Category Archives: Tutorials

Descriptions of how to accomplish various tasks with BackCountry Navigator.


List Management

BackCountry Navigator has a grid view of waypoints, places, and tracks you have defined.

Once you’ve acquired a number of places, tracks, and waypoints, by recording and/or importing them, you will want to be able to find them.

The menu item Action->List gives you a number of choices.

  • Nearest Waypoints: The waypoints closest to the GPS Position or center of map screen. Useful for finding the nearest caches to seek.
  • Nearest Places: The closest USGS places. Useful for finding geographic points nearby.
  • Waypoints: All waypoints currently defined in the current datafile.
  • Places: all places defined in the current datafile.
  • Tracks: All tracks that have been saved or imported in the current datafile.  

Choosing one of these menu items will populate the list and shift the view to the list page.

Once in this view, you are able to select an item for further actions.

Four basic actions are available:

  • Edit: loads a dialog to view or edit the item.
  • Delete: delete the item from the datafile.
  • Center: return the view to the map screen, centered on the selected item. For tracks, this centers on the first trackpoint found.
  • Goto: Activates the point as a Goto Waypoint.

Defining Regions to Download

BackCountry Navigator allows you to start a download by defining regions on the map screen and then choosing from topo maps, aerial photography, and urban areas color photography, where available.

While the method of choosing a center point and size still works, you are able to better define an area for download by making selections on the map screen. This is the preferred way to start a download. When doing this, it is helpful to define some points of interest first. 

If you don’t already have known coordinates in order to define some waypoints, the easiest thing to do is add USGS Places through the placefinder. You can reach this by using the Find button on the Data Page.

Here I’m looking for a spot, Paradise Point State Park, WA, that I know is a few miles up the Lewis River. When I select this on the list and choose okay, the place is added to the map. I can repeat the process and find the Lewis River as well.

For ease of use I zoom out until I can see them both, and turn on Labels for Places. I then use the Action-> Select -> Type menu to change the selection type to Rectangles. With a few taps on the screen, i define some overlapping rectangles.

I can then choose Action->Select->Download Maps, which brings up the Download Region dialog.

The maps available are public domain imagery from Terraserver-USA. You can use any valid internet connection to download. The most common are:

  • Data service from your cell phone provider: this is often the most expensive, and slower than other methods, but is available at your
  • Wifi network: This is a higer bandwith connection available form your home network or an internet hot spot.
  • Connection to Internet Connected Computer:  This is common, easy and cheap. Downloading while connected via cradle or cable will use your computer’s internet connection.

The types of maps you can use are:

  • Topo: These are USGS topographical maps equivalent to the paper maps at 1:250K, 1:100K, and 1:24K scales. This imagery is available in virtually all parts of the US up to 4 meters per pixel.
  • Aerial: These are black and white aerial photographs, available in most parts of the US up to 1 meters per pixel.
  • Urban: These are detailed color photography, available in select metro areas in the United States, up to 0.25 meters per pixel.

To see the availability of these image layers, see the coverage map at

You can also choose the level of detail – and how fast you want to use up your storage card with the map data:

  • 4m: Uses approximately 64K per square mile
  • 1m: Uses about 512K per square mile.
  • 1/4m: Uses about 8 Megabytes per square mile, when available.

Once you’ve made your choices and pressed the Start button, the dialog will count up to the number of tiles needed, then show the progress as it downloads them. Each tile uses up approximate 8K in your database file. If an area does not have a certain imagery, such as Urban tiles, then you will see it count back down to zero as shown on the right.


You can now see that you have both topo and aerial imagery downloaded.

If you pan to the edges of the region you defined, you see that it fades from the higher res imagery to the lower res imagery. This is normal and due to the way these tiles overlap in multiresolution views.   



Tracking your Path

Also known as breadcrumbing, tracking is a much requested feature of BackCountry Navigator. As of version 2.0, this feature allows you to mark and save a path, and export it in a GPX file for sharing or viewing. 

To illustrate this feature, we are again making a trek around a neighborhood. When you have a GPS fix, use the GPS-> Track-> On menu item to initiate a track.  You will begin to see a line behind you as you walk around the neighborhood.

Once the track is complete, as in the above right, you can choose Action-> GPS->Track->Save to save it in your map database. Tracks that have been saved will then show up when you load them into the list tab by choosing Action->List->Tracks.   

You can choose one of the saved tracks and edit to choose its display color, name, description.

Any tracks in your current map will be exported along with your waypoints when you export your data in GPX (GPS Exchange Format).

Onced the data is saved to a GPX file, it can be shared with other users or viewed in a variety of desktop software, such as TopoFusion, EasyGPS, or Google Earth.   


Importing GPX Waypoints

BackCountry Navigator imports a variety of waypoint files in the GPX format, allowing you to benefit from GPS waypoints that are freely available on the internet.

Geocaching files are not the only waypoints available on the internet in GPX (GPS Exchange) format. Often you are able to find shared waypoints from people who have been to your destination, marked points, and made helpful notes.

The map below is an area surrounding Celebration Park and Halverson Lake in Southwest Idaho. Initially, it had no waypoints. had a great page with pictures and notes on this area. It also had a GPX file for download. When I imported the file, I then had the waypoints shown on the right.


Each of the waypoints from the file has descriptive notes that let me know what to see along the way.

As of 2.0, you can also bring in any recorded tracks from the GPX file.



Connecting a Windows Mobile GPS

BackCountry Navigator works with Windows Mobile GPS receivers. Many of the modern Windows Mobile Phones have a GPS built in. For others, they can be equipped with a bluetooth GPS Receiver, that adds the GPS capability. Common once, although less common now, are GPS receivers that fit in a compact flash card space. 

For Windows Mobile 5 and above, there is a GPS Control Panel to setup your GPS for all applications to use. Generally accessed from Settings->System->External GPS.

GPS Control Panel Settings.
GPS Control Panel Settings.

If these have already been set up by you or the manufacturer for an internal GPS, don’t touch them. If, however, you have setup a bluetooth GPS, setup the Hardware port as the “Incoming Serial Port” from your bluetooth setup, and set the Program port to an unused port. (yes it is a bit of a guess to find what is unused). 

GPS Control Panel Settings.

The last screen should normally be setup to Manage the GPS Automatically.  Under this setting, BackCountry Navigator will generally find something like “Shared NMEA device on Port …”. 

The GPS Tab has a few ways of finding and connecting to your GPS. You can explicitly specify a port number and baud rate. You can also use the Detect button to search for a list of devices on your system. Connect will also automatically trigger a detection if no settings have been chosen. 

When you push the Connect button, the pretty lights fire up on the little GPS. For a while, though nothing else seems to be happening. The GPS is establishing communications with the satellites. This can take up to two minutes the first time, but is usually faster at subsequent starts.

Once this has been done, satellites come into view in a number of formations. It is not important to know exactly what the colors or numbers mean in this view; it is just to keep you entertained while you get a better fix on your position.

Moving back to the map view, we see that our position is now marked on the map. Since your first practice with a GPS will probably be around your own neighborhood, we’ve chosen a neighborhood here as well.

Since the topo view of this neighborhood is not very interesting I switch to the aerial photograph view and zoom in closer. Now it does look like a neighborhood with a bunch of houses, bordered by a forest and a rock quarry.

Now I would like to navigate to a waypoint, in this case a house up the street. Forget for a moment that you probably already know how to get to another house in your neighborhood. You can tap on a waypoint, place, or arbitrary point and select Point -> Activate. A line appears connecting the GPS point to the point in question.

As I navigate to the destination, I switch to the Nav screen, a view that will be familiar to most people who have used a GPS.

Compass Navigation with Windows Mobile GPS Software

The top of the compass indicates our direction of travel, while the purple arrow indicates the direction of the waypoint. This allows you fine tune your travel toward the point in question.

You can also see at a glance your speed and bearing, and compare that to the direction and distance to your destination.


Defining Custom Waypoints

BackCountry Navigator allows you to define custom waypoints as easily as tapping the screen of your Pocket PC. Once defined, you can add the elevation, custom description, and notes.

Although using a basic GPS can be a lot of fun, the interface to add waypoints often leaves a little to be desired. Entering them using a few buttons can be quite tedious.

With BackCountry Navigator on your Pocket PC, you can add waypoints as easily as you do addresses or appointments.

Let’s suppose we want to mark the marina on the Lewis River where we will be starting our trip. We can mark it with a crosshairs by tapping on the map. Using the menu item Action-> Select -> Mark Waypoint . . . will then bring up the Waypoint dialog.

 Here, we can enter the name and descriptive information. If we are connected to the internet, we can even estimate the elevation by pushing the Estimate! button.

The dialog has retrieved an elevation estimate from the USGS Elevation Web Service, based on the longitude and latitude This is something you’d normally have to estimate from a map or guidebook, or wait and measure with your GPS.

The Waypoint and label now show up on the map.

Here are some addtional things to note about defining Waypoints:

  • If you wish to enter the coordinates for a point, perhaps from a paper map or guidebook, simply change the latitude, longitude, and/or elevation after bringing up the dialog.
  • The elevation estimate is not available in all areas (though it is in most), and is only accurate within 30 meters or so in the horizontal directions.
  • You can later add notes to a waypoint or change the description based on your experience there.



Geocaching with Windows Mobile

Do you have a Windows Mobile Phone or PDA, and want to do some paperless geocaching? Here’s an example of how it is done.

Simply importing your GPX file (pocket query) into BackCountry Navigator will put you well on the way to this high tech treasure hunting adventure. Once you’ve done this, you can:

  • Preload maps of the surrounding area and see all the caches on the map. 
  • Navigate to each cache on your target list. 
  • Read clues and descriptions 

Geocaching is a treasure hunting sport where you find caches that others have hidden at specific geographic coordinates. Your GPS guides you to hidden places where you can swap trinkets and sign logs. To learn more about geocaching, please visit

Once you have a GPX of a single cache or pocket query, you want to put it where BackCountry Navigator can read it. To explore the file system on your Windows Mobile, press the Explore button on ActiveSync. You can then place the GPX file in a directory on your storage card.

Once you’ve done that, it is easy to import the GPX file. Choose the menu item Program->File->Import->GPX. This brings up a file dialog. Here, you find the file that you have previously placed on the storage card.  

Once you’ve imported the file (may take a moment if it is a big one), a good sized cluster of geocaches appear on the map. You can then focus on a particular collection of these caches. In this case, I want to focus on some of these caches for a scout troop orienteering event. I draw some rectangles by using Action->Select->Type->Rectangles and then tapping the screen.  

It’s time to get some free outdoor maps for this area. I choose Action->Select->Download Maps to begin the process. I’m soon downloading maps from

Soon, you are able to see the caches in context of the surrounding terrain, either Topographical maps or Aerial Photography. Color Aerial Photography (Urban Areas) is also available to download in some areas, including this one.

When navigating or planning a trip, its helpful to see what caches are nearby. Selecting Action->List, allows tyou to identify the Nearest Waypoints.


From here you can choose your next cache to find and select the Goto button or menu. BackCountry Navigator will then give you guidance as you get closer to this waypoint.

You can also choose Edit to see the full description of the cache. Note that the cache information is formatted in html as it would be on the geocache web page. This includes logs of people who have recently tried to find the cache and a clue provided by the cache owner.

Does this all sound like fun? Download a trial of BackCountry Navigator today.

Loc files (.loc) can also be imported into BackCountry Navigator. Note that they are waypoint files only and do not contain the caching specific description information you see on this page.

Note that obtaining cache GPX files will require you to sign up for a membership at geocaching,com. It is worthwhile if you plan to get into this exciting sport for GPS users. 


Adding USGS Places Data

You can instantly download geographic places from the USGS database, marking important features on the map at the touch of a button.   

From the Data page, choose Download next to USGS Places Data. An hourglass will momentarily appear as data is downloaded from an internet server. That’s all you need to do. You will then see that the map is now populated with a number of symbols. While some of them are other symbols, many are a small triangle.

Data Tab on BackCountry Navigator

To find out what each of the places are, you can turn on Labels under Places in the View menu. You can also select a point by tapping the screen and selecting the name of the place in the Point menu. A dialog will appear, where we see that this is the historical Indian village of Chathalpotle, encountered by Lewis and Clark.  




Viewing the Map you Created

The software allows you freely zoom and pan around the map you create on your pocket PC device, loading different resolutions based on the scale.  

Varying levels of detail are available for the map you have created. On the left is a good overview of the area I wish to kayak in. I wish to take the Lewis River out to the Columbia, then go up the Lake River to finish up in Ridgefield.  

You can zoom in on a map by pushing the down arrow key on your Pocket PC. On the right, I am getting a better look at the middle portion of the trip. In versions 2.1.7 and later, you can also choose a scale by choosing a notch in the zoom control at the top of the map.

As I zoom in even further, a new level of detail is automatically loaded.

You can use the stylus to center the map on a different area of focus. As I drag the map with the stylus, it appears at first that I’ve reached the very corner of the map.

However, as I release the stylus, the map redraws in a new position.  

Here’s another view of the data. Using the View menu options, you can change the view from Topo to Aerial.

This view tells us more about the island in the picture. The interior is thickly forested, with some sandy beaches on the edges. It is surrounded by shallow water with accumulated sand, something to note if I plan to kayak this area during low tide.

We can zoom back out in the aerial photography.

We note that the area north of the Lewis River is covered by neatly trimmed fields – probably farmland. The better opportunities for wildlife viewing may be on the south side.



Loading Topographic Maps and Aerial Photography

BackCountry Navigator can also load topo maps and aerial photos by a choosing a center point and size. Here we see an example of acquiring maps for a flatwater kayak trip.

Recreation Maps and your Pocket PC

A Pocket PC is a convenient portable device for carrying maps. In conjunction with a GPS, it can also be a good device for mapping your location. BackCountry Navigator takes advantage of these capabilities and allows you to create maps useful for outdoor recreation.  

BackCountry Navigator has a simple and painless process for creating maps on your Pocket PC. It was designed to work autonomously from the Pocket PC whenever you are connected to the internet, whether by WIFI, through modem, or via ActiveSync.  

From the Data screen, you tap the button to download Terraserver data. TerraServer USA is a public compilation of USGS topographic maps and Aerial Photography from the United States. If you are not familiar with them, you can visit them at However, you will not ever have to visit the website to find the data that BackCountry Navigator will load and use.


Here are you are asked to pick a center point and size of region. Note you do not have to pick a particular quarangle, county, and state.  You can pick a rectangle of arbitrary size.

Since you don’t have the longitude and latitude of a favorite place memorized, you use the PlaceFinder dialog to look up a place by name. The PlaceFinder will search a database of USGS place names over the internet for a place named ‘Lewis River’ in the state of Washington.  

As usual, there is more than one possible entry returned, but there is information to narrow down the search. In this case, I know that I am looking for a stream, not an airport, and I wish to have the adventure in Clark County, not Skamania County. As I select the first row in the grid, the corresponding coordinates are filled in above.

After defining the size of the region, you request topographic data, aerial photography, or both. Each of the map layers are downloaded from the TerraServer web service.

Once the process is complete, you will have created a very useful map for this area. To see examples of what it will look like on your screen, go to the next section.

Features of BackCountry Navigator Maps:

  • Topography: In contrast to the street maps you’d find in most Pocket PC Mapping software, BackCountry Navigator uses the USGS topographical maps that you’ve used as paper maps in camping and hiking. You can use resolutions of up to 1:4 pixels per meter, equivalent to the most detailed 1:24K paper maps.  
  • Aerial Photography: Also available from USGS data are grayscale aerial photographs of much of the United States. Where available, these maps show detail up to 1:1 pixels per meter, allowing you to see the area and nearby buildings as if from the air.   
  • Free Internet download: You won’t need to buy a subscription service nor buy CD Roms for every state and region you plan to visit. The program uses data that is publicly available. No need to pay any more once you’ve purchased the software.  
  • No need to calculate your own: Coming up with your own maps based on images from scanned paper maps elsewhere requires a tedious editing and calibration process. There is no need for that in BackCountry Navigator.  
  • No Desktop Software Needed: Most software programs require interaction with the desktop in order to prepare maps for the Pocket PC. Maps are downloaded and edited on the desktop and then copied. In BackCountry Navigator, the maps are downloaded to your Pocket PC.