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ArticleId: 4094 Written: 2013.10.29 by: Robin Tivy

This is an ongoing discussion. I intend to keep updating it every time I discover something new about GPS units and GPS programs. Eventually this information should be put into structured reviews of the various products, but in the meantime, I'll post it here. Anybody else that wants to post comments should also post here. For instructions on how to use various products mentioned here, see Authors Resources.


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#1819 - 2016.01.23 Robin Tivy - Using Phone based GPS Apps with Bivouac overlays
Here's an entry to bring this Blog up to date. Since last February, I have switched from using my Garmin Oregon GPS to using various GPS Map Apps on a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. One battery lasts about a day and a half with continuous track logging on. So I bought 2 extra batteries, and so I can do longer backcountry trips, which is what I did last summer on three trips such as Dogtooth Range near Golden. These GPS apps cost between $10 and $20. I find the software easier to work than the Garmin software, partially because of the power of the Android operating system. And my experience has been that the reception is just as good or better than the Garmin Oregon. Perhaps the Garmin 62s with an antenna might be better, but you can't be sure. The only advantages of the Garmin I can think of is that you can sometimes see the screen in brighter light, and it is probably more robust.

Anyway, once we started using GPS Map apps, I got hooked on having all the Bivouac roads, trails and peaks on my GPS when in the backcountry. So I made a simple "one click" Gpx download link on every mountain page, so I could easily load all the roads and trails for a 20 km radius onto my phone. (or onto a Garmin). With the phone based GPS app, you can do the whole transfer right on the phone. First, use your phone's browser to go to a nearby mountain. Click the gpx20 link. Now start up your GPS App and import the gpx file directly from the download folder on the phone.

I've instructed a number of my friends on how to work their phone based GPS apps, and this led to many improvements to the documentation posted on Bivouac. In particular, see An Introduction to GPS Data Transfer, which I wrote and rewrote so many times as I observed people reading it and figuring out their GPS.

Once I got hooked on having all the peaks, trails and roads at my fingertips on my GPS map, I began to wish for having the same color coding of the trails and roads on the GPS map that you see in Bivouac GMap. In fact, I'm now thinking that the GPS mapping programs can be transformed into little map based guidebook apps" where you can look up road and peak information right in the field. The information will be in the .gpx or .kml file and accessible when you are in the backcountry. So I'm working out a strategy for this.

The three main GPS Mapping Apps that I have had experience with are:

ViewRanger
 Backcountry Navigator
 Gaia GPS

All three are documented in Standard GPS Operations

#1729 - 2013.10.29 Robin Tivy - Backroads GPS maps version 4.0 - Problem reading contours in parks
I just installed the newest version of Backroads GPS Maps, which is version 4.0. With version 3.0, I reported the problem of not being able to see the contour lines within parks, due to the green shading within parks. I was disappointed to note that with version 4.0, I still can't see the contour lines well enough to use those maps within parks. Version 4.0 is slightly improved because you can now see at least the 100m contours but not the 20m contours. If I tilt the GPS unit at just the right angle, and have my glasses on, I can see faint 20m contours, but this is not practical in the field. So within parks, I usually use the regular Garmin Topo Canada mapset. However, the Garmin maps don't show as many roads and trails as the Mussio Backroads GPS map.

The contours are perfectly readable outside of parks. The problem within parks would be solved by not trying to shade parks with the dark green color. This problem exists when using the maps on both the GPS units I tested: the oregon 450T and the Garmin Montana 650.

For a full description of the GPS map product, see Backroads GPS Maps.

#1728 - 2013.10.29 Robin Tivy - Battery Life on Samsung Galaxy S4 while Track Logging
Betsy recently ran the track log for a whole day (7 hours) on the Galaxy S4 using Backcountry Navigator, and the battery gauge showed the battery to be less than half depleted. So I'd say that the Galaxy S4 can run about the same amount of time as the Garmin Oregon 450 T using Sanyo Eneloop batteries.

If you were doing a longer trip, you need spare batteries. A spare batteries for the Samsung is advertised on the Samsung website to be $40 plus $5 or $10 dollars for shipping. It is 2600 mAh. Or you can buy them at battery stores. For example, they are available at Vancouver Battery on Broadway in Vancouver for $60 (I think). The Sanyo Eneloop batteries are available at various battery stores for 25.00 for 4 batteries. I've used my now for a year and they are better than other batteries I've had.

#1727 - 2013.10.29 Robin Tivy - GPS Reception - Samsung Galaxy versus Garmin Oregon 450
I have often wondered how good the reception is with some of these smart phone GPS units, as compared to a "real" GPS unit such as my Garmin Oregon 450T. Last weekend, both Betsy and I were running track logs on our devices: she was using a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone and running Backcountry Navigator, and I was using my Garmin 450. After the trip, I noticed that there was one stretch in dense trees where my Oregon did not have enough reception to accurately record the track, whereas the Galaxy had a perfect track log. We compared the track logs with the route of the trail published on GMap Hybrid view. In the past few months, I've taken lots of track logs, but this is the first time I've seen the GPS fail to track my route. The forest must be unusually dense.