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How To Use Your iPhone GPS For Hiking In The Wilderness


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Bea Wheeler



Hiking in the wilderness can be an exhilarating adventure, but getting lost or losing your way can quickly turn that excitement into a daunting experience. Fortunately, with the advancements in smartphone technology, hiking with an iPhone has become a game-changer for outdoor enthusiasts. Thanks to its built-in GPS functionality, your iPhone can now serve as a valuable tool for navigating through even the most remote wilderness areas. In this article, we will explore how to make the most of your iPhone GPS for hiking in the wilderness. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or just starting out, harnessing the power of your iPhone’s GPS can greatly enhance your hiking experience. Before we dive into the details, it is important to understand how the iPhone GPS works. GPS, or Global Positioning System, is a network of satellites that allows devices like your iPhone to determine your precise location. It uses a combination of signals from multiple satellites to triangulate your position on the Earth’s surface. The iPhone’s GPS functionality relies on both hardware and software components. The hardware includes a GPS chip that communicates with the satellites, while the software (such as Apple Maps or third-party hiking apps) processes the GPS data and presents it to you in a user-friendly interface. Now that we have a basic understanding of how the iPhone GPS works, let’s move on to choosing the right hiking GPS app for your adventures in the wilderness. By selecting the right app, you can unlock additional features and enhance your navigation experience on the trails.


Understanding the iPhone GPS Functionality

To make the most out of your iPhone’s GPS capabilities for hiking in the wilderness, it is essential to have a good understanding of how it functions and how to optimize its performance. The iPhone’s GPS functionality relies on a combination of signals from GPS satellites, cell towers, and Wi-Fi networks to determine your location. The built-in GPS chip in your iPhone communicates with these signals and calculates your coordinates, speed, and direction of movement. One important thing to note is that GPS signals may not be available or strong in certain environments, such as deep canyons or heavily forested areas. In these situations, your iPhone may struggle to establish a strong GPS connection. To overcome this, you can utilize a feature called Assisted GPS (A-GPS), which relies on cell tower and Wi-Fi network data to assist in determining your location. It is also worth mentioning that using your iPhone’s GPS for an extended period can drain your battery. To optimize battery life, you can enable the “Low Power Mode” on your iPhone or carry a portable charger with you on your hike. When it comes to using the GPS on your iPhone for hiking, there are two primary options: using built-in mapping apps like Apple Maps or utilizing third-party hiking GPS apps. While built-in mapping apps provide basic navigation features, third-party hiking GPS apps offer more advanced functionalities specifically designed for outdoor activities. These third-party apps often provide features such as offline maps, trail recording, waypoints, and even augmented reality overlays to help you navigate the wilderness more effectively. Some popular hiking GPS apps include Gaia GPS, AllTrails, and ViewRanger. Make sure to research and choose an app that aligns with your specific hiking needs and preferences. In the next section, we will delve deeper into selecting the right hiking GPS app and explore the essential features to look for. With the right app, you can unlock a plethora of tools to aid your wilderness navigation and make your hike even more enjoyable.


Choosing the Right Hiking GPS App

When it comes to choosing the right hiking GPS app for your iPhone, it’s important to consider your specific needs and the features that are essential to your hiking experience. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting a hiking GPS app: 1. Offline Maps: Look for an app that allows you to download maps in advance and use them offline. This is particularly important when hiking in areas with poor or no cellular reception. Offline maps ensure that you can still navigate even when you’re off the grid. 2. Trail Recording: A good hiking GPS app should have the ability to record your hiking trails. This feature is beneficial for tracking your progress, reviewing your hiking statistics, and sharing your hikes with others. 3. Waypoints and Markers: The ability to mark waypoints and add custom markers on the map is vital for navigation. You can mark important locations, such as campsites, water sources, or points of interest, and easily navigate back to them. 4. Elevation Profiles: Look for an app that provides detailed elevation profiles of the trails. This will help you better understand the terrain and the difficulty level of the hike. 5. Community and Reviews: Consider apps that have a vibrant community of hikers who share their experiences, trail recommendations, and reviews. This will allow you to discover new trails and gain insights from other hikers. 6. Compatibility with Other Devices: If you have additional outdoor devices like a smartwatch or a handheld GPS unit, choose an app that can sync and integrate with these devices for a seamless tracking experience. 7. Augmented Reality: Some advanced hiking GPS apps offer augmented reality overlays, allowing you to view trail markers and points of interest in real-time through your phone’s camera. This can be a useful feature for navigation and enhancing your overall hiking experience. Once you have narrowed down your choices based on these factors, take some time to read user reviews and test out the apps to see which one feels intuitive and suits your needs the best. Don’t be afraid to try out multiple apps and compare their features to find the perfect fit for your hiking adventures. In the next section, we will discuss the essential steps to take before embarking on a wilderness hike with your iPhone GPS. These steps will ensure that you are adequately prepared and can make the most of your iPhone’s GPS capabilities during your hike.


Preparing for Your Wilderness Hike

Before setting off on your wilderness hike with your iPhone GPS, it is crucial to take some preparatory steps to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some essential considerations: 1. Research and Plan: Start by researching the trail you intend to hike. Familiarize yourself with the distance, difficulty level, terrain, and any potential hazards or restrictions. Look for recent trail conditions and weather forecasts as well. 2. Pack Essential Gear: Make a checklist of essential hiking gear such as a map and compass, extra clothing layers, sufficient food and water, a first aid kit, a headlamp, and a multi-tool. Additionally, ensure that your iPhone is fully charged before embarking on your hike. 3. Notify Others: Inform a trusted friend or family member about your hiking plans, including your intended route and estimated return time. This way, someone will be aware of your whereabouts in case of an emergency. 4. Check for Permits: Some wilderness areas require permits for hiking. Research whether a permit is necessary for your planned hike and obtain one if required. This will help you avoid any legal issues and ensure that you are following the rules and regulations of the area. 5. Learn Basic Navigation Skills: While your iPhone GPS is a valuable tool, it is crucial to have basic navigation skills. Familiarize yourself with reading maps, using a compass, and understanding topographic symbols. These skills will serve as a backup in case your iPhone loses GPS signal or runs out of battery. 6. Assess Cellular Reception and Download Maps: Before heading out, check the cellular reception in the area you will be hiking. If the reception is poor or nonexistent, take advantage of the offline maps feature in your chosen hiking GPS app and download the maps for your intended route in advance. 7. Consider Emergency Communication: In remote wilderness areas, cellular reception may be limited. To enhance your safety, consider carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB) or a satellite messenger device. These devices can send emergency signals and help rescuers locate you in case of an emergency. By taking these preparatory steps, you can ensure that you are well-equipped, informed, and ready to tackle your wilderness hike with your iPhone GPS. In the next section, we will explore how to calibrate your iPhone GPS to optimize its accuracy and performance on the trail.


Calibrating Your iPhone GPS

To optimize the accuracy and performance of your iPhone GPS while hiking in the wilderness, it is important to calibrate it properly. Calibration helps ensure that the GPS readings are precise and reliable. Here are the steps to calibrate your iPhone GPS: 1. Find an Open Area: Start by finding an open area with a clear view of the sky. Move away from tall buildings, trees, and other objects that may obstruct the GPS signal. 2. Enable Location Services: Open the Settings app on your iPhone and go to Privacy > Location Services. Ensure that Location Services are turned on. This allows your GPS app to access your location. 3. Reset Network Settings: In some cases, resetting your network settings can help improve GPS accuracy. Go to Settings > General > Reset and select “Reset Network Settings.” Note that this will reset all your network-related settings, so make sure to reconnect to Wi-Fi networks afterward. 4. Open a Compass App: Launch a compass app on your iPhone. Rotate your iPhone in a figure-eight motion a few times. This helps calibrate the internal sensors, including the compass, which can indirectly improve GPS accuracy. 5. Check GPS Signal: Open your preferred hiking GPS app and check if it is receiving a GPS signal. It may take a few seconds to establish a connection. Ensure that you have a strong GPS signal before starting your hike. 6. Test GPS Accuracy: Once you have a GPS signal, test the accuracy by comparing the app’s location with known landmarks or features around you. If the accuracy is not satisfactory, try moving to a different location or restarting your iPhone. 7. Consider External GPS Accessories: If you frequently hike in areas with poor GPS reception, you may consider using external GPS accessories such as Bluetooth-enabled GPS receivers. These accessories can provide additional accuracy and reliability in challenging environments. Remember to recalibrate your iPhone GPS periodically, especially if you notice any inconsistency or drift in the GPS readings. Additionally, keeping your iPhone up to date with the latest software updates can often include GPS improvements and bug fixes. With a properly calibrated iPhone GPS, you can confidently navigate through the wilderness and stay on track during your hiking adventures. Next, we will discuss how to manage battery life and ensure that your iPhone lasts throughout your hike.


Managing Battery Life During Your Hike

Managing battery life is crucial when using your iPhone GPS for hiking in the wilderness. Here are some tips to help you conserve battery power and ensure that your iPhone lasts throughout your hike: 1. Start with a Full Charge: Before heading out, make sure your iPhone is fully charged. Consider using a portable charger or a power bank to keep your iPhone powered up during long hikes. 2. Enable Low Power Mode: When hiking, enable the Low Power Mode on your iPhone to conserve battery life. This mode reduces background activity, disables unnecessary visual effects, and optimizes your device for longer battery life. 3. Minimize Screen Time: Reduce the time your iPhone screen is on. Use the auto-lock feature to set a shorter screen timeout duration. Also, adjust the screen brightness to a lower level to save additional battery power. 4. Disable Background App Refresh: Prevent apps from refreshing in the background by disabling the Background App Refresh feature. Go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and select “Off” or manually disable it for specific apps. 5. Close Unused Apps: Close any unused apps running in the background. These apps consume system resources, including battery power. Double-press the home button (or swipe up from the bottom on iPhone X or newer) to view and swipe away the apps you want to close. 6. Activate Airplane Mode: When you have a strong GPS signal and don’t need cellular data or calls, consider enabling Airplane Mode. This turns off cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connections, reducing battery usage. Remember, though, that this will also disable communication features. 7. Carry a Portable Charger: If you anticipate a long hike or are unsure about the battery life, consider carrying a portable charger or power bank. These devices allow you to recharge your iPhone on the go, ensuring a continuous power supply. 8. Use Power-Saving Mode in GPS Apps: Some GPS apps have power-saving modes that reduce GPS accuracy to save battery life. Enable this feature if preserving battery power is more important than precise location tracking during your hike. Remember that extreme temperatures can impact battery life, so it’s essential to keep your iPhone within the recommended operating temperature range. If necessary, use insulation or protective cases designed to regulate temperature. By following these battery-saving tips, you can prolong your iPhone’s battery life and ensure that it remains functional throughout your wilderness hike. Next, we’ll discuss how to effectively navigate using your iPhone GPS and make the most out of its features on the trails.


Navigating with Your iPhone GPS

Navigating with your iPhone GPS while hiking in the wilderness can be a powerful tool to help you stay on track and reach your destination safely. Here are some tips for effectively using your iPhone GPS for navigation: 1. Select the Right Map View: Most GPS apps offer different map views, such as 2D, 3D, or satellite. Experiment with different views to find the one that suits your preferences and provides the most relevant information for navigation. 2. Follow the Trail: If you’re hiking on a marked trail, ensure that the chosen GPS app accurately displays the trail path. Pay attention to turns and trail intersections to avoid getting off track. 3. Set Waypoints: Use waypoints to mark key locations along your route, such as junctions, lookout points, or campsites. This will help you stay on course and navigate back to specific spots if needed. 4. Use Turn-by-Turn Directions: Take advantage of turn-by-turn directions offered by some GPS apps. This feature guides you with voice prompts and visual cues, making it easier to follow a specific route. 5. Utilize Distance and ETA Information: GPS apps usually provide distance and estimated time of arrival (ETA) to your destination. These features give you an idea of your progress and help you plan your hike accordingly. 6. Keep an Eye on GPS Signal: Monitor the strength of your GPS signal while hiking. If you notice weak or lost signal, make sure to pause and wait for it to stabilize before proceeding. In some cases, moving to an open area may improve signal reception. 7. Stay Alert and Observe Landmarks: While using your iPhone GPS, don’t solely rely on the device. Stay aware of your surroundings, observe natural landmarks, and refer to physical maps or trail markers for additional navigation cues. 8. Backup with Paper Maps: Carry a paper map of the area as a backup. Electronic devices can malfunction or run out of battery, so having a physical map ensures you have a reliable navigation tool at hand. 9. Share Your Location: If you’re hiking with a group or want someone to track your progress, consider using the sharing location feature on your GPS app. This allows others to monitor your whereabouts, adding an extra layer of safety. Remember, a GPS is a tool, and it’s important to use it in conjunction with your own judgement and common sense. Trust the information provided by your GPS app, but always refer to physical signs, visible landmarks, and your hiking instincts as well. Next, we’ll explore how to use offline maps and save locations on your iPhone GPS for a seamless hiking experience in areas with limited or no cellular reception.


Using Offline Maps and Saving Locations

When hiking in remote areas with limited or no cellular reception, having access to offline maps and the ability to save locations on your iPhone GPS becomes essential. Here’s how to make the most of these features: 1. Download Offline Maps: Before heading into the wilderness, download offline maps of the area you’ll be hiking in using your GPS app. Offline maps are pre-downloaded and stored on your device, allowing you to access them without an internet connection. Ensure that the maps are detailed and include the trails and landmarks you’ll encounter. 2. Plan Your Route in Advance: Study the offline maps and plan your route before starting your hike. Mark waypoints and key locations you’d like to visit along the way. This preparation allows you to navigate smoothly even without a network connection. 3. Save Important Locations: As you plan your hike, save important locations such as your starting point, campsites, water sources, or any other significant spots on your GPS app. This way, you can easily navigate back to these locations or share them with others if needed. 4. Utilize Location Pinning: Many GPS apps allow you to pin locations directly on the map. When you come across a noteworthy spot during your hike, such as a breathtaking viewpoint or a hidden gem, pin it to the map for future reference. 5. Take Geo-tagged Photos: Capture memorable moments of your hike using the camera on your iPhone. These photos are often automatically tagged with the location coordinates. Reviewing these photos later can help you recall specific places or trails you’ve explored. 6. Offline Search: Some GPS apps come with an offline search feature, allowing you to search for nearby points of interest, trailheads, or specific locations within the downloaded offline maps. This can be handy when you’re looking for services or landmarks along your route. 7. Share Locations and Tracks: If you want to share your planned route, waypoints, or saved locations with other hikers or friends, use the sharing features of your GPS app. You can send detailed maps or GPX/KML files to others, ensuring everyone is on the same page. Remember to periodically update and refresh your offline maps, especially if there have been any changes to the trail network or landmarks in the area you’re hiking. Keeping your maps up to date ensures accurate navigation even in offline mode. By leveraging offline maps and saving locations on your iPhone GPS, you can confidently navigate through remote wilderness areas, explore new trails, and have a smooth hiking experience regardless of cellular signal availability. Next, we’ll explore how to track your hiking statistics using your iPhone GPS app and interpret the valuable data it provides.


Tracking Your Hiking Statistics

Tracking your hiking statistics using your iPhone GPS app can not only provide valuable insights into your hike but also enhance your overall hiking experience. Here’s how to make the most out of tracking your hiking statistics: 1. Distance and Time: Your GPS app can provide accurate measurements of the distance you’ve covered and the time it took. Tracking these statistics allows you to gauge your pace, set goals, and monitor your progress. 2. Elevation Gain and Loss: Many GPS apps also track the elevation gain and loss along your hiking route. This data gives you a better understanding of the terrain’s difficulty and helps you assess your fitness level for future hikes. 3. Speed and Pace: The GPS app can calculate your speed and average pace, giving you an idea of your hiking performance. Monitor how your speed fluctuates on different terrains or inclines, allowing you to adjust your pace accordingly. 4. Heart-rate Monitoring: If you have a compatible heart-rate monitor, some GPS apps can track your heart rate throughout your hike. This information provides insights into your exertion levels and helps you gauge your cardiovascular fitness. 5. Hiking Duration: Knowing the total duration of your hike is helpful for planning and estimating the time required for future hikes. It also allows you to track your overall outdoor activities and easily compare your performance over time. 6. Route History: Your GPS app may offer a route history feature where you can view previous hikes and keep a log of your outdoor adventures. This serves as a great reference for revisiting favorite trails or sharing recommendations with others. 7. Hiking Challenges and Badges: Some GPS apps provide additional features such as hiking challenges and badges. These encourage you to set new goals, explore different trails, and earn achievements, making your hiking experience more fun and rewarding. 8. Share Your Achievements: If you’re proud of your hiking accomplishments, utilize the social sharing capabilities of your GPS app. Share your statistics, route maps, and stunning photos with friends and fellow hikers to inspire and encourage them on their own outdoor endeavors. By tracking your hiking statistics, you can monitor your progress, set new goals, and continuously challenge yourself to improve. It also allows you to reflect on past hikes and cherish the memories made on the trails. In the next section, we’ll discuss common GPS issues you may encounter while hiking with your iPhone and provide troubleshooting tips to overcome them.


Troubleshooting Common GPS Issues

While using your iPhone GPS for hiking, you may encounter certain issues that affect the performance and accuracy of the GPS signal. Here are some common GPS issues and troubleshooting tips to overcome them: 1. Weak Signal or No GPS: If your GPS signal is weak or unavailable, try moving to an open area with a clear view of the sky. Tall buildings, dense tree cover, and deep canyons can obstruct the GPS signal. Wait a few minutes for your iPhone to establish a stronger connection. 2. Inaccurate Location: If your GPS is showing an incorrect location, ensure that Location Services are enabled for both your iPhone and the GPS app you’re using. Additionally, try recalibrating your iPhone’s compass and restarting the app to refresh the GPS data. 3. Drifting GPS Signal: Sometimes, the GPS signal can drift or jump around, causing erratic positioning. Check if “Location Services” and “Compass Calibration” are enabled in your iPhone settings. Consider restarting your iPhone to recalibrate the GPS. 4. Battery Drain: If your iPhone’s battery drains quickly while using GPS, enable “Low Power Mode” in your settings to conserve power. Additionally, reduce screen brightness, close unnecessary apps, and use airplane mode when cellular connectivity is not required. 5. GPS App Freezing or Crashing: If the GPS app freezes or crashes frequently, check for updates in the App Store and ensure you’re running the latest version. Restart your iPhone, close other background apps, and reinstall the GPS app if necessary. 6. Slow GPS Lock: If your iPhone takes too long to acquire a GPS lock, double-check that Location Services are enabled, and your app’s permissions allow access to GPS data. Consider resetting network settings or updating your iPhone software. 7. Incorrect Map Data: If you notice inaccurate or incomplete map data in your GPS app, report it to the app developer. They can rectify the issue by updating the map data source or implementing user feedback. 8. GPS Interference: Certain external factors can interfere with GPS signals, such as electronic devices, dense vegetation, or high-altitude locations. Avoid placing your iPhone near these sources of interference for more reliable GPS reception. If troubleshooting steps don’t resolve the issue, consider contacting the GPS app’s support team for further assistance. They may provide specific troubleshooting steps or suggestions tailored to their app’s functionality. Remember that GPS accuracy can vary depending on several factors, and it’s always a good idea to carry a physical map and compass as a backup. Trust your intuition, keep an eye on visible landmarks, and know how to navigate manually in case of GPS issues. In the concluding section, we’ll recap the benefits of using your iPhone GPS for hiking and highlight the importance of being prepared for outdoor adventures.



Using your iPhone GPS for hiking in the wilderness can greatly enhance your outdoor experience. With its built-in GPS functionality and the right hiking GPS app, your iPhone can serve as a reliable navigation tool, providing accurate location data, tracking your hiking statistics, and assisting you in staying on the right path. Throughout this article, we have explored various aspects of leveraging your iPhone GPS for hiking. We discussed understanding the iPhone GPS functionality, choosing the right hiking GPS app, preparing for your wilderness hike, calibrating your iPhone GPS for optimal performance, managing battery life during your hike, navigating with your iPhone GPS, using offline maps and saving locations, tracking your hiking statistics, and troubleshooting common GPS issues. By understanding the functionality and capabilities of your iPhone GPS, you can confidently explore new trails, navigate through dense wilderness areas, and track your hiking progress. Remember to prepare adequately, download offline maps, save important locations, and take advantage of the various features offered by GPS apps. However, it’s important to note that while your iPhone GPS is a valuable tool, it should not be solely relied upon. Always carry a physical map, compass, and other necessary hiking gear. Stay aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts when navigating through the wilderness. Hiking with your iPhone GPS is not only about getting from point A to point B, but also about immersing yourself in nature and embracing the adventure. So, go out there, explore breathtaking trails, challenge yourself, and create unforgettable memories. Stay safe, hike responsibly, and let your iPhone GPS guide you through the wonders of the wilderness!