As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are many, many navigation apps available for smart phones; far too many to test and evaluate.
My own choice is Trimble Outdoors Navigator, with the “Elite” package option. I’ve worked with products from the Trimble / MapTech / Terrain Navigator / MyTopo family tree for many years, and I trust them. You can check it out at
The basic version of Outdoors Navigator is free. The “Pro” version, which offers additional features, runs $4.99. The “Elite” package subscription costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year, and offers Outdoors Navigator’s complete range of features and resources, including overlays for forest roads (for U.S. Forest Service roads and many BLM roads) and private land (in 11 western states) as well as weather maps. Trimble offers an excellent trial plan for the Elite package; you can try it out at no cost for 14 days.
The topographic map is the most important factor in back country navigation, (followed by compass and GPS, in that order), and we’ll cover Outdoor Navigator’s map features first.
First and foremost, if a back country navigation app does not possess the resources to download topographic maps and access them later without Internet access or cell phone signal, it should not be considered (nor should any app that does not feature GPS capability (in other words, one that works solely on signals from cell phone towers.)
Map Types (Map Options)
ON’s map options, as shown above, are Aerial, Hybrid, Streets, Streets-OSM, Terrain-OCM, and Topo – MyTopo. The three I find most useful for the back country navigator are Aerial, Terrain-OCM, and Topo-MyTopo, with Topo-MyTopo at the top of the list.
Topo-MyTopo provides actual USGS topographic maps in the 1:24,000, 1:100,000, and 1:250,000 scales, depending on how far in or out you zoom. For my eyes, anyway, the 1:24,000 scale maps are the only real practical ones; zooming out any distance more than roughly 1.5 miles x 1.5 miles results in an unacceptable loss of detail and the maps are difficult to read. (This is due not to quality, but to screen size – smart phone screens are small and run from about 4.8″ x 2.3″ to 5.6″ x 2.8.”)
Below is Battle Mountain in Wyoming’s Hoback Canyon, as depicted by Topo-MyTopo.
Next up is Battle Mountain as shown by Terrain-OCM. Note the reduction in detail; timbered areas marked on the USGS map are not identified here on the Terrain-OCM map.
“OCM” stands for “Open Cycle Maps,” a global map system for cyclists. And while it does feature less in topographic detail, it does depict more in the way of bicycle trails (or what might be utilized as bicycle trails), which can be useful to anyone working with lung-and-leg power.
Below is Battle Mountain in the Aerial mode.
Map Layers (Layer Options)
Outdoors Navigator offers a number of useful map layer options – Forest Roads, Public Lands, and several weather options. (The weather options are only available where there us cell coverage.) Of use when a cell signal is not available – and the appropriate maps have been downloaded – is “Forest Roads” and “Public Lands,” as shown below.
The “Forest Roads” feature is an excellent utility. From the name, it might be construed that only U.S. Forest Service roads are shown once this layer is selected, but such is not the case; many county roads and a good number of two-tracks and trails that do not appear on “store-bought” USGS maps are marked as well.
Below, for example, is an area east of White Mountain in Sweetwater County, Wyoming; note that very few trails or two-tracks are marked.
With the Forest Roads overlay selected, however, note the trails and roads that now appear:
Tapping the button on the screen’s lower right-hand corner produces a legend, as shown below:
The “Public Lands” overlay is often very useful. Selecting it produces an image such as the one below, which identifies land ownership type by color. (While using the Public Lands overlay, tapping the button in the lower right-hand corner produces a legend identifying the land ownership types depicted, as also shown below.)
I will be wrapping every installment of “Back Country Navigation with Trimble Outdoors Navigator for Smart Phone App” the same way: Remember that navigating in the back country with a smart phone has limitations, not the least of which is battery life, and should not be considered as a replacement for using map, compass, and GPS in a consolidated strategy. I will never advocate anything other than carrying a map and compass – and the thorough knowledge of how to use them and, ideally, a conventional GPS as well – as backups should you choose to employ smart phone navigation.
When working with maps on smart phones, the major limitation is, of course, screen size; your map is only as large as your smart phone’s screen. Bright sunlight can make your screen difficult to see; moving into some shade (or creating some with a jacket or a hat, for instance,) solves the problem.
Fortunately, you can experiment with and evaluate Outdoors Navigator at little or no cost.
The basic version of Trimble Outdoors Navigator is free. The “Pro” version, which offers additional features, runs $4.99. The “Elite” package subscription costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year, and offers Outdoors Navigator’s complete range of features and resources, which includes all its map overlays. Trimble offers an excellent trial plan for the Elite package; you can try it out at no cost for 14 days.
Next installment: Trimble Outdoors Navigator settings.