Hiking with Android

Offline navigation, tracking and fancy maps

/ hiking, android, outdoor, open source

Intro

I'm one of the few who switched from the walled-garden of iOS to the messy wasteland that is Android. I cannot recommend this transition for anyone but the resilient, because it took me quite some time find an adequate replacement for my beloved iOS app. Buuuuuut: You can now reap what I sow! In this edition of "boy, he's got too much time for this shit" I'd like to purpose a way to properly utilize your Android Smartphone or Tablet for hikes and cycle tours all over the world. Because, in the end, I found a solution much better than the closed source app I used on iOS

This all centered around hiking in the alps. If you're living somewhere else, map availability might change your choice

[tl;dr] Scroll down to the bottom for instructions or just download OruxMaps from PlayStore or their website and get your maps from OpenAndroMaps. You lazy bum.

Basic goals of this endeavor

  1. Free offline maps with high detail and all little paths and trails
  2. Track recording
  3. 3D representation of mountains for orientation and evaluation of spontaneous detours
  4. GPX import and export (KML optional)
  5. Low battery use

On iOS I purchased the wonderful program 3D Maps, which sadly is not available on Android. Plus, it costs money.

The app search

It took me some time and quite a few apps to find an app which offers what I'm looking for. Google Play Store offers a big amount of turn-by-turn and OpenStreetMap based apps, but none really offered what I was looking for for free or at all.

I tried the following apps:

Like said, none offered the usability or the feature set I was looking for. Ape@Map is an incredibly feature rich app, but also one of the most ugly pieces of Software ever created. It's times like when trying Ape@Map, when I miss an Apple reviewer making sure that the AppStore is not flooded with unusable apps. Ape@Map might be judged a rough diamond, but it's more of a poo-smeared, guttered attempt to re-create early 90s aesthetics with the usability of an keyboard only app, where the product managers decided to add touch controls one commit before release. That app made me mad.

LocusMaps actually offers all desired features and sports a great interface - but they wanted money. I'm on Android. I don't pay for apks - fools. Coming from iOS, naming and icon are very important. I do judge books by their cover. A basically functionless app can be enjoyable, if its presentation is aesthetically and conforming. LocusMaps has a butt ugly icon and a name strongly resembling the German word "Lokus". Lokus means toilet. A toilet for hiking. Great name. Like old wanker (pajero) for an SUV.

Coming to freeloading ("I don't pay for apks -fools" hurdur): I do understand that developers deserve money, especially when they go the extra mile to add a usable interface to their code (hello, ape@map). The problem is: There are free apps. Hidden, not marketed, not paid-for-review endorsed. If one needs an app and has time to dive into the depths of bulletin boards, then one find those free, open-source diamonds. Not rough, not ugly - just not marketed.

There's an emerging aspect of what fitness oriented apps are supposed to support: Wearables! Wearables shine when they make contextual info, like tracking or way-point orientation, available to their wearers. No more fiddling out the clunky phone, no more raindrops on your expensive hardware. If wearables are your main focus today, then you can go for LocusMaps and ViewRanger. Both apps offer AndroidWear integration. ViewRanger even comes with tight Apple Watch integration it its iOS variant. Just watch for your batteries, because both devices will deplete their power source quickly with GPS, bluetooth and communication activated. Personally, I'm waiting for a great Pebble support.

Maps: OpenStreetMap is the way to go

In the past (or for the majority of sane people still today) hiking mean(s)t to buy a trustworthy, printed hiking map. There are good ones on the market and the best ones can be purchased in digitized fashion, for example Compass Maps.

Premium maps cost a lot of money and are often rasterized. Rasterizing means, that the map is delivered separated into little image tiles and the entire map is put together like a gigantic mosaic. This is cool for driving, but for hiking you sometimes need to zoom in really close. Most of the time, you need a lot of detail to make crucial decisions on small paths off the beaten paths. Rasterized maps might lack just that bit of detail. Premium maps which are not rasterized offer this detail, bur who can guarantee me that the license will travel with me to new devices, that the map data is up-to-date and will be updated? In other words: Why pay for something I can have better and for free?

Vectorized maps are much better for hiking and cycling. Their zoom levels are unlimited, gigantic areas, such as all of the alps and adjourning regions, fit into one 1.3GB download. Commercial vector maps cost a lot of money or are only available in subscription form. If you pirate them, chance is that you download old material - which can threaten your life if you depend on such maps. It's seriously dangerous to rely on old maps when venturing out into alpine regions.

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is an open source effort to create maps through crowd sourcing. Every enthusiast with a GPS enabled devices, aka potentially all of us, can add to the wealth of information. Luckily, the alps are full of enthusiasts. Map-nerds enter all the little paths, toilets, huts, landslides into the OSM database. The results are accurate and up-to-date maps. Mostly. Sometimes someone enters wrong data, so there's no guarantee on accuracy. Still it's much better than outdated map data.

I prefer OSM data - it's free, you can contribute and it's free. Did I mention it's free?

A bit more about OSM: There are different ways the base data can be presented, aka rendered. Overlays and coloring can be adjusted to your needs. A cycling map needs different details than a turn by turn driving app. Horseback riders need to know where their roads are, paraglider need precise height and ground information to have a save journey. OSM delivers all of that. Enthusiasts offer such enhanced maps. Sometimes for free, sometimes for a little fee.

I recommend the HikeandBike map if you are planning a tour online.

But this post is about offline usage, thus we can either create and download a map from OSM via the fabulous Mobile Atlas creator, or we utilize the work of others (hell yeah, freeloading).

The answer: OruxMaps & OpenAndroMaps

OruxMaps is a free, yes totally free, app found on the PlayStore. It fulfills all my goals plus comes with an agreeable UI. It's not the most well designed app and still falls short of one-stop-shopness of 3D Maps Pro, but is a good contender for freeloading Android peasants like me. An upcoming version even promises to support APIs, so that smart watches like the Pebble or Android Wear can support your activities. The steps lined out below also work with LocusMaps, if this turns out to be your preferred app

OpenAndroMaps is a voluntary effort (hint donate) by Germans to create awesome OSM based offline vector (!!1elf) maps for a multitude of use-cases. Pre-packed map kits for different regions of the earth are available. Their level of detail and info is outstanding, thus I decided to use their maps instead of creating my own rasterized maps via Mobile Atlas creator. You can chose between different versions and Map styles depending differing in details and use-cases. To cover hiking, cycling and driving, go for the cycle maps.

How to get going - I'll make this quick

Steps:

  1. Install OruxMaps from the PlayStore
  2. Visit OpenAndroMaps and download a map pertaining your interest - e.g. Alps
  3. Download and install a high-resolution height map for the region of your choice. If you are hiking the alps, you are in luck: You can download 1 arch second elevation data for most of the alps. The rest of the world is covered with 3 arch second data

Detailed HowTo's :

Orux Maps manuals in different languages Offline maps installation explained - On Android or via PC Elevation map installation: Copy downloaded height maps (see above) to SDcard/oruxmaps/dem

Happy hiking / cycling / driving!

If you liked this post, please donate to Orux or OpenAndroMaps.

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