Hill-Finder UK Hillwalking App

Here’s a cute and clever little app, which allows you to identify hills in your sphere of view, then gives you useful information about them. Included in its database are around 5,000 British hills, the position of which relative to you is interpreted by using the phone’s built-in GPS chip and onboard compass to determine your position and the direction you’re facing. These are then crunched against the database of summit grid references to produce a list of hills that lie within 4 degrees left and right of the direction you’re facing. It’s clever, and it also offers you such facts as the hill’s bearing from you, its distance away, what classification it falls into (Wainwright, Marilyn, Munro etc), a distinctive feature that marks the summit, and its grid reference. The interface is pretty no-frills, but this is still a worthwhile purchase for smartphone summit clingers.  

Compatibility Android
Available from Android Market

First published in Trail magazine December 2011

Memory-Map Hillwalking App

As well as being an excellent standalone navigation app, this is particularly useful for those who already have Memory-Map installed on their computer. You have two choices: the Memory-Map Free app, which uses only online-purchased maps; or the Memory-Map full app (£19.49), which allows you to export mapping from your PC to your iPhone. For those who already have Memory-Map V5 software, this is an easy decision as it means you already own all the mapping you’ll need to make the app indispensable. You can either upload the maps via Wi-Fi if you have Memory-Map V5 installed on your PC using a simple web upload system, or download chunks of mapping by area, which you have to pay for. Both versions include the TOPO starter pack, which includes 90 days to utilise 3500km2 of digital mapping – so you can get in three months of walking before you take the plunge and buy the data. The interface is superb: smooth-scrolling maps with intuitive controls, pinch-zoom control and well-sized buttons, plus the additional features – route planning, trip computer, the ability to download GPX files (including Trail Routes via TrailZilla) are typically intuitive and easy to get your head round. The downsides – apart from the battery drain common to all GPS programs – are the relative cost of the map units, less international coverage than ViewRanger and the need to run the software on a computer to transfer the maps. There is an Android version coming soon.

Compatibility iPhone/iPad (Android version soon)
Available from iTunes

First published in Trail magazine December 2011

 

ViewRanger Premium Hillwalking App

ViewRanger is one of the biggest hitters in the phone navigation world: indeed, this is actually the most downloaded outdoor app. It’s also a thoughtful and versatile program that has proven itself a hit across a massive range of touch-screen smartphones, as well as being put to the test by 50 per cent of search and rescue teams across the UK. The touch-screen interface is impressive, particularly on the high-resolution iPhone screens with pinch-zoom capability. It utilises an in-app function to purchase outdoor maps for just about anywhere in the world. It has all the functions you would expect from a GPS system: scrolling OS mapping, trip computer, the ability to add waypoints, download routes (including Trail Routes) and information about the area you’re in. The mapping – like Memory-Map – is bought in OS chunks at a specified scale using a credit system, but can be downloaded directly to your phone without the use of computer interface. A £14.99 credit pack buys you 1,000 credits. A 5x5km tile of 1:25,000 scale OS mapping costs 41 credits; 1:50,000 map scales are much cheaper at 7 credits per 10x10km. These are downloaded to your phone, then stored for use in areas without a mobile signal.
The BuddyBeacon feature is a nifty touch and is particularly useful as a way of ‘pinging’ your position to others when you’re out on the hill – good for safety, and for sharing your position with those at home via Facebook.

Compatibility iPhone, Symbian, Android
Available from www.viewranger.com

First published in Trail magazine December 2011

 

Hill Lists hillwalking app

While technology favours the smartphone’s use as a navigation aid, geo-tagger or similarly high-concept tool, it can be just as much use as a handy reference – especially fore those who are goal-oriented. Hill Lists is a nifty and well-featured interactive referencing app that includes info on just about every conceivable database of UK hills, including the Munros, Corbetts, Wainwrights, Welsh 3000ers and Trail 100: in all around 4,668 hills. You can electronically ‘tick’ them, make notes about your summit day, view your progress through the various lists you’re ticking off, and access your current location as a UK grid reference. This is the perfect app for the bagger: a clean and logical interface, with easily selected lists and the nifty ability to view your selected database as pins in a Google-powered map that can switch between a street plan, a satellite image and a hybrid. And all for less than the cost of pint. Bargain!

Compatibility iPhone, iPad
Available from iTunes

First published in Trail magazine December 2011

Garmin Etrex H

A ‘get out of jail free’ device that doesn’t cost much, doesn’t weigh much, yet will give you an exact grid reference if you’re lost, and in conjunction with a paper map will point you towards an escape route if you find yourself in the mountains in poor visibility. It will exchange data with a PC if you do your planning this way, but the connection cable needs to be bought separately. Battery life is superb and not an issue at all if you are only planning to use it occasionally on a walk; and it’s tough and weatherproof, so there’s no need to worry about it in the bottom of your pack. The screen is small, and monochrome, and not as clear as the more expensive units, but odds are you’ll only be following the Direction of Travel arrow or checking for a grid reference so this shouldn’t really be a problem.

VITAL STATS

Size: 11.2x5.1x3cm

Weight: 150g

Routes/waypoints: 20 routes; 500 waypoints

WAAS/EGNOS-enabled: Yes

PC/Mac-compatible: Both

Works with: Most software including Memory-Map

Features: None

Battery type/claimed life: 2xAA/17hrs

Contact: 0808 238 0000; www.garmin.co.uk

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Lowrance Ifinder GO2

Has limited PC compatibility via a serial port cable (not supplied). Routes can be planned on Memory-Map, but only the waypoints can be downloaded, which means the route has to be constructed manually on the GPS before it can be followed – quicker than doing the whole job by hand, but very clunky compared to some units. Outdoors, it’s nice to use with a good-sized joystick control that works well, even with gloves on. Despite its rather ‘plasticky’ appearance, the Go2 is a rugged unit that was a pleasure to use once the route was ready to follow. The black and white screen is quite small, but clear. I like the fact that, in navigation mode, it depicts the walker and the next waypoint, as well as the necessary direction of travel, which gives you confidence everything is working properly. It is quick to pick up a fix and didn’t lose the signal easily either.

VITAL STATS

Size: 13.1 x 5.4 x 3.1cm

Weight: 152g (including batteries)

Screen: 5cm 16-level grey scale monochrome Film SuperTwist

Battery life: Up to 50 hours on two AAs

Routes/waypoints: 100 routes/1,000 waypoints

Works with: Memory-Map; WAAS/EGNOS-enabled

Contact: 01794 510010, www.lowrance.com

Verdict: This is the unit to buy if all you want is a ‘get out of jail free’ card to play when the clag comes down. An invaluable safety aid at a great price.

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Lowrance iFinder Go

The low price tag of this GPS receiver makes it very appealing to the walker who just needs to find a location. You get a 16 channel receiver which should in theory get you a fix and hold the fix better than a 12 or 14 channel receiver used in some other units. The 48 hour battery life makes it ideal for long trips too without the need to carry a stack of batteries. Uploading of waypoints is made easy as the unit is compatible with Memory-Map software that is run on a PC. The unit can take the knocks as it is made with a waterproof casing and has rubberised buttons that are easy to use. World travellers will appreciate the 191 map datums that mean this unit should be useful just about anywhere. This is a very capable basic unit that is suitable for most walkers.

But it does what it says on the box and little else, so you do not get a colour screen or the ability to view detailed maps of the mountains. You don’t get a barometer, so the altitude information is not the best. Most annoyingly, you don’t get a digital compass, so you don’t know where west is for example until you start moving and the unit figures out which way you are walking.

Verdict Buy it if you want a basic GPS receiver for giving you a position fix and directing you to another one, but little else.

Receiver 16 channel

Size 52x13x30mm

Weight with batteries 168g

Display 33x43mm; 200x140 pixels, 16 level greyscale

Power 2xAA; 48 hours

Memory 32MB

Computer interface yes

No of map datums 191

No of waypoints 1,000

No of routes 100

Stores in UK England 100+; Wales 10; Scotland 25; Ireland 1 6

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Lowrance iFinder Go 2

This GPS unit from Lowrance has limited PC compatibility compared to Garmin models. It is possible to download routes from Memory-Map, but it’s awkward and only the individual waypoints are recognized, so you then need to reconstruct the route by hand. Alternatively, you can simply navigate between the waypoints while you’re walking. Otherwise it’s fairly simple to use – even with gloved hands – courtesy of a joystick-style navigation button. Similar to the Etrex but with a slightly smaller screen, it’s fairly easy to follow, showing both the position of the walker, the next waypoint and the direction arrow. The simple “Mark” and “Find” functions are good, but it lacks a barometric altimeter and electronic compass.

Verdict: A simple, low-priced GPS receiver that’s light and small enough to carry anywhere. It’s easy enough to input data manually, but limited PC compatibility lets it down.

Size: 13.1x5.4x3.2cm

Weight: 170g

Screen: 2in black and white, 200x140 pixels

Battery life: 48 hours+ on two AAs

Works with: Memory-Map. WAAS/EGNOS-enabled

Routes/waypoints: 100 routes/1,000 waypoints

Contact: 01506 406277; www.silva.ltd.uk

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Garmin Etrex

This GPS unit has a good page sequence to the winner (although it lacks an elevation data page telling you how high you’ve climbed etc). Hooking it up to your computer and downloading routes is also very simple, but you need to buy the data cable separately (around £27). Inputting route co-ordinates by hand is fairly straightforward, but there’s no joystick. It loses a couple of marks for its lack of an electronic compass and barometric altimeter. No colour screen in this price bracket, but the black and white alternative is still easy to follow. The way the accompanying information displayed at the bottom of the page can be flicked through using the up and down buttons is good. There’s a simple trip page which shows accurate distance and time info.

Verdict: Basically the same as the Etrex Summit but minus the barometric altimeter and electronic compass, the Etrex is an excellent, inexpensive, PC-compatible GPS with a very useful data connection.

Size: 11.2x5.1x3cm

Weight: 150g

Screen: 2.8x5.4cm four level grey LCD, 64x128 pixels

Battery life: 22 hours on two AAs

Works with: Most software, including Memory-Map and Anquet WAAS/EGNOS enabled

Routes/waypoints: 20 reversible routes/500 waypoints

Contact: 0808 238 0000; www.garmin.co.uk