Walking in the Lakes... with technology

Living so close to the Lake District, we always enjoy a good walk when we can and we have been doing more of them recently - including some which are less familiar. And this got me thinking about an excuse for a new gadget.

Even if we're going somewhere familiar, I like to have a map with me. Then, if we stray from the familiar path we can see where we're going. Rather than carry an entire OS printed map - so last century! - I usually print an A4 size map segment and put it in my pocket. Websites including Streetmap.co.uk display OS maps in both 1:50,000 and the more detailed 1:25,000 scales, ready for printing. There are only two problems with this. If the map gets wet (quite likely in Cumbria) the ink runs. And a paper map doesn't tell you where you are, especially if the lakeland mist descends. My mind turned to technology.

Rugged, but bulky too
Mainstream satnavs aren't really suitable for walking because their mapping is optimised for road users. I've looked at the more specialist GPS devices before and not been very impressed. The styling is a bit Fisher-Price and the screen resolution very poor by today's standards. They're also shockingly expensive as are the digital maps which you usually buy separately.

The Garmin Montana, for example, has a 4 inch screen with a resolution of 272 by 480. Not very impressive by the standards of today's smartphones. And it's 38mm thick, weighs 300g and costs £480.

Any decent phone will out-perform this. So, I thought, why not use my phone? The answer was quick: because it's only 2 weeks old I don't want it damaged.
An ideal GPS?

Then I remembered I had a Samsung Galaxy S Wifi lying around. It's a phone-sized Android device with a 400 by 960 screen, weighing just 118g and just 10mm thin. Although it's marketed mainly as a music player it fits the bill as it has a built-in GPS. Admittedly it's not waterproof or 'ruggedised' but we're not planning on doing anything too Bear Grylls. A quick purchase of a spare battery (£8) and a silicone bumper (£5) and it was ready for the great outdoors.

All I needed to complete the project was a suitable app. There are dozens of good mapping apps but I had two key criteria. First, as there will be no wifi out on the hills, I needed an app that stored its maps locally on the device, rather than downloading them on demand. And second, I wanted the mapping to be Ordnance Survey.

After some research I opted for the ViewRanger app which does all of this. The app is free and the OS mapping is priced well: you can pick pre-defined map areas or you can choose your own area and pay 'per tile'. I downloaded The Lake District at 1:25,000 (equivalent to the 4 OS Explorer maps which cover the area) and north-west England at 1:50,000 (equivalent to about a dozen 1:50,000 Landranger maps). The licence allows you to use the maps on several devices so I can plan a walk on a larger tablet or PC before loading it onto the handheld GPS.

I've already tested the device, downloading a route (in standard GPX format) and following it as we walked. It did everything I would expect of a GPS including building a track of our walk as we progressed - which I can upload and keep for posterity.