GPS navigation and track recording with your iPhone

I prepared for my first long trek by exploring options regarding GPS navigation and track recording. I knew a few friends using their phone when going mountain biking so I thought it should be also possible for hiking. I quickly found out that iPhone had an app called “MotionX GPS” doing what I wanted most: store offline maps & record my GPS position as I am trekking (GPS track recording).

I bought “MotionX GPS” for $2 on the app store & started using it on shorter walks before using it while trekking in the Himalayas. It has been great as it helped me to prevent getting lost a few times, provided fun facts while and after hiking (altitude, distance walked & so on) but it also helps other hikers as I shared my GPS tracks on the web (on Wikiloc.com).

Note: if you use an Android phone, you will want to look at AlpineQuest, which seems to be an even better app.


How to use maps in MotionX GPS

When connected to the internet you can browse the different maps available.

Go to: “Burger icon” (top left) > “Map types” and it will display the list: MotionX Road, MotionX Terrain, Bing maps, Apple maps, Google maps, & so on.

I usually select “MotionX Terrain” as many trails are indicated as well as other topographic information.

Note that “MotionX Terrain” and “MotionX Road” are actually using OpenStreetMap as a source, they just renamed them.

MotionX GPS - online maps available


Offline maps in MotionX GPS

You might want to download a whole area of a map to have offline access to it.

Go to: “Burger icon” (top left) > “Map downloads” > select a map type > adjust map area & radius > “Next” > select tile set’s max & min zoom > “Download”.

Note that you will want a max zoom that is high enough otherwise you will not be able to see much details on the map.

Once the map area has finished downloaded: put your phone in airplane mode > restart the app > double check the area you have downloaded is precise enough. If not, re-download the area with a higher “max zoom” value.

MotionX GPS - select map area to download

MotionX GPS - saving offline map


Recording your GPS track in MotionX GPS

At the start of your hike, you will want to begin recording your GPS track.

Go to: “Menu” (bottom right) > “Record Track” > wait for the planet at the top right to be green & blue (this indicates it has a GPS signal) > “Start”.

From that moment onwards, you will be able to see different information: time recorded, distance, average speed, elevation, total ascent & so on.

MotionX GPS - menu panel

MotionX GPS - when recording

At the end of your hike, you will want to stop & save the recording.

Go to: “Menu” (bottom right) > “Record Track” > “Pause” > “Save” > “No Thanks”.

You can then see your recorded track.

Go to: “Menu” (bottom right) > “Tracks” > “Recently Added” > select your track

Note about recording GPS tracks: make sure you have your phone fully charged or an external battery pack. Recording GPS track with MotionX GPS does not use much battery but you might run out of battery if you have a very long day or also use other apps simultaneously.


Sharing your GPS track with the world

You might want to share your experience, exact path & other statistics with hiking buddies & random trekkers looking for info. There is a huge amount of websites for this, but my favourite so far is Wikiloc.com. The user interface is friendly & it is used in many countries in the world.

First, you will have to send your GPS track from your phone to your computer.

In MotionX GPS, go to: “Menu” (bottom right) > “Tracks” > “Recently Added” > select your track > “View details” > “Burger icon” (top right) > type an email address in on of the email address fields > “Share” (top of screen)

Once you have received the email with the GPS tracks.

On your computer, download one the attached files, the one finishing by “.gpx”.

On your computer, go to Wikiloc.com and: log in (create an account if needed) > “upload your trail” > then follow the steps. Wikiloc lets you add a description, some pictures & other info. The more info you add the better, but you can always add this later.

MotionX GPS - share a track via email


Searching & using GPS tracks for a given area

Search & download a GPS track

Again, there are many websites for sharing & looking for GPS tracks. I mostly use Wikiloc as it’s very popular, but you can use any other platform.

Whichever website you use, the end goal is to download a “.gpx” file. This is because GPX is the most generic GPS track recording format & it’s supported by MotionX GPS.

From your computer, go to Wikiloc.com: search for tracks in a given area > select a track in the list of results > “Download” > select “GPX”, “Simplified” or “Original” depending how much detail you want > “Download”.

Use the GPS track on your phone

From your computer: send the to your phone via an attachment to an email.

From your iPhone: open the relevant email > open the “.gpx” file > it will prompt you to open the file with different apps, select “MotionX GPS”.

Final words on using GPS tracks

If you are going for something big (i.e. a 2 weeks long adventure) you then might want to download GPS tracks from different people. That’s what I did for the Annapurna circuit & it has been very useful.


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