Over the past few months, I've been going on a hike almost every weekend. Not only does hiking provide an opportunity to discover the natural wonders all around you, it's also good exercise and free (if you don't count entry fees for some state and national parks). Throughout these trips, the Surface Duo, Microsoft's dual-screen Android phone has been a reliable companion. Although it's not the smallest or most rugged device, its large screen(s) paired with OSMAnd~ and AllTrails make it easy to navigate while on the trail. In this post, I'll detail my navigation setup.
Getting trail routes from AllTrails
Although trails are often well marked, it's always a good idea to have a map of the trail and surrounding area. This is especially true if it's your first time there. I almost exclusively get my trail maps from AllTrails. If you're not familiar with AllTrails, it's a platform and community where members share maps, reviews, and information about trails for all kinds of outdoor activities. The site is completely free and while you can pay for premium features, the free offering provides you with all the essentials you'd need to plan your trip.
Trail information, maps, and reviews are entirely user supported. One of the (free) features is the ability to download trails to a variety of formats.
Typically, the format I'll download routes to is GPX Route and GPX Track. GPX is an XML schema for representing GPS data in software applications. Because GPX is a standard format, you can open and view these files in any app that supports them.
Offline navigation with OSMAnd~
OSMAnd~ is a free map and navigation app supported by OpenStreetMaps. OpenStreetMaps, like AllTrails is free and entirely community driven. OSMAnd~ lets you download detailed maps for offline use. Detailed is the key here. Although you can save maps for offline use with applications like Here Maps and Google Maps, they often limit the size of the area you can save for offline use and don't provide much detail. With OSMAnd~ you can:
- Download entire state and country maps for offline use.
- View details like contour-lines, hill shading, and other trail details.
- Turn-by-turn navigation.
- View and edit GPX files
Using the GPX files I get from AllTrails, I load them onto my Surface Duo and view them using OSMAnd~. Using offline maps and the Duo's GPS I'm able to see my position on the trail and quickly find my way when I've gone off it even if I have no reception. This combination makes for a navigation device and experience like no other because I have the full screen real estate that the Duo provides to view areas beyond the trail.
By leveraging the power of crowd-sourcing and open-source, access to quality information has never been easier. When this information is displayed on a device like the Surface Duo it makes it easy to navigate when you're out on the trail especially in situations when you have no reception and you're not familiar with your surroundings.
If you've been looking for an offline navigation solutions, hopefully this post helps provide some guidance. If you do any outdoor activities especially in remote areas, even if you don't have a Duo, I'd suggest giving AllTrails and OSMAnd~ a try. See you on the trail!
P.S. Over the past month, I've transitioned to the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro for navigation. It's a smaller device that supports loading GPX files and provides offline maps with turn-by-turn navigation. I'm also not worried about dropping or scratching it because it's designed for the outdoors. This in no way takes away with how amazing the OSMAnd~ and Surface Duo pairing are for offline navigation. In fact, I still use the Duo for backup navigation when it's difficult to see the map on the Fenix.