Recording your hiking journey

When I’m hiking, I like to keep a record of where I’ve been both for personal interest and for safety (like a breadcrum trail), but I don’t want to use a continuous GPS tracker. While those are the simplest to use (just set and forget) and give you a great amount of data (like your entire track!) the downside is that they actively drain your battery. For me, that’s a deal breaker.

GPS Log for iPhone takes a different model. You fire up the app only when you want to record your position (I like to always add a photo along with the position). Then, you power it down. The whole process takes just a few seconds to get an accurate GPS fix while outdoors and uses minimal battery.

During the hike

In this way, I have done overnight hiking trips where I record my position pretty frequently, without overly taxing the battery. Also, if I notice my battery getting a bit low, I can simply reduce the frequency that I log my location. I hiked with a 3000Mah spare battery which I used overnight. By the end of the trip, my phone was still above 80% which is where I like it (for safety reasons, I want to have a nice big buffer).

By doing this, you get a history of your logged locations during the hike. I’ve used this to know the path I took, and take special care to create a spike at the car park, and any forks in the path. I’ve used this several times to backtrack carefully, notably one time where there was a dense fog making it hard to navigate visually and another when darkness fell a bit earlier than expected.

One caveat is that GPS Log’s maps are online only. If you view the map before you set out then often there will be a cached map that you can continue to use without data, but it’s not intended to be a replacement for a hiking map. Pair with an app like Avenza and download a GeoPDF topo map of your hike before you go! Even if you don’t have the map tiles, GPS Log still shows you your current and previous locations as well as the scale so you get a sense of how you are oriented against your previous locations.

With the integration with Geospike you can also share with friends. If you happen to have data during the hike, you can selectively post some spikes to friends and family so they know you’re safe (e.g. at the campsight). And regardless of data, once the hike is over you can share your journey. Here’s a map I got from a hike in the Ventana wilderness. The frequenty of the pins is based on how many times you spike.

In summary:

  • You can use GPS Log for iPhone to record locations as you go while keeping battery usage to a minimum (no constant recording)
  • The resulting GPS locations can be viewed in a list and on a map for navigation and backtracking
  • If you wish, you can share details of your hike later including photos and locations, as well as a travel map using the sister app Geospike

Note that GPS Log just helps you record where you’ve been. The maps in GPS Log don’t work fully without data, and it’s not a substitute for having a proper hiking map. Apps like Avenza Maps are useful to get a topo map of your hike and completement it well.

by Will, 2024-05-19