[pct-l] GPS App question

Town Food pctl at marcusschwartz.com
Thu Jul 12 03:09:30 CDT 2018

Halfmile's app works on both Android and iOS.  I understand the iOS 
version has an additional mode that displays a map, but I haven't used it.

As for GPS, my understanding is that all US cell phones have a full GPS 
in them due to E-911 requirements.  Many also support A-GPS, which helps 
them get GPS locks faster, but does not replace real GPS.  If your phone 
didn't have a GPS, it would stop giving driving directions when you left 
phone coverage on a long drive.

I used both Halfmile and Guthook's on my 2016 thru, and Halfmile was 
generally my go-to, though I often looked at Guthook's for a second 
opinion, particularly when I was hoping there were more tentsites or 
water resources than Halfmile mentioned.  I also used Guthook to read 
its bulletin board of comments from hikers on each waypoint.

I also wanted to recommend OSMAnd, which has a lot of coverage of 
non-PCT trails and roads near the PCT.  This comes in handy at junctions 
and on side-trips.

Hikerbot is new and has gained popularity recently, and I'd try that if 
I were hiking soon as it has features I found myself wishing for in the 
other apps.

Here're my impressions of the three I did use:

Halfmile's is a no-nonsense, all text, fast way for a skilled user to 
get well-vetted information about the trail.  It's conservative with its 
choice of waypoints -- other apps will mention marginal campsites and 
water sources that Halfmile skips.

So, if you were to just use Halfmile's app, you would be unlikely to 
find yourself at an unusable campsite at the end of the day or a 
dried-up water source when you're thirsty.  You also wouldn't spend 
excessive time filtering through data when planning your destinations 
for the day.  If you just want to hike and play it safe, Halfmile's data 
is ideal.

The sparseness of the waypoints can be misleading, however.  Sometimes 
it will show no tentsites for many miles, making you think you should 
make camp early if you see a tentsite.  But, it might be blank because 
the local terrain makes tenting easy in many places.  There's no way to 
know ahead of time.

Halfmile's app takes some getting used to.  With no map, you can't tell 
which way to go at a junction (though if you get a few dozen feet 
off-trail it will tell you and point you towards the right trail).  If 
you don't like doing a lot of math with mile offsets, you need to learn 
to use the "simulate position" function, which makes it act like you're 
at another waypoint (e.g. the campsite you're planning on sleeping at 
tonight).  The descriptions of the waypoints are terse, and the layout 
can be confusing.

I found it potentially-dangerously confusing that waypoints on spur 
trails are included in the same list as waypoints on the PCT, and it 
will tell you the distance to spur trail waypoints in a way that makes 
it sound like they're on the PCT.   For example, if you were at Highway 
40, it would have a pink-shaded entry that said "North 4.11 mi Highway 
80 Rest Area", which one might assume means that if you go 4.11 miles 
North on the PCT, you'll reach the Highway 80 Rest Area.  Actually, it 
means you have to go some distance on the PCT, take a spur trail, and 
some more distance on the spur trail, which together will add up to 4.11 
miles when you reach the Highway 80 Rest Area.  So, long story short, 
it's important to understand that pink waypoints in Halfmile's app are 
on spur trails.

Guthook's guide has a lot more features.  It shows your position on a 
map, which is intuitive.  It has photos of many of the waypoints, and it 
includes many of the more marginal water sources and smaller tentsites. 
It also has a bulletin board on every waypoint, where users of the app 
can leave comments.  This is very useful for getting recent information 
about unreliable water sources (it's not as reliable as the official 
Water Report, but can fill in gaps in its data), as well as candid 
information about businesses, suggestions about where to cross a river, etc.

However, most of the features require downloading data intermittently 
(e.g. when you're in town), and doing so can be confusing and 
unreliable.  Different kinds of data can be downloaded from different 
screens, so it's not straightforward to make sure that you have all the 
data for an upcoming stretch.  The bulletin board data is silently 
downloaded in the background on occasion, so there's no way you can make 
sure you're up-to-date with that.  All of this is made more awkward by 
the app's payment scheme, which divides the trail up into sections, and 
makes other sections look empty if you have the wrong one selected.

I did notice that Guthook's track didn't always follow the official PCT 
signage, though the differences were minor (e.g. a 100-foot shortcut 
around a field).  This might be an issue for sticklers.

It also drained my battery while it was not running, until I enabled a 
power-saving mode on my phone that prevented certain background tasks 
from running.  Most Android phones have a feature in the Battery section 
of the Settings program that will show you how much power each app has 
consumed -- it might be wise to check this once in a while to make sure 
Guthook is behaving well.

OSMAnd is a general-purpose mapping app, not meant for the PCT 
specifically.  It can give driving directions, for example.  It differs 
from programs like Google Maps and Apple Maps in that it works offline, 
and uses crowdsourced map data.  You need to download the map data 
beforehand, one state at a time, and these files are large.  But the 
process is simple.

The resulting maps have much more thorough coverage than any of the 
PCT-specific apps.  Most PCT-specific apps only display a few side 
trails, generally those with particularly interesting destinations. 
OSMAnd's coverage is more like an atlas, covering everything (including 
fairly thorough trail maps).  If you ever need to navigate near, but not 
on, the PCT, OSMAnd can help.

It can also optionally download geotagged Wikipedia articles (of which 
there are many), and display them on the map.  This can be nice if you 
like to spend time in camp reading about where you were or where you'll 
be, or plan detours if something interesting is nearby.

It can also display contour lines on the map, though this slows it down.

Going through all of OSMAnd's features is dizzyingly complicated, but 
only a few are necessary for PCT purposes.

Not being a PCT app, the PCT is just another dotted line in OSMAnd.  You 
can download Halfmile's GPX track and import it into OSMAnd, however, 
which will make the PCT a bright red line.

  -=Town Food

On 07/11/2018 10:49 AM, Tim Umstead wrote:
> I used Halfmiles app on a Motorola phone and it worked just fine.  Halfmile
> has the most up to date GPS points.  In most cases Guthook data lags behind
> Halfmile's.  Last year Guthook updated his points using Halfmiles data.
> With all the trails Guthook covers he goes a long time between updates.
> I use Guthooks app on the CDT.  There are things I liked and disliked about
> both Halfmiles and Guthooks apps.  For me, I would like a combination of
> the two.  Thats not going to happen.
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