ViewRanger Review: Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Those of you who already use a GPS (or an iPhone for that matter) will probably roll your eyes throughout most of this post. But for me, both are a novelty, and “the new” hasn’t quite worn off yet, so I appreciate you letting me have my moment.
A couple weeks ago I blogged about my trip to the Brecon Beacons and learning (the hard way) that a GPS would be a very handy device for the lone walker to carry around. I actually had a Garmin eTrex GPS, but sold it for two reasons: (1) I barely ever used it because the Mac software was crap and I usually didn’t have the time or patience to spend hours configuring it before each and every trip; and (2) I just bought an iPhone, which I knew had GPS and could could get me out of any scrapes if necessary.
When I first moved to Orchard Cottage and “went country”, I always had this idea that I’d spend a fair bit of my time walking and exploring the Cotswolds, especially on the weekends. But as reality would have it, I do most of my walking from the cottage in short 30 minute to one hour bursts. Where is my sense of adventure? And if the walks in Brecon taught me anything, it’s that I need to walk up more hills. I just don’t remember hillwalking feeling as hard as it’s been on recent trips. The only way to make it easier to is to walk up more of them.
Which brings me to today. I decided to take a 7.5 mile walk in “Laurie Lee Country”, a route detailed in my Pathfinder Guide of Cotswolds Walks. Now seemed like a good time to test out the iPhone as handheld GPS unit. A little Googling turned up ViewRanger, “the Mobile App that will turn your Smartphone into a Complete Outdoors GPS.”

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Within ten minutes, I’d installed the app on my iPhone, figured out how to use it, and loaded it with OS Explorer maps for the walk I planned to do.
After the Garmin, this experience just totally blew my mind. Admittedly, I didn’t do anything fancy like program my route or add waypoints, but I did have maps on my phone that gave me a bit of security and peace of mind.
Of course, the real test was how it faired on the walk. It was all very straightforward: I hit a “Start” button when I set off and it recorded my trip, which I was then able to upload to the ViewRanger website and save as a “route”. How cool is that? Almost as cool as the typo in their embedded iframe map:

I will forgive ViewRanger the typo (UPDATE: the typo is now fixed!), because everything else about it was awesome. It proved extremely useful on my walk: a large part of my journey was through forest, completely covered in fallen autumn leaves that obstructed path visibility just like snow. I referred to the ViewRanger app many times. Sure, I probably could have made my way without it, but this in conjunction with my book and compass eliminated most navigational questions so I could actually relax and enjoy the walk.
And what a beautiful walk it was, on a most splendid, blue sky autumn day:
More nice valley
Of course, the big downside to the iPhone-as-GPS is battery life. I started with a fully charged iPhone and by the end of my walk (about 3.5 hours), there was about 20% battery power left. This just won’t do on really long walks. Of course, this morning I was using the GPS constantly – in the future I will skip recording my track and possibly even turn off the phone unless I need it. Another question in my mind is: what if I went camping for a few days or weeks? How will I charge my phone? I know there are portable chargers for such purposes, but that is research for another time.
The ViewRanger app cost £7.99 and came with 1000 “credits” for downloading maps. You get a Great Britain overview map for free, then you can select small portions (“grids”) of the map to download detailed OS Explorer or Landranger maps. I downloaded two “grids” to cover my walk, which cost 48.5 credits each. I felt this a very fair price.
One other thing I discovered I love about the iPhone: Instagram! I took these shots while on my walk. I’m really impressed with the iPhone’s camera and Instagram seriously ups the fun factor:

Good morning Slad




I just really loved the name and the signage. Stroud 2m!

And since I’m sharing photos, I saw a few funny things on my walk, including this bizarre collection of rubbish on the trail…

A funny collection of trash on the trail

… is she the gatekeeper?

Goddess of the footpath?

And this motley crew of old disused motorhomes:

Has-been motorhomes

The morning has left me thoroughly exhausted: this is why I need to walk up more hills – so that it doesn’t total shatter me every time I do so. Not sure where I’ll go next but I’ve only ticked off a few walks in the book and the next weekend isn’t far away. Bring it!
More photos on Flickr: Laurie Lee County