IPhone Sucks as an Outdoor GPS

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iphone.  I love its GPS when driving in the city or trying to find my way to a shop.  People often ask me how I am able to find their house in the dark alley, and my answer is always I just follow the purple line on my iphone’s Google Map.  Google Map on iphone is awesome in a major city such as Vancouver.  I hardly open a paper map anymore.

Google Maps on iPhone does screw up quite a bit when it get to the suburbs.  It has sent me to a different part of town in Surrey, Langley, and White Rock a number of times where the address and the house number does not match the information on the GPS.  It has made me late for a number of important meetings.

Iphone becomes even more unreliable when you get into the outdoors without any phone service.  If you type in “Iphone Outdoor GPS” on Google, there are a number of website that will recommend apps that works for areas without GPS.  I have used the more popular ones, and none of them quite match my Garmin eTrex GPS.

MotionX GPS
This is an awesome GPS app for running, it tracks my time, location, average and maximum speed. It also shows me breadcrumbs of exactly where I have been. It does have a major flaw: it stops recording as soon as you reach an area where there is no phone service (i.e. a tunnel).  Another Flaw is that it limits the amount of map data you can have stored on the iphone, and not by how much space you have on the iphone.  I went hiking in Chilliwack last week, so I downloaded the map for that area, but we decided last minute we were going to drive another half an hour to do another mountain with a better view.  The maps that I downloaded became useless, and since it takes such a long time to download the maps, I didn’t have enough time to delete all the old maps in order to download the new maps.   As for my Garmin eTrex GPS. I purchased the Canadian Maps CD for $150 initially, and is able to use it as much as I want.  Even when the GPS loses signal in a deep forest covering, the GPS breadcrumbs will automatically starts up again as soon as the satellites can see my GPS again.

Topo Maps
This App allows you to download as many scanned USGS maps onto your iphone as you want.  It, however, does not have the track (or breadcrumbs) option.  Even though you are able to use Iphone’s GPS while hiking, it won’t tell you where you’ve been or how to get back to the camp site.

Trails Lite
In theory, this app is really good for city hiking where there is phone service.  The app, however, does not let you download maps or use the GPS in places where there is no phone service, which is where most hiking take place.  Trails Lite do have tracking but it’s not real time.  It tracks every few minutes and draws a straight line instead of refreshing every few seconds like the Motion X GPS or real time like the Garmin eTrex.

If I need to find my way through the woods while hiking or backpacking, I still always bring my Garmin eTrex GPS.  I still bring my iphone with me on hiking and backpacking trips because of it’s photo capabilities and for its entertainment value.  Garmin eTrex and the Canadian Topo Map CD can be purchased at MEC.  Mountain Equipment Blog asks “What Essential item has a special Place in your pack?“.  My answer is of course the Garmin eTrex GPS because I can use it anywhere in the world, I don’t need phone service for it, and the Track/Breadcrumbs function lets me explore the city or backcountry without the fear of getting lost.


If you have used other iphone apps in the outdoors and find them useful, please leave me a comment below.  I would really like to find an iphone app that works offline!

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