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Boots N' All  -  An activity of Scripture Union Tasmania…
Tasmanian wilderness hiking with a difference!

GPS Notes by Boots N' All participants:

Some time has gone by since we first put up a page discussing aspects of GPS devices which are extraordinarily useful for navigating in Tasmania's wilderness (and elsewhere, of course!). Technology has continued to advance, so we have updated the information.

Hand-held GPS or Mobile Phone with GPS?

This discussion started as something of a debate between two schools of thought - those who prefer the wider range of features and on-screen maps available on mobile phones, and those who feel that the rugged construction and different ways of operating make the hand-held GPS a safer option.

Hand-held GPS Units

Accuracy:

Like mobile phones, hand-held GPS devices have improved over time. The most noticeable improvement in the current generation, such as the Garmin Etrex 10 and its more expensive stablemates, the Etrex 20 and Etrex 30, is antenna performance. One of our walkers was comparing tracks created by his mobile phone and a slightly older Garmin GPS, and noted that in forest areas, the hand-held GPS gave a poor track accuracy compared with the phone. Another walker had the later Etrex 10 and when both tracks were uploaded to a computer, the accuracy was a) the same as that of the phone, and b) very good indeed for both devices,  even in marginal conditions such as forest and valleys.
Older models, including earlier Etrex models, perform poorly in forest and deep valleys, and even earlier ones suffer from a lack of a USB interface. [they have "serial" interfaces, which are obsolete, and not found on modern computers and laptops.]

Ease of Use:

CLICK HERE for some notes on how one Boots N’ All leader uses the Garmin Etrex 10.
More recent GPS devices such as the Etrex 10 and presumably rival brands such as Magellan, can be simply hooked up to your computer with a USB cable, drop the .gpx file into a particular folder, and the track and waypoints accompanying this email are loaded and ready to use. [gpx files are the most common way of saving and sharing tracks and waypoints, and are usually included on this website to help people prepare for forthcoming walks.]
The more up-market models allow maps to be uploaded and viewed on their screens. However, the screens are quite a bit smaller than those on smartphones! We would need some additional comments from people who are familiar with using uploaded maps on GPS devices, instead of the basic track and waypoint method described in the linked page.

It is possible to use a hand-held GPS without ever uploading tracks or waypoints. To do this, you to read your position off the GPS and then plot it on a paper map to see where you are.

Other advantages:

         waterproof and rugged: will withstand being dropped and mistreated, to a good degree.

      Good battery life (usually 14-24 hours per set) and most use readily available AAs or AAAs

       Can be used in any weather without risk that a touchscreen might behave erratically when wet or when fingers are very cold.

Disadvantages:

         Cost might be hard to justify if you are only an occasional walker. See Cost below.

       Can be complicated to use. See Ease of Use above.

       Although even the cheaper ones without micro-SD card slots will still accept some uploaded maps, the maps available for Tasmania are not very detailed and are very slow to load and use.

       Older models do not give good satellite reception in thick forest, and at times in deep valleys.

Cost:
The entry-level Garmin Etrex 10 now retails from about $130. Occasionally it has been seen discounted to $100 or less, but prices have firmed! Expect to pay $230 for the Etrex 20 and $340 for the Etrex 30. They can be bought from outdoors outfitters and Tamar Marine in Launceston, or from on-line sellers.

Smart Phones with GPS

All modern smartphones have an internal GPS chip. This makes them superb for turn-by-turn navigation when driving, but they are just as useful for wilderness navigation, provided the user has installed suitable maps and software enabling the loading and saving of tracks and waypoints. On that basis, they can be even more useful than hand-held GPS devices, especially if a change of plans during the walk has resulted in visiting an area that was not covered by waypoints and tracks pre-loaded into the device before setting out.

Accuracy:

As mentioned in the comparison test above, modern mobile phones have a GPS component which is highly accurate.

Cost:

As many people these days already have a smartphone, any associated cost will be in relation to maps, software and accessories that assist in protecting the phone and using it under adverse weather conditions.

Advantages:

         No extra cost, if you already have one. (See How to use a smart phone as a GPS at next to no cost below.)

         Easy to pull out and see exactly where you are on the map on a beautiful clear colour screen.

         They do a remarkably good job maintaining satellite reception even in thick forest

Disadvantages:

         Not as rugged as hand held GPS receivers, although many smart phones are water resistant or even waterproof. You can purchase protective and waterproof cases from places like www.gadgets4geeks.com.au which are a great help.

       Battery life is not quite as good – Phil Andrew, who has thoroughly tested this, says his battery lasts about 10-14 hours of walking (Need to turn on flight mode for bushwalking - cell network reception is not needed since it is unrelated to GPS satellite reception, and if the phone is “hunting” for a network, it will use more battery power to do so). Most smart phones now do not have removable batteries so you need to carry power banks for extra power, which weigh more than AA batteries. (e.g. a Comsol 4400 mAh bank, $30 from Officeworks, weighs 110g and will charge the same leader’s phone phone twice from 35% to 100%).

 

How to use a smart phone as a GPS at next to no cost.

(Notes by Phil Andrew)

An easy and cheap way to quickly set up a system for tracking walks and for navigation is to install Avenza Maps on your smartphone. Avenza Maps (also known as PDF Maps) is a free app and is available for iPhone, Android and Microsoft. See www.avenza.com/pdf-maps  You can also install it on your PC.

All the 25K (i.e 1:25000 scale) TasMaps are available for download free of charge for Avenza Maps. You would need to download in advance the maps you need for your walk, before you get out into the bush and lose the data connection on your phone. You can find out the map name and number for the area you want by going to this site: www.mapsbookstravelguides.com.au/upimages/pdf_files/TopoIndex.pdf . You can also go to Avenza’s map site www.avenzamaps.com/maps/search.html and type in a search for Tasmania and it will show you which maps are available.

Running Avenza Maps while you walk will allow you to see exactly where you are on the map. It can also track your walk, showing you distance covered, the time taken and the altitude gained. You can also add placemarks (called waypoints in other apps). You can then export all this data in .gpx format and view it in Google Earth or on Avenza maps on your PC. You can also plan your walks in advance on your computer and then transfer this information to your phone for your walk. Although fun to use and very useful, it does have a limited range of features. For example it lacks the ability to “Go To” a placemark, or easily find distances to nearby placemarks. However it an excellent way to try out the smart phone navigation system and decide if you would like to continue using it.

The next level:

If you want to move beyond Avenza Maps on your smart phone the next step is paid software. The two most commonly used apps in Tassie to my knowledge are Memory-Map and OziExplorer. Both these apps are very powerful and allow you to plan your walks in detail, see where you are, distances and times to your destination and a host of other useful information, just like a Garmin eTrex. They will also record your walk so you can store and review records of your walks.

Phil Dawson has used Memory-Map extensively and highly recommends it. He gives good information about it, including pricing, elsewhere on this page.

I personally use OziExplorer so have more knowledge of that. The Android version of Ozi costs US$25 to buy and the licence allows you to use it on any of your devices - phone, tablet etc. The PC version costs Au$130 and this will allow you to exchange information easily between your computer and your phone. 25K TasMaps need to be purchased separately and these are $2.20 per map or $275 for the whole state. See https://www.tasmap.tas.gov.au/upload/static/content/RasterCosts.pdf.

Because of the costs of maps, Ozi is more expensive than Memory-Map so I would have to agree that Memory-Map makes more sense as a purchase for a new user.

One final note about Ozi for mapping enthusiasts – It is possible to scan paper maps, even historical ones, and use a calibration process (essentially, plotting the exact coordinates of several known points on the map) to import such maps into the software. This can sometimes be of interest in locating roads and tracks that no longer officially exist.

**Technical glitch!

Some uploaded gpx map files on our file repository, when you right-click on them to download  and Save target as” to your computer, identify as xml files due to our mapping software not adding sufficient information to the file “header”. If you come across this, go ahead and save the file anyway, and then go to the folder where you saved it,  and change the .xml to .gpx  (you would need to have the View settings for the folder set to show file name extensions). You can then import in to your mapping software or device as usual.
Let us know, because we can manually edit the files and upload the corrected version to the website. We have progressively corrected many of the previously uploaded gpx files.