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BackCountry Navigator – Offline Topo Maps And Aerial Photos For GPS Navigation



Application Name: BackCountry Navigator

Description: Topographic maps, GPS navigation.

Publisher’s website: BackCountry Navigator

Cost: $9.99; 15-day demo version available

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0  /  8-13-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

BCnav_QR
Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


BackCountry Navigator can download and display maps and aerial photos from a variety of different  sources:

 

  • USGS 1:24K topographic maps, both in their original form and updated/terrain-shaded from MyTopo.com
  • USGS 1-meter color and black & white (DOQQ) aerial photos
  • OpenStreetMap road maps
  • Landsat color satellite imagery (30-meter resolution)
  • Topographic/aerial maps from Italy, Spain, Australia and Canada

If you have a good Internet connection, BackCountry Navigator will download/display maps on the fly. But it also lets you select an area, and then downloads those map tiles for use during times when your unit is offline.
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Figure 1: Here’s the starting screen, with the excellent MyTopo.com US topo maps shown. A good part of the display at the bottom is taken up with demo info that will disappear if you buy the program; but even so, a lot of the maps is obscured by screen info and controls. You can expand the view to a “full-screen”  option from the program menu, but even there, you only gain a bit of space at the top. I’d like to see the option of turning off unwanted controls, or having them only appear if you touch the screen, the way Gaia GPS handles them.The default view is with the GPS off, and the only way to turn it on or off is through the menu button; it would be nice to have a GPS on/off button onscreen. Also, that on-screen green arrow is only there to mark the north direction, not your actual position. The green arrow might be useful if you set the program to have your current direction of movement be up on the screen (where the map rotates to match your orientation), as it will give you a solid North reference. But if you have the map always set so that North is up, as I usually do, it doesn’t really serve any useful function, and obscures part of the map.

The controls at upper-left are for selecting an area of the map for downloading for offline use; I’d prefer to see those accessed from the menu, since you won’t be using those a good part of the time. The blue button at the upper-right moves you to successive screens, like the Compass and Trip Computer screens:

compass

Figure 2: On the Compass screen,the outer dial of the compass can be rotated with your finger to get a bearing, but I don’t understand why there isn’t a simple digital readout that gives you your true compass heading without you having to spin the dial.

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Figure 3: The Trip Computer is nice, though I’m hoping additional options will be added (e.g. time of day, distance traveled).

select

Figure 4: Selecting an area to download offline maps for is straightforward.  Press the “Sculpt Map” button at top right (the map square with the green arrow on it), then click and drag in the map area to select the desired map you want maps downloaded for. Click the map square with the red “X” to de-select the area, and start anew.

download

Figure 5: When you’re ready, click the folder-with red-arrow icon to download the maps; you’ll get this screen that lets you select what kind of maps to download, and what zoom levels. The higher the zoom level, the more detail the map will have.Download times will depend on the zoom level selected (higher zooms mean longer times), the map area (larger is longer), and the responsiveness of the map server. Some servers, like those for standard USGS topo maps and black-and-white aerial photos, tended to hang during the download.

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Figure 6: When the GPS tracking is turned on from the main menu, the controls at upper left change. The red flag lets you record a waypoint at your current location, and brings up a screen that lets you enter waypoint parameters.

waypointscreen

Figure 7:  But while you can change a waypoint position by modifying the coordinates, you can’t create a waypoint at a different location directly on the map screen, a major drawback.

The blue arrow (in Figure 6) brings your current position into the center if you’ve scrolled the map to a different location; the red button starts recording a track, and the blue button that appears during track recording turns it off again. In order to record any data, you have to have started a new trip file, or loaded a previous one, from the Menu => GPS Data options. There are instructions on the website on how to transfer a GPX file to your Android unit, and import that data into a trip file, but I was unsuccessful when I tried this – the import would just hang. And, as of yet, you can’t export data from this program into either GPX or KML format for use with other programs, which is a big minus.

Here are some examples of other maps available for viewing and download with this program:

US aerial Italian topo Canadian topo Australian aerial/road

Other Issues:

The biggest problem I ran into with this program was that it crashed pretty much every time I used it out in the field, invoking the “Force Close” error message. This is a big problem if you’re recording a track or other data, as you lose everything you’ve recorded up to that point. These problems can often be unit-specific, so you might have better luck with yours. There also doesn’t seem to be a way currently to delete saved files to free up space; one you download a map file for offline use, you’re stuck with it taking up space even if you don’t need it anymore. I’d also like to see alternate coordinate systems/datums as an option, specifically UTM, since it’s often used in mapping.

Final Thoughts:

There’s a lot of useful features in this program I really like, like the US color aerial photos, and the topo/photo data from other countries. But at least on my phone (Droid X), the regular crashing of the program renders it unusable; you should check it thoroughly on your system with the 15-day demo to make sure it doesn’t do the same. And the current inability to export tracks and waypoints collected with this program is a major drawback. From the publisher’s website, it’s clear that he’s working on adding more features and fixing bugs, and I’m sure this program will become better with time; I expect to revisit it in a few months to see how it has progressed, and may change my opinion of it. But for now, I can’t recommend it, especially at the current price; I’d recommend Topo Maps/Gaia GPS as a better and cheaper alternative for those in the US who only need topographic maps.


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4 Responses to “BackCountry Navigator – Offline Topo Maps And Aerial Photos For GPS Navigation”


  1. 1 Tepich

    For offline maps usage you can try TrekBuddy for Android or Orux Maps together with MOBAC (Mobile Atlas Creator). MOBAC contains number of map sources for download incl. US Topo as well as number of European country specific map sources.

  2. 2 leszekp

    Thanks for your comment. TrekBuddy and Orux Maps are on the list for future posts, along with about a dozen more. Use of Google Maps data created using Mobac does fall into a gray legal area under the Google TOS; applications that cache data directly on the Android unit may not have those issues.

  3. 3 Nathan

    Have you talked to the developer about the crashes? Some crashes have been fixed. And it can export to GPX and mark waypoints from the screen, so you may have an older version.

    Good review and ideas.

  4. 4 leszekp

    It’s always a problem reviewing a program that’s currently under constant revision. I’ll revisit BackCountry Navigator (and Topo Maps) in a few months to see how they’ve shaped up.