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One of the most common questions we receive about our trail guide apps is whether or not they work when you do not have a cell/mobile phone signal. The answer is a resounding “YES, they do work offline”! All of our apps are designed to work when you are in the middle of the wilderness, nowhere near a cell tower. (Otherwise our apps wouldn’t be very useful, would they?)

So, how does that work?

Searching for signal in a wild place.

Searching for signal in a wild place.

When you first download the app from the App Store or the Google Play Store, the device to which you download the app must have an internet connection. The connection can be a WiFi connection or a cell/mobile connection (though a mobile connection may not be the best idea since unlimited/unthrottled data plans are quickly becoming a thing of the past).  While you have that initial internet connection, the latest waypoint and track files are automatically downloaded to your device, plus you have the option to download photos and offline maps to your phone. You should download a map set so that you have topographic and other information about your surroundings.

When you are offline, the app uses your device’s built-in GPS unit to detect where you are and plots that information on a map. GPS, or “global positioning system”, is truly global, and works anywhere on planet Earth since the information is received from satellites.

FAQs:

  1. Will your app work when there is no cell/mobile service? Yes. So long as your device has a GPS receiver, it will work.
  2. Do I need a service plan on my phone to use your app? No. So long as you can connect to the internet with WiFi and your device has a GPS receiver, our app will work on your device.
  3. Will your app work on my iPod Touch? It can. The iPod Touch does not come with a GPS receiver. The same is true of a lot of tablets. But you can purchase an external GPS unit to plug into your iPod Touch, such as a Bad Elf.
  4. I’m pretty sure that GPS isn’t available in [remote location X]. Will your app work? Yes. GPS is global. So long as you are not deep in a canyon or cave (i.e. your phone cannot receive a GPS signal from space), you will be fine. Even in canyons, deep mountain valleys, and under deep foliage, the signal will usually just take longer to acquire.
  5. Can I send messages to my family using your app when I do not have cell/mobile service? No. The GPS unit in a phone and tablet is a GPS receiver. In order to transmit messages using GPS, you need a GPS transmitter, such as a DeLorme inReach or Spot.
  6. Why can’t I see Google maps when I’m offline? We do not use Google maps for offline use because it is against Google’s terms of service to cache the maps for offline use. Rather, we use topographic maps (the style depends upon trail location) that you can download to your device and which are displayed in the background of the map.

Let us know if we forgot anything and we will add to the FAQs.

 

We (the Guthook’s Guides development team) are alarmed at the increasing number of people stating their intention to hike without paper maps.

ELECTRONIC DEVICES AND APPS CAN FAIL.

IT IS A HORRIBLE IDEA TO RELY SOLELY ON A DEVICE OR AN APP AS YOUR SOLE NAVIGATION SOURCE.

There’s really not much more to it than that.

We love technology, and we love our customers who use our apps. But please carry paper maps with you — even if it’s just as a back up — when you hit the trail.

*This is the second in our series, “Know A Trail Club”.*

The Arizona Trail Association is the caretaker of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, an 800-mile trail that traverses the length of Arizona south to north from the Mexico border to the Utah border. This 21-year-old nonprofit organization has built and continues to maintain the national treasure that is the Arizona Trail.

About the trail:

azt_map

Location: entire length of the State of Arizona, south to north

Length: 800 miles

Season: All year, due to varied elevation. Desert portions are best for the winter and spring, while northern and high-elevation portions are best for the summer and fall. Desert portions to be avoided in the summer.

Use type: Hiking, biking, and horseback riding. About 70% of the trail is bike-accessible. 30% of the trail goes through wilderness areas, where bikes are not allowed. The ATA has suggested cycling routes around these wilderness areas.

How the trail is organized: There are 43 named “Passages” along the trail ranging from 8 miles to over 30 miles in length

Highlights: passes through 8 Wilderness Areas, 2 National Parks (Saguaro and Grand Canyon), a State Park, and various other county, state, federal and private land parcels.

Trail Description, south to north: The trail begins in grassland at the Mexico border and immediately heads into 9000’ mountains. The trail climbs and descends between 3000’ to 9000’ through “sky islands” (mountains in a sea of desert) before hitting low desert in the middle of the state, near the Gila River. This area has little shade and little water. The trail then heads up to the Mogollon Rim (separating southern Arizona from Northern Arizona) and the Colorado Plateau with its ponderosa pine forests. The trail then passes through the San Francisco Peaks area near Flagstaff and then through the breathtaking Grand Canyon. Finally, the trail goes across the Kaibab Plateau, and finishes in a sandstone wilderness at the Utah border.

feature_graphic

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In 2015 the Guthook’s Guide team worked with the ATA to build its official Arizona Trail navigational guide smartphone app for iPhone and Android. As we worked through the project, we found the ATA staff and volunteers to be dedicated, hard-working and open-minded — a great combination to ensure the long-term viability and relevance of the Arizona Trail.

I spoke with Matt Nelson, the executive director of the Arizona Trail Association, this week to find out more about the Arizona Trail and what the ATA is up to. Matt has a background in natural and cultural resource management and outdoor education. He has been the executive director of the ATA for five years.

Long-distance hiking on the Arizona Trail: “It’s Harder Than You Think.”

Thru-hikers make up a tiny portion of AZT use, but their numbers are increasing. Matt estimates that about 100 people thru-hiked the trail last year. Due to extreme summertime desert heat, Northbound thru-hikers hike in March to May, while Southbound thru-hikers go from August to November.

The fact that this 800-mile trail can be hiked in two months can be misleading to those looking for a medium-length hiking adventure. In fact, Matt says that the unofficial motto of the AZT is “It’s Harder Than You Think.” Even seasoned Triple Crowners (people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the notoriously-difficult Continental Divide Trail) report that the AZT is the most difficult trail they have ever hiked.

Why so difficult? There is extreme weather and climate variation, severe daily elevation change, few resupply opportunities, little water, and the trail can be difficult to follow in some parts.

Water availability, in particular, is a real hazard in hiking the trail. Fortunately, the ATA has been collecting water information for the past 20 years and has assembled an outstanding water data set for those who want to hike the trail. Each water source is graded by reliability and seasonality. ATA board member Fred Gaudet makes this water data publicly available.

Solitude

There is a definite upside to the Arizona Trail’s difficulty and remoteness: if you’re looking for solitude, you will find it on the Arizona Trail. The trail goes through some very remote areas – some reachable only by hiking — with breathtaking views.

Resupply and Gateway Communities

Resupplying during a long AZT hike is difficult – resupply towns are often far from the trail and far in between. The ATA has partnered with 33 towns, or “Gateway Communities” to the benefit of the towns and the AZT’s hikers, bikers and horseback riders. AZT users are welcomed and encouraged to visit these towns.

gateway_communities_AZT_map

The ATA has also partnered with these 33 Gateway Communities through its Seeds of Stewardship program. About 1200 middle school and high school students from these communities participate each year in programs that get them out on the trail for trail work, species surveys, invasive species removal, and other projects.

Ongoing work of the ATA

The work of the Arizona Trail Association is accomplished largely through the work of its volunteers. Matt, who is the sole full-time employee of the association, wears many hats in directing the efforts of the organization. In addition to Matt, there are 8 additional part-time and volunteer staff to further coordinate the 1500+ volunteers who maintain the trail, install new signs, report trail conditions, conduct outreach operations, and much more.

The association has an Arizona Trail Steward program, where an individual, family, or organization takes charge of a 3 to 7 mile segment of the trail. The steward either maintains the trail itself, or, if the job is too large, reports back to the ATA what kind of work needs to be done. The ATA sometimes employs professional crews to maintain or rebuild trail in remote or damaged areas.

Getting Involved

The Arizona Trail Association has active and vibrant volunteer program and a number of events all year long. You can join the ATA at a number of levels, with each member receiving access to its detailed set of trail data.

Resources

Arizona Trail Guidebook

Arizona Trail App for iPhone or Android (navigational guide)

AZ Trail To Go App for iPhone or Android (current trail conditions)

Online Interactive Map

Printed Top Maps

Data book (available with membership)

**This is the first in an interview series we are doing this year with hiking trail organizations.**

I had a lively conversation this week with Michael Kauffmann, founder and head of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance. Michael is largely responsible for the creation of the Bigfoot Trail (so-called for its location in “Bigfoot Country”, home of the mythic Sasquatch), and passionate about educating the public about the rich biotic and cultural history throughout the Klamath Mountains.

About the Bigfoot Trail:

Big Foot Trail Poster

Location: Northern California’s Klamath Mountains, with a quick dip into Southern Oregon, through 6 Wilderness Areas:

  • Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness
  • Trinity Alps Wilderness
  • Russian Wilderness
  • Marble Mountain Wilderness
  • Red Buttes Wilderness
  • Siskiyou Wilderness

Length: 360 miles

High Point: about 7800’

Low Point: Sea level, Pacific Ocean, at Crescent City

Highlights: passes through one of the most biodiverse temperate forests on earth, with 32 conifer species, more than 2000 plant species, and spectacular geologic complexity.

Bigfoot Trail Alliance Founder, Michael Kauffmann:

Michael is an outdoorsman, author and educator. In 2002 he took a hiatus from teaching and hiked the Continental Divide Trail southbound. To his knowledge, he was one of only two people to do a SoBo CDT hike that year. After his hike he was totally hooked on long-distance hiking. Upon completion of the CDT, he moved to Humboldt County in Northern California, eventually getting his Master’s degree from Humboldt State. An educator and ecologist, he has expertise in the region’s conifers, having written two books on the subject. In 2007 while discussing a potential Pacific Crest Trail hike with his wife, Allison Poklemba, she suggested he further explore the Klamath Mountains and create a long-trail locally instead. He took her advice and the idea of the Bigfoot Trail was born.

Creation of the Bigfoot Trail

An educator at heart, Michael’s biggest hope is that the Bigfoot Trail will introduce more people to the Klamath Mountains’ exceptional biodiversity and complex natural and cultural history. In 2008 Michael worked with Humboldt State botany professor John Sawyer (who has since passed away), to map out a trail that would capture the rich biological and geological diversity of the region. Professor Sawyer was the perfect partner for Michael, as he spent his academic career cataloging the flora of the Klamath Mountains. They put together a potential route that winds through the region, passing 32 confier species, and ultimately reaching the Pacific Ocean at Crescent City. In 2009 Michael hiked the route, and that initial route is in place today, though there is still work to do.

Creation of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance

Many of the existing trails that compose the Bigfoot Trail today were built in the 1930s and 1940s, and others have been utilized by Native Americans for millennia. In other words, these are old trails, and they need work. Recently Michael created a Kickstarter campaign, which raised over $14,000. These funds created the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. With national interest in this new organization, the Alliance held its first board meeting this month (January 2016).

The Alliance is now working with the California Wilderness Coalition on its Northwest California’s Mountains & Rivers program and is partnering with the Siskiyou Mountain Club and the Forest Service to rebuild eight miles of the trail. It hopes to achieve National Recreational Trail status soon.

One of the Alliance’s long term goals is to create a citizen science project to study the effects of climate change on the Klamath Mountains’ biota.

Hikers are taking notice of the Bigfoot Trail. There is now a trickle of Bigfoot Trail thru-hikers each year, and traffic on the trail is increasing. Locals are enthusiastic about the project, with one group already volunteering to adopt a portion of the trail.

Big things are happened on the Bigfoot Trail. Join the Facebook group, and consider becoming a member of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance. Better yet, get out on the Bigfoot Trail and see what the Klamath Mountains have to offer.

Hi – this is Guthook’s colleague Alice here. Most of us feel helpless in the face of international tragedy. Typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, disease outbreaks… few of us are in a position to do anything other than send some money and our moral support to our fellow human beings. With a few hours of online training, however, you can assist disaster relief workers across the world from your own computer.

HotOSM — or Humanitarian Open Street Maps — is a project of the larger OpenStreetMap project. The HotOSM team identifies areas of the world where there is a current need for accurate maps, and where there are not currently accurate maps in place. An army of online volunteers (you!) then  maps these areas into a master database using high resolution satellite imagery donated by various organizations such as Microsoft (Bing maps) and Mapbox. The maps are used by disaster relief teams on the ground.

Screenshot of the HotOSM Tasking Manager webpage.

Screenshot of the HotOSM Tasking Manager webpage. Mapping tasks are broken into squares.

Right now there is an intense effort by HotOSM underway to map Nepal: you can see the list of projects at the OSM Tasking Manager. Volunteers’ mapping contributions for Nepal are being updated and made available as a FREE offline mapset every 30 minutes for use by anyone, e.g. disaster relief volunteers.

I went through this learning process within the past year, and it took about 5-10 hours of practice and setup via learnOSM before I felt comfortable contributing to a project. I happened to become interested in this project just as the Ebola outbreak occurred, so I spent a lot of time mapping roads and villages in West Africa. And now, thanks to the HotOSM volunteers, vast areas of West Africa are mapped for posterity. (And on a personal note, I can’t believe how much I learned about another part of the world just by looking at satellite maps for hours on end.)

You can do the same for Nepal. A word of caution: to do this right, you need to spend some time going through the learning process outlined at learnOSM or follow the tutorials and advice from the HotOSM team. It can be a little frustrating to learn how to use the mapping tools and how to add data to the master data set, but the payoff is well worth the effort.