Outdoor photography isn’t all about cameras, it is important to know where you are going and how to get back safely and for this we certainly love our gadgets and use a number of GPS solutions whilst hiking in the hills and mountains. Over the last few weeks I have been using the exceptionally versatile ViewRanger App, a complete GPS solution that turns your phone (or tablet) into a comprehensive navigation system, better still ViewRanger is a free app.
The first thing I love about the ViewRanger application is that you can plan your route via their website on a large screen computer and then transfer the route to your mobile device. Crucially the mobile app does not rely on online maps as all of the information is stored on the device should you loose connectivity in the mountains.
Once you have set up your free account you can search for routes that have been made available by both individuals and organisations. I found a few of our favourite routes but decided the best way to test the system was to complete plan a route from scratch and let ViewRanger do the rest.
ViewRanger allows you to search for routes nearby, by place name, publisher or activity type. ViewRanger offers routes from around the world and from what I can see the majority of the routes appear to be completely free.
Plan a Route with ViewRanger
I love the fact that you can plan your route using your computer and then download it to your mobile device later. When you log into ViewRanger on the computer via the my.viewranger website use the ‘Routes and Tracks’ tab at the top of the screen to access the planning tools.
We all know what a route is but a track is basically a walk or cycle that you have recorded as it happened. For the sake of this review I planned a route in advance but as I know the area well I used the tracking tool to record it in ViewRanger.
I upgraded to the OS maps but the free maps offered by Viewfinder are also particularly detailed (see above).
Initially I planned our route by dropping series of pins along the map until I discovered the amazing autoroute options. Simply click on your starting point and drop a pin at the next stage and ViewRanger will map the best route to this position.
I tested this on a few walks I know well and found this feature to be surprisingly accurate. To activate the autoroute click the second dropdown on the top right of the screen, now when you drop a pin on the map ViewRanger will calculate the best route to that point.
You can start your route by literally clicking anywhere on the map, clicking on a pin reveals a number of options (including delete). You can actually record a large amount of information with each pin should you desire (see above).
Fine Tuning the Route
As this was a family walk with a slow pace I marked out the route in a number of short stages. In areas where a number of walking routes merge ViewRanger will opt for the most popular routes, you can work around this by turning the autoroute option off but I found if you drop a series of pins that are in tight proximity you can control the route to exactly where you want it to go.
The autoroute option really makes the entire process simple, as I mentioned earlier the free maps offer a great deal of detail but if you want the ultimate in mapping then the OS maps are well worth the investment. The entire Mourne Mountain OS map is only £10, you can see the detail difference below, note, I have softened this image for this article.
Saving and Sharing
You don’t have to plan your entire route in one sitting, you can save and re-edit at a later date. Once you have finalised your route you can decide whether to share it with other ViewRanger users. There is a brilliant social dimension to ViewRanger and it is great to follow walkers from your area. As you get to know ViewRanger you discover a range of really nice options including the brilliant buddy beacon.
Before you leave the house make sure you install the free ViewRanger app on your mobile device, download the necessary maps and synchronise your account. The Mournes OS map took up under 200MB on my device and if your device has limited storage you will be relieved to know that you only need to download the map you are using and can keep the others in your online account.
The screenshot below shows two different mapping screens, the first is using the default free maps, the ‘online’ denotes that they are not on the device.
The second map shows the OS tiles in all their glory, note, as these maps are stored on the phone the ‘online’ tab has gone. Note that the online maps can also be saved for offline use (map tab > options > create saved map).
When I reached the mountains I decided, rather than following the route I designed we would use the track option. My biggest anxiety was battery life, the last thing you want is your phone to run out of charge and leave you with no navigation and no way to call for help. I was pleasantly surprised that during a full five hours the battery had depleted by 85%, that said a backup battery plan is definitely wise and always carry a paper map and compass as a backup.
ViewRanger Tracked Route
Once you have completed the route you can end the track and the information is uploaded to your account. As you can see below we really were on a slow young family dander and junior’s first venture this far into the hills. ViewRanger offers a wide range of information to go along side your walk as well as some graphical charts.
If you use the tracking option you can convert this to a ‘route’ for publishing on the ViewRanger website. On that point of published routes you may be surprised just how many routes are already available on the ViewRanger site, Trail Magazine are just one publisher with a whole catalogue and if you live in Northern Ireland then the WalkNI account is well worth a follow.
ViewRanger is a great routing and mapping solution, free, accurate and remarkably easy to use. When you first login it can appear there is lots going on but once you get used to the interface you will continue to find useful tools and features. The social aspect and ability to share routes is brilliant and I found there are a plethora of routes already available to download.
We already have our next route planned and can’t wait for ViewRanger to take us there.
How-Tos are supplied for information only and are used at your own risk. Always take proper precautions when out in the Mountains and make sure you are equipped for all weathers and know how to navigate should a device fail. It is wise to let someone know your route before you head out.