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Backpacker Magazine – June 2013

Plan It: Master the Latest in Trip-Planning Technology

In the past, route-planning involved browsing guidebooks, consulting rangers, and convincing locals to give up their secret places. Today, that information lives on the internet; you just have to know how to find it.

by: Billy Brown

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Get started

Search the web for hiking trips and you’ll find tons of them. The key is zeroing in on sites that have credible info and the data you want, like turn-by-turn directions, GPS tracks, and maps. We have, ahem, 2,662 field-scouted, editor-approved hikes that fit that description at

Find inspiration

Tap Google Images or photo-sharing sites like or Flickr for images that inspire trip ideas—then track down the locations.

Make maps

Find a trail Search online for a premapped track that matches the distance and difficulty you want. No perfect route? Cobble together existing tracks in an online map editor (there are many; we partner with Trimble Outdoors; to create new routes—and calculate the distances and elevation gains you’ll cover each day.

Draw a new route Can’t find anything in the databases, or planning an off-trail trip? Locate your trailhead on an online topo map, then use a map editor to draw a track along your proposed route.

Get a better view Zoom in on topo maps to find passable spots on cross-country routes or flat terrain for good campsites, then take a look in satellite view to double-check what you found. If your map editor offers more than one imagery source, check them all—they may reveal different things.

Make your mark Drop waypoints for key locations like tricky trail junctions, secret hot springs, places you’ll leave the trail, or the trailhead, so you can always find your way back.

Download and go

Save your new track as a .gpx file, load it into your smartphone, GPS unit, or tablet (we have an app for that:, and hit the trail. Use the route to track your progress and navigate through tricky parts or poor visibility.

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Mar 05, 2014

But nothing replaces map and compass skills.
With common sense, planning and preparation due diligence, and map skills, a topo sheet or two is all you'll need. Techno devices, with the exception of a PLB for true emergencies, should be left at the trailhead or at home.

Star Star Star Star Star
Feb 21, 2014

Todays high quality smartphones can adequately replace a dedicated GPS. When off the grid in the Wind River Range I have been using a Samsung Galaxy S3 in a protective case with the Backcountry Navigator App. I am able to download topo maps and satellite views in advance for use when out of cell range. The Galaxy S3 has an independent GPS and does not require a cell or data connection to function. I put the phone in airplane mode, with the GPS on and can see where I am at any time with my pre-downloaded topo maps and satellite views. The battery life when doing this is excellent. I carry two extra batteries (very light weight) and am able to swap to a fresh battery if needed. With this combination there is not need to carry an extra GPS unit. I imagine you could do the same with an iPhone, although you could not swap batteries. Samsung has "active" versions of the Galaxy S4 which have extra shock protection and are waterproof / dustproof (you can't dive with it however). The upcoming S5 is rumored to have these features standard.


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