The GPS You Always Carry

By Bruce Kebbekus

Outdoorsmen usually plan to take their GPS on hunting, fishing, hiking or ATV trips. However, from what I see watching friends, it is often forgotten. Sometimes, people just make a decision to travel light.

This is about the GPS in your Smartphone cell, something many people are likely to carry all the time.

Smartphones include I-Phones and various Android or Windows based phones. They are so powerful they match desktop computer power from a few years ago and they all contain a GPS receiver, plus a display that will show your position on a map. This makes them especially valuable for those situations where you might get lost in the backcountry.

Your Smartphone has at least one GPS map software program and perhaps one or more, such as the free Google Mobile Maps, already installed. Certainly, downloads are available from places like the Android Market or I-Store. These map programs depend on having cell connectivity in order to download a map at your current position. I have enjoyed traveling down the Interstate while running my Google Map in Satellite View mode, because it allows me to see land features out of view, but just over the hill. For example, I once saw just how much land above the dry hillsides near I-82 at Kennewick, Washington is planted and irrigated. Other times I have seen prairie dog towns that I can hunt someday.

What use can you make of your fancy phone mapping system if you are far from cell signals? We all know that cell phones rarely work in the remote BLM and Forest Service districts where we are likely to go hunting.

Luckily, there are apps costing less than $8 that you can download to your phone. These let you use offline maps that you have preloaded, or computer images from a map program such as Delorme Topo or Google Earth Images that you can email to yourself. You can even buy a paper map and use a digital camera or scanner to make a picture image. (Of course, you could just carry the paper map, lighter than a cell phone and not dependent on batteries. -Editor.) The idea is to get these images stored on your Smartphone's data card, all in one folder. For example, I want to carry Western Colorado and Moab, Utah area maps, because we go there every year to explore the Canyonlands trails. Just going through my map drawer I found Game Hunting Unit maps, NatGeo Maps, USFS Maps, BLM Maps and some ATV Maps linked to a favorite guidebook.

So, what are these applications? The easiest to buy are Android apps for those phones.

On the Internet, you go to and view the demo. If you like the application you buy it and enter your cell phone's unique ID. Open the location on the cell phone browser and do the download and activation. Next, you select a map at your current location. You proceed to identify two visual points from the map that you can drive to, such as a set of intersections. Don't worry, if you plan on hunting at Timbuktu next fall you can link the GPS to the map at that time. Once the software has those two spots on your map, they become the indexes for your movements on the map background. I have especially liked using the Delorme Topo PC software to make both large and small scale maps. They look good on the screen and they produce better images than using a photograph of a paper map. I just found a recent (but not latest) version of this software for about $15 at Amazon. There is yet another app for both I-Phones and Android Smartphones. It is called

This one is different. It does not let you make your own maps from photos and scans. However, it does have access to your choice of online libraries at My Topo, and Open Street. Once you install this and get the backcountry maps, you will find that it has more features than the Viamici program. For example, you can have saved waypoints such as the trailhead or your camp. Since their downloadable maps are already geo-indexed, you do not need to locate the two points used in each Viamici map. These maps are best for small areas in high detail, at most covering a 40 square miles. They are both bargains compared to buying a Garmin or Magellan and then having to pay for specific off road maps. You cannot go wrong by getting both.

I can easily see situations where hunting buddies pre-mark planned rendezvous locations, take cell camera photos of the paper map on each phone, register the two points, then set off knowing there is a common map and plan in place being carried by each person.

There is one more issue. You cell phone battery is not going to last all day in a Smartphone doing GPS, map display and searching for the cell signal. If you use a dedicated GPS like a Garmin, it is easy to carry some extra AA batteries. Would you remember to carry a spare cell battery or one of the portable battery chargers? I plan to get one, but even if I do get lost with my cell in my pocket, you can be sure I am going to manage the power by shutting it down between times that I need an exact location reference.

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Copyright 2012, 2016 by Bruce Kebbekus and/or All rights reserved.