Survival skills are worth learning, both in the woods and in life. The classic “ten essentials” have evolved a bit over the years, but I’ve long contended that the most important skill, regardless of circumstances, is the ability to discern where you are.
While in Boy Scouts I was schooled in map and compass, and my friends and I played orienteering games. I still carry a compass into the woods but, with the availability of GPS and GIS technology, now I rely primarily on electronics for navigation.
Deb and I learned during five-plus months on the road that it’s unwise to toss all of our navigational eggs into one GPS basket. An allegedly RV-specific Garmin unit has steered us wrong more than once, and after a couple of world-class screwups we began using Google Maps as backup (and occasionally one or two other apps). Once we quit depending on a single source of routing information, we had no more issues.
We apply that lesson in the woods as well. Since conventional trip-routing utilities are basically useless out there, I’ve chosen two apps designed specifically to be employed off-road (and off-trail).
The first is Gaia GPS. I truly like everything about it — an insane number (as in hundreds) of map layers and the ability to create areas, customize waypoints, record tracks and download offline maps. I can get elevation and measure distance without having to fumble. Gaia GPS is great for what we do — cross-country hiking, UTVing and overlanding in the Jeep.
I have the app installed on both my Android phone and a basic Android tablet. I also work with my data via the gaiagps.com website. Changes I make on one sync across all. Pretty slick.
The free version of Gaia GPS is pretty damned capable, but I decided to pay $40 a year for a “Premium” subscription. Well worth it, I believe.
I also use one of the onX apps. The service offers three versions — onX Offroad, onX Backcountry and the one I chose, onX Hunt. After comparing features I decided that Hunt would be best for us and how we use this kind of GPS.
There are tons of map layers, many of them tailored to wildlife and land management, and private-property boundaries are part of the Hunt package (one state only). The app doesn’t work on my tablet, but it’s fine on my Android phone and I can tweak data on the onxmaps.com website. Changes sync across devices. Very flexible and useful.
As I did with Gaia GPS, I paid for “Premium” ($19 a year with coupon code). There’s an “Elite” level, too, for an additional charge.
Overall, I like Gaia GPS better. It’s more powerful, I think, as well as easier to use and better suited to us.
That said, onX Hunt is no slouch. It may be my backup, but I have zero complaints about the app or the way it handles data.
When we’re out in the field, I’ll launch Gaia GPS and use it to track our position, dropping waypoints every now and then for reference and at interesting features. I record tracks — on foot or in the Ranger, occasionally in the Jeep — so that we can return to a spot later and pick up where we left off. Checking the locator as we move helps us avoid trespassing.
Back at my computer I use the Gaia GPS website to name waypoints and otherwise fiddle with what I’ve recorded. Certain waypoints get transferred to onX Hunt using GPS coordinates. The major stuff lives on both apps.
Maybe no one else does it this way, but that’s my system and it works.
I carry a compass anyway.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.