I have brought my iPhone backpacking since I got my very first iPhone in 2008. I can consistently get three days of usage with one battery charge. Often I can make it for four days. The one exception was when I decided to take this photo sphere on Hawkeye point in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Here are the tips and tricks I have learned to make my iPhone extend as long as possible in the backcountry.
It is important to understand what drains your battery. There are some things that drain your battery much faster than others. The big battery drains are powering the screen, GPS, and radios (cellular and WIFI).
- Airplane Mode. Put your iPhone into Airplane mode while you are out. This will turn off the cellular and WIFI radios. As of iOS 9, GPS can still work when you are in Airplane mode. Toggle Airplane mode on and off is really easy. Just swipe up from the bottom of the screen (or down on an iPhone X) and tap on the airplane icon.
- Limit GPS Usage. Go into the Settings app then select Privacy->Location Services and change all services to “Never” and only leave on the few apps you want to have access to GPS. I only leave on the Camera (I want my photos to be GPS tagged) and Topo Maps+.
- “While Using” Permission. Go into the Settings app then select Privacy->Location Services and change all services to “While Using” (unless you have a good reason to leave one of them as “Always”). This way apps can only use GPS if you are using the app. This gives you control over when GPS is used and when it is not used. You will see a blue bar from the app if it is using GPS and the app is not in the foreground. I also make this change for Topo Maps+. This way I know that no apps are using GPS when I don’t want them to. A lot of apps will check in with a server and update their location via GPS. Putting your phone into airplane mode and changing the permission to While Using won’t let apps do this.
- Don’t Record – Use Progress Instead. In Topo Maps+ I just check my location, I don’t record trips. (I record day hikes, but not multi-day backpacking trips.) Instead of recording your trip use Progress Along Trail to save battery and still find out how far you have come and how far you have left to go.
- Limit App Usage. When I am in the backcountry I only use the Camera and Topo Maps+. I use both of them a lot, but I don’t use any other apps. Plan ahead for which apps you plan on using and stick with that plan i.e. don’t play games 😉
- Screen Brightness. Turn your screen brightness down as much as possible. I leave the screen brightness way down when I am taking photos and I turn it up a little bit when I am using Topo Maps+ for navigation. You can also easily change this by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. By default your iPhone will automatically adjust your screen brightness. This means that even if you turn it down, the iPhone will turn it back up in bright sunlight. You will want to turn this off so that you can have full control over the screen brightness and keep it lower than your iPhone will want to adjust it to. In the Settings App Select “Display & Brightness” and then turn off “Auto-Brightness”.
- Start With 100% Battery. Start following these tips when you leave the house, not just when you get to the trailhead. Don’t waste a lot of your battery while you are driving to the trailhead.
- Power Off At Night. At night power your phone all the way off. Tap and hold on the power button and then slider over the power slider.
- Low Power Mode. In the Settings App select Battery and then turn on “Low Power Mode”. Do this, even when my phone is at 100% battery.
- Raise to Wake – turn off this feature so your screen doesn’t keep turning on every time you lift the phone.
I generally upgrade my iPhone every one or two years, so I don’t have old batteries. As batteries get old they don’t last as long. So if you have an older iPhone, your usage may vary.
Want to go even longer?
My wife bought me a GoalZero Nomad 7 solar charger for Christmas. It is awesome! Now I can use my iPhone for more than 3 days and I can take photo spheres. It weights just a little more than a book and it is about the same size as a book. Since I have the power, I now read books on iBooks, Olive Tree, or ESV (I had the privilege of working on the Olive Tree and ESV iOS apps) instead of bringing a book. So if you bring a book backpacking you can swap it out for a solar charger with very little extra weight or space in your pack.
As much as I wish I could write perfect code all the time, the reality is that I can’t. (Actually no one can.) From the first time I took Topo Maps+ out backpacking I added protection against this. If Topo Maps+ started to crash I wanted to be able to get it back to a state where I could at least have my offline maps and use GPS. There are a number of settings for Topo Maps+ in the Settings App you can use to get it back into a working state. Be aware that some of these will delete your data, but not your maps.
Before you head out on an adventure I recommend that you do a sync to backup your data. You can do a sync by selecting My Data in the toolbar and then tap on sync.
If you are deep in the backcountry and Topo Maps+ starts crashing here is what you can do to be able to use your maps.
Open the Settings App and Select Topo Maps+.
Start by toggling on “Reset Settings” and then try opening and using Topo Maps+ This will reset the settings for the app. It will not delete your data, just the last location you were viewing, the map you were using, etc. When you open Topo Maps+ the map may not be visible because you may not have the default map at the default zoom level downloaded. To get back to your downloaded maps, tap on the map icon in the bottom right corner and select the map you were using. Then tap on the location button in the toolbar and zoom in on the blue dot until you see the map.
If you are still unable to see the map you can tap on the Prepare tab in the toolbar and then select “Manage Downloaded Maps.” This will show you a list of all downloaded maps. You can select one to see it.
If doing a reset setting does not work, the next thing to try is to delete data. There are two types of data you can delete. You can deleted the selectable trails and you can delete your routes, tracks, and waypoints. Any data you have sync’d will restore back to your device once you get back to WIFI and can do a sync.
To delete the selectable trails toggle on “Delete OSM Trail Data” in the Settings app and try opening Topo Maps+.
To delete your routes, tracks, and waypoints toggle on “Delete My Data” in the Settings app and try opening Topo Maps+. Please note that this will also delete your map pass or Pro until you get back to WIFI. While you are out in the backcountry you don’t need a subscription to view your high resolution maps, you just need the subscription to download new ones. Once you have an internet connection Topo Maps+ will automatically check and see if you have purchased a subscription. Also, once you have an internet connection you can do a sync to restore your routes, tracks, and waypoints.
While I am much better at writing in Objective-C and Swift (the programming languages for iOS) than English, bugs can still occur in Topo Maps+. If you unfortunatly run into one of these bugs in the backcountry using these three settings will hopefully get you back up and running with offline maps and GPS.
Topo Maps+ 5 includes over 500,000 trails that can overlay the maps. You can tap on any of these trails to see their distance and to get an elevation profile.
You can rename the trail or tap on the settings to customize how the trail looks on the map.
In the elevation profile you can move the crosshairs to see the distance and elevation between any two points in the profile. When you do this the trail on the map will highlight the section of trail that is between the crosshairs in the elevation profile.
When you zoom in on the map, it will show the distance between trail segments, right on the map. As you continue to zoom in, you will see red dots at each of the trail junctions.
When you trace your own rotes you will also see red dots where they intersect other trails and you will see distances between trail segments. In these examples the brown route is a traced route.
With Topo Maps+ PRO, when you select a trail on the map you can also move the crosshairs at the ends of the trail. You will be able to move these crosshairs over trails that connect to the trail that the crosshairs are on. This lets you easily create new routes from existing trail networks.
If there is a gap in the trail network you add your own trace routes between any two trails to connect the trails. Here is an example where the brown trail joins the two green trails.
We all know we should never solely rely on technology in the backcountry, but it can be easy to get lazy and not take the time to get a printed map. While appropriate use of technology can make our adventures more enjoyable it can also give us a false sense of security. Thankfully printing maps before you head out is easy in Topo Maps+. Having a printed map can sometimes be the difference between making it out and being lost with an iOS device that ran out of battery. Topo Maps+ makes it easy to print maps on your printer at home, even if you don’t have an AirPrint printer. To make sure your map lasts during your adventure you can print your maps on Adventure Paper or put them in a water proof map case.
To print a map in Topo Maps+ select Prepare from the toolbar and then Print Map. You can then choose if you want to print the map directly from your iOS device or email yourself the map to print from another computer.
Zoom and pan the map to get the region you want to print. The printed map will use a zoomed in map for the area you selected.
You can customize the map with the print options. The print options let you choose the paper size, the collar size (are around the outside of the map), and turn waypoints and routes on or off.
Once you have zoomed to the area you want to print tap on the Preview button to see what the printed map will look like.
When you have the map ready, use the Share button in the upper right corner to print the map or to email it to yourself.
Using Topo Maps+ you can easily create beautiful printed maps to help you discover the great outdoors.
Topo Maps+ supports a wide variety of maps to help you with your next adventure.
You can easily change to a different map by selecting “Map Types” in the menu.
1. USGS Topo Maps
In the US the USGS Topo Maps are the ultimate backcountry map. They have the most detail for off the grid locations. They include rivers, lakes, trails, timberlines, and many more backcountry features. Most of these maps were made between 1940 and 1960, so they are not the best for urban areas where there has been new developments over the last 50 years.
Topo Maps+ has two different USGS maps sources and you can view the maps either with or without shading. You can use the USGS topo maps from either CalTopo or Glacier Peak Studios. In general the maps from CalTopo have higher resolution.
2. NRCAN & GEOBC Topo Maps for Southern and Western Canada
The Topo Maps from CalTopo also include NRCAN & GEOBC Topo Maps for southern and western Canada. These are excellent backcountry maps for Canada. Unfortunately, these maps from CalTopo do not cover all of Canada. You can use MapBox Outdoors and Thunderforest for all of Canada.
3. World Wide Topo Maps with Thunderforest Topo Map
Thunderforest Topo Map is a world wide topo map that has hiking, biking, and ski trails. The data for Thunderforest comes from the Open Cycle Map and it is continually being updated.
4. World Wide Topo Maps with MapBox Outdoors
MapBox Outdoors is another great option for world wide topo maps. This map is still in beta and is also being continually updated.
5. Satellite Imagery with MapBox Satellite
When researching where to have your next adventure it is often helpful to look at satellite imagery. The satellite map from MapBox lets you view you routes and waypoints on a satellite map.
6. MapBox Street Maps
When you just need a street map to get a to campground or trail head you can use MapBox Street Maps.
Use These Maps Offline
You can use all of these maps offline. You will need to download the regions you want available offline before you go into the backcountry.
Organize with Beautiful Tags
You can now organize your routes, trips and waypoints using tags. You can access tags from the menu.
Topo Maps+ comes with a number of tags already set up and ready for you to use. You can easily add, remove, or edit the existing tags. To add a new tag, scroll down to the bottom of the list of tags and tap on add new tag. You can name the tag and select an image for the tag. You can use one of the built in images or scroll down to the bottom of the list of images to add your own image or to use an image from the map.
If you want to reorganize or remove a tag, simply scroll to the top of the list of tags and tap on the edit button.
There are two ways to add routes, trips, and waypoints to tags. First, you can go into a tag, tap on “Add Items to Tag”, and then select the items you want in the tag.
Share with Your Friends
You can now easily share your tags, routes, trips, and waypoints with your friends.
Once you have selected the tags, routes, trips, and waypoints you want to share, tap on the share button at the bottom of the screen. This will generate a URL you can give your friends.
When your friends go to the URL you gave them they will be able to import that data into Topo Maps+ or export the data into KML or GPX files which they can use in other apps like Google Earth.
The data in the sharing link gets updated every time you sync your data in Topo Maps+. You can share a tag with your friends for an upcoming backpack trip and then as you update the tags, the routes in the tag, and the waypoints in the tag, those updates will be reflected on the sharing web page for the tag. Also, if your friends import the same route into Topo Maps+ multiple times the app is smart enough to know to update the existing route and not create a duplicate.
Topo Maps+ supports importing routes and waypoints from KML and GPX files. To import the data into Topo Maps+ email yourself the file, then on your iPhone find the email, select the file, tap on the share button, and then select Topo Maps+.
When Topo Maps+ opens it will show you the routes and waypoints from the file. You can choose which ones you want to import and then tap on the import button.
In Topo Maps+ you can also export your data into KML and GPX formats. This lets you view your data in other apps like Google Earth. To export your data just tap on “Sharing and Export” in the menu, then “Export Data”, and then select the tags, routes, trips, and waypoints you wan to export.
Once you have selected the data you want to export, select the format (KML or GPX), and then tap on the Export button. You will then be able to email that file or open it in another app that supports that file format.