couple of years (hardly any apps available), but the GeoGPS app is pretty solid including a functional GPS during airplane mode.

I love this stuff!

Here's the apple link: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204234

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Thu Oct 01, 2015 7:11 am

CanyonmanClark: That is fantastic news! I had no idea that GPS receiving had been updated in iOS 8.3 ... I'd originally downloaded Topo Maps well before iOS 8.3 came out and grew accustomed to my old routine. Thanks for the heads up, this will totally change my backcountry routine! :drunkchug:

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Post by SSSdave » Mon Jan 25, 2016 4:55 pm

On my new moto g Android smartphone, bought the 32gb SDcard for all topos for California for the Trimble Navigation app. Has all the state's topos plus land ownership and more. Thus all those maps are resident on my phone so don't ever need to download via a phone carrier or wifi like with the free apps. In any case always like a few real paper maps I can hand hold while actually rambling about in trail less terrain. Will be visiting DVNP in a few days in order to visit the southern areas in wildflower bloom

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JesPortland
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Post by JesPortland » Mon Mar 06, 2017 6:30 pm

Hi people,

I looking into a gps unit for our up coming trip to betterr find canyon entrances.

I'm not quite understanding how these phone apps work if there is no cell service. Anyone care to explain? I would get the app for IOS, iPhone 7.

Otherwise, a separate GPS unit?

Thanks

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Candace_66
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Post by Candace_66 » Mon Mar 06, 2017 7:56 pm

Your phone has a built-in GPS receiver which is independent of cell service. Beyond that I can't help you with the different mapping options available as I don't use a phone for those purposes. Hopefully the other folks here who do use that stuff can help you out. I still use a stand alone GPS receiver, etc.

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:34 pm

Hey JesPortland,

You can throw your iPhone 7 into Airplane Mode so there's no big drain on your battery w/ apps & email constantly updating in the background, plus cell service on the lookout for new calls and texts.

Bbbuuutttt .... the cool bit is the GPS chip in your iPhone7 will still work in Airplane Mode, so if you grab a good app that allows you to download maps in advance of your trip to your phone, then it will use those saved maps along with your GPS data to show you where you're at in the park.

I'm still using Topo Maps-- http://topomapsapp.com -- even though it hasn't been updated since late 2015. It's a great app for my needs and I use it hiking and backcountry camping in the park, the Sierras, and throughout Northern Nevada.

Feel free to post some more questions if anything isn't making sense ... the adoption of this technology was a game changer for me with regards to exploring the park. Previously, relying on guides and such, I still couldn't find the occasional trail or canyon and had to bail on hikes.

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MojaveGeek
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Post by MojaveGeek » Tue Mar 07, 2017 7:25 am

This summer I did a lot of hiking in places that have trails - Washington, Montana, the Sierra - and I was struck by how much less value a GPS has out there - all you need to know is distance between junctions and which way to turn. (Well, I also do off trail hiking and useful there especially if there's trees so you can't really see where you're going).

Out in the wide open spaces where you walk a couple of miles to a canyon mouth, that's where the big payoff is, I agree!

Can't tell you about Apple phones. I'm still very happy with the US Topo app that I started this thread about.

It is essential that your app be able to load and cache maps and work in offline mode. Otherwise you won't be able to load the maps as needed. Your app would have some ability for you to mark out an area and load all the maps within that area. For a standalone GPS these are usually just the whole state but you probably don't want that much map data on your phone. Do play with it and test it before you go - try to load up your local maps and then go offline and make sure it still works.

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Post by jwinner » Thu Mar 09, 2017 4:54 am

I haven't tried many of these apps. I have stuck with the first one that was suggested to me. It is called "iHikeGPS" and is for iOS, not sure if there is an Android version or not. I would recommend checking it out for a basic gps topo map app. I think it cost 3 or 4 dollars to buy, and allows unlimited downloading of the older usgs topo maps to the phone for offline use. It does not include the newer us topo hybrid images, but I don't like those anyway.

It also has some basic navigation functionality and several options for selecting which maps you want. I'm sure there are better gps apps out there, but it's perfect for what I use it for. I have a Garmin gps for navigation, the phone is just a backup and a way to reference real topo map.

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Thu Mar 09, 2017 7:43 am

jwinner brings up a good point. You're going to want to get an App that allows you to use the OLD topo maps. The new ones are crap, see here -- http://topomapsapp.com/us-topo.html

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