All posts by Nathan


BLM Maps for Android

BLM Maps for Android have recently become available for 12 western states. These maps primarily show the boundaries of BLM land, and secondarily show boundaries between state, federal and public land. 

The product is available as an overlay that displays boundaries on your existing maps. You can purchase it by going to "Purchasing Add-ons" deep in the menu. It has quickly become a popular product. Below are some comments about the source of the data, its accuracy, and some disclaimers. 

Example of showing boundary lines on map.

BLM data comes from the State Bureau of Land Management units. This is more accurate and recent than what the National BLM office would have, but less accurate than what your county asessor might have at the hall of records.   

We can give no warranty, express or implied, as to the accuracy of the data, because the BLM itself won't do that. The data is subject to errors both by the BLM and other organizations that share data with the BLM.  

While many of you want to use this data to stay off private land, comply with the law, and avoid getting shot, we cannot guarantee its reliability for this purpose. Think of it as a step in the right direction.

To help out, we are posting links to the sources for the data at each state agency. The link has notes about the data, where it came from, how it evolved. 

If you do find a discrepancy in the data, please contact the people listed at the link. They promise continual improvement. 





Montana (covers parts of North and South Dakota).




New Mexico


Land ownership (Statewide)



Android GPS App Selection

An Android GPS App allows you to use your Android phone as a GPS device. Considering your activity, you can choose a GPS app based on map types, map access, and style of navigation.

Types of Maps for Android
There are several different kinds of maps that can be used by an Android GPS App. They differ in how they look and the type of information that they show.

  • Street maps: Street maps show details of the streets in the area and may include names and other helpful information. They are typically used for road navigation.  
  • Topographic(topo) maps: Topo maps show the terrain of the area you are in. The slope of the terrain is typically shown by the use of contour lines, which connect points of equal elevation. They indicate vegetative cover and bodies of water through the use of color. They may include trails or roads. These are typically used for outdoor activities, such as hiking, backpacking, or canoeing, which take place away from major roads. These are the maps used most by BackCountry Navigator.  
  • Aerial Photography: Aerial photography shows a color or black and white image of land as seen from the sky. In recent times, the photos may actually be taken from a satellite and still have the level of detail that an aerial photograph used. These are useful both for urban and wilderness navigation. In the US at least, these maps are more recent than most topo maps.

Access to Maps 
Another thing to consider for your Android GPS app is when you will have access to maps. If you are always going to be using your Android phone in places with cell coverage, it is sufficient to use online maps. If you plan on using the app away from urban areas, typical in outdoor navigation, you want to use offline maps

  • Online Maps: These are the kind of maps that Android users are most familiar with. The most well known example is Google Maps. Google Maps gets map data from the internet on a continuous basis while connected. If you do not have an activate data connection, either because you haven't paid for one, or you are outside of coverage, you typically won't see any maps. 
  • Offline Maps: While they might be created with a desktop tool, the source for offline maps is usually the internet as well. BackCountry Navigator will allow you to specify a region, and then download map data for offline use. Offline maps are then available when you are outside internet service. While there is some preparation involved, offline maps are more typically used in outdoor recreation.

Style of Navigation
There are several styles of navigation you may see in an Android GPS App.

  • Turn by Turn Directions: This is the navigation style typically used for road map apps. This will give you a set of instructions including what road to follow and where to turn.  
  • Waypoints: For outdoor navigation, it is common to find your way by knowing your distance and bearing to known locations. 
  • Following a track: A track may be a trail, or simply a route that someone  has recorded in the past. These can be represented as a jagged, colored line on a map, and one can see their position relative to the line. For outdoor navigation, this can substitute for following a road.

An Android GPS App can be chosen for your favorite activity by keeping these things in mind. Have fun with your Android GPS and be safe.  



Android as a GPS on the Pacific Crest Trail

Greetings to all Pacific Crest Trail Hikers! I know some of you will be hiking the Pacific Crest trail this year with the help of the GPS in your Android Phone. Here are some tips for Android users.

DO NOT FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THIS PAGE. For 2012 and later, refer to this HelpDesk Article for the files:

BackCountry Navigator, an Android GPS App, can import waypoints and tracks in GPX format. Nonetheless, HalfMile has done this work for you, and you have a trip database ready for download. Note: to learn about the waypoints that HalfMile has prepared for the PCT, go to PCT Maps.  

These instructions assume you have a utility to unzip files (they are built in to some versions of windows), and that you are doing this from your desktop PC with the storage card mounted. If things look slightly different on your system, try not to panic. 

First download the trip database from here:

Waypoints and Tracks for Pacific Crest Trail.

This link is to a single file called This file should be extracted and placed on the storage card under /bcnav/data. Here my storage card is mounted by the desktop and I show the location of the trip database:

Waypoints and Tracks for the Pacific Crest Trail for Android 
This step alone is extremely helpful. This is a single database that contains all of HalfMiles waypoints and trail tracks for the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

BackCountry Navigator is also able to download Topo Maps for offline use along the trail. Getting the map data along the data. However, to save time for everyone and bandwidth for, I've gotten a copy of the download made by Jim Bravo. This is close to 400 megabytes in a zip file. Bravo to Jim Bravo, who was nice enough to send me this on a CD. 

Topo Maps for the entire Pacific Crest Trail: No longer available. Please refer to the link at the top of this page.

 These tiles should be unzipped so that the mytopo folder is under /bcnav/tiles on the storage card. 

Find the folder inside the zip folder and drag or copy and paste it into the /bcnav/tiles directory on the storage card. 

If you see a message like this, say YES. 

Merging Pacific Crest Trail files.

It will then start copying, but keep in mind more messages may still appear. 

Copying Pacific Crest Trail files.

If you see this, say YES and check do this for all current items.   

Merge wiht current folders.

If you get a message that some files exist, you don't have to overwrite them. This is common only if you've used BCN before this point.

For this message, choose 'Don't Copy'.  and enable it for the next however many conflicts. 

Don't copy.

This file structure is not intended to be human readable. Do not waste any time poking around to try to figure out which files are for Oregon, Washington, or California. It will only make your brain explode. 

NOTE: If a buddy already has data, you can copy the entire bcnav directory from his storage card to yours, and start with the same data set. 

Warning: the topo map itself is based on USGS data, and thus the dashed lines on it will sometimes represent outdated or fictitious trails. You don't need to worry about that, because the colored lines from Halfmile's data will guide you accurately.

When you first start the app, you may have to choose a Map Source. Choose under US and Canada section. 

You then want to make sure that you load the trip database that you placed there.

Waypoints database for Android GPS

Choose pct_2011 (assuming it is still 2011 when you read this page). 

Choosing Pacific Crest Trail Waypoints database.

You now have access to waypoints and trail data for the entire length of the trail. To get started, you might want to center the map somewhere meaningful. Using the screen switcher in the top right, switch to the 'nearest waypoints' view. It looks like clipboard, but don't worry, it won't give you a todo list. 

Multiple views for offline navigation. Nearest waypoints in Android

Choose a waypoint that is near your starting point. If you start typing a name in the waypoint list search box, it will narrow down the list. By typing in 'mex' on the line I was able to find the southern terminus on the Mexico border. You can then press and hold and choose Center…

Centering on a waypoint in Android

You are now centered on the Mexican border. If the display looks a little busy, zoom in and take a look at the first few miles.

Waypoints on the Pacific Crest Trail on AndroidBeginning of Pacific Crest Trail on Android Phone
With the right preparation, you can effectively use your Android GPS as a navigational aid on the Pacific Crest Trail. Happy hiking! 


Android GPS App for hiking (video)

A new video promotes the benefits of using an Android GPS App in hiking. With the right app, an Android phone can be used as effectively as a dedicated hiking gps. 

Many people have now effectively used their Android GPS in hiking. This is accomplished through the use of offline topo maps and aerial photography. A skilled hiker can use the Android GPS to navigate, along with the electronic compass in an Android phone.

HIking doesn't always take place near an urban center where cell coverage is plentiful. It is helpful to use the Android GPS and an app that can still show maps without a data connection. Though many have used the Google MyTracks app, because it is dependent on Google Maps, it will not show any maps where you do not have an active internet connection. For navigation, it is better to use an app, like BackCountry Navigator, that allows you to download maps in advance.
GPS navigation for hiking often differs from navigation for driving or other activities. In open space, you want to navigate towards waypoints and know your position relative to points of interest. Topographic maps also allow you to see the terrain around you, and your position on that map shows your location relative to trail and terrain features.

Have you used BackCountry Navigator as an Android GPS app in hiking? Please comment below.   


Outdoor GPS vs Android (video included)

Many Android users have conclusively proven that Android can be used effectively as an outdoor GPS, substituting for an expensive handheld outdoor GPS from Garmin.

This is especially worth looking at given a new video about the threat to Garmin outdoor GPS from Android GPS apps.

Since the GPS in an Android can use satellites even without cell coverage, it can be used in remote backcountry areas. It is suggested you use apps like BackCountry Navigator that store maps for future use. 

If using your Android phone (or tablet) as an outdoor GPS in wet areas, some waterpoof protection is desired. Also, according to reports, spare smartphone batteries are becoming cheap, and are handy to take with you. 

What is your experience using an Android GPS App and can it substitute for a Garmin outdoor GPS?


The Android GPS

The Android GPS in phones enables apps to get location and navigate. With the right apps, it can replace a handheld outdoor GPS. Here are some things to keep in mind about the Android GPS and its capabilities. 

Because they contain a GPS, Android smartphones have already become popular in street navigation where cell service is readily available.  They can also be used in an outdoor recreation setting, where a handheld GPS has traditionally been used. If you want to use your Android GPS in an outdoor setting, keep these points in mind: 

Android Apps can get a location with the help of cell towers
If you look at the location settings of an Android phone, you will often see two different kinds of locations mentioned.  One is called the network location. This is found using cell towers or wifi hot spots. It is only a rough location.
The other is the GPS satellite location which is what you need for navigation.  
Android phones, like many smartphones, also use Assisted GPS (aGPS). This allows them to compute satellite position using the network and get the location faster. 
The Android GPS can also get a location without cell towers. 
It is common to think that a cell phone can't get a location without cell service. In fact, if you ask the average employee of your cell service provider if you can use the phone's GPS without cell service, they will say no. It is often beyond their comprehension that anyone would want to, plus they want to sell you software that uses an expensive data plan. 
An Android phone has a real GPS chip in it, which can get the location from GPS satellites. 

Getting a first location in the backcountry (a first fix) requires patience.  
If you've used your Android GPS in urban areas, you may have to adjust to how long it takes to get your location the first time in the backcountry. Instead of ten seconds, it might be 1-5 minutes. It won't have the benefit of aGPS to get the satellite locations faster. Don't worry. The next time you start your GPS, it will probably take less than ten seconds.  

The map source matters when using Android GPS 
If you start Google Maps when you do not have cell coverage, it will say 'This app requires an active data plan'. This is also the case with many of the apps that your phone company wants to sell you. These apps use online maps, which require constant data coverage. 
You want to use an Android GPS app that use offline maps, such as BackCountry Navigator. BackCountry Navigator allows you to download offline topo maps in advance and store them on your storage card.  

The Android GPS needs a view of the sky.  
While this is familiar to those who have used a handheld GPS, it can easily be forgotten when your phone can get a network location through the thickest roofs. When the location comes from satellites, it is best for the phone to be able to see them. 

The Android GPS will use battery life. 
When the GPS is active, it is using battery life. Unless you are using GPS tracking, you can get much more battery life if you deactivate the GPS when not in use. BackCountry Navigator, for example, will let you turn your GPS on and off through a toggle button in the app. You can get many days of outdoor use.

In short, if you keep these facts in mind, Android's GPS can be used as a traditional outdoor GPS device. Have some fun using it in outdoor recreation! 



Who has used a tablet?

Can you post what your experience has been with BackCountry Navigator?

I am particularly interested in any stories from Dell Tablets because I have been talking to someone from Dell (they've been asking for my advice on their tablet strategy 😉  – no, not really). 

One suggestion from the survey was to make the software 'Galaxy Tab Friendly'. I don't know in what way it is unfriendly for Galaxy Tab yet. It looks okay in the emulator. 

I know there also many nonstandard tablets that don't have GPS.