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Collecting the Dots

Mapping trails for a living requires a fair amount of time in front of a computer screen. On the other hand, it also gets me out on my bike to ride some of the trails I map. It sounds great, but these rides require an approach that not everyone enjoys. I stop to collect data at trailheads, intersections, scenic views, singletrack and roads — there's a lot of information to gather if your goal is to produce a high-quality map.

I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger when I'm ground-truthing a new trail map but it's still a lot of fun. The process requires  stopping and starting, cross referencing existing maps and taking copious notes. On the bike, off the bike; sometimes I might pedal a mere 50 feet before I encounter the next item for inventory. This effort is critical to the person who views the resulting map — they are about to jump into an adventure and they're counting on accurate information.

Call me old school, but I double-check as much existing map data as I can. I believe it’s better to have more information to distill than less when I get back to the office. In addition to my usual kit of printed map, GPS unit and notebook, I’ve recently added a smart phone to the mix. I’ve been working my way through a number of mapping apps, trying to figure out which one gives me the most useful amount of data without killing my battery. It’s been an interesting, somewhat overwhelming process.

That leads me to the point of this blog.

I want to know from you all…what is the best, most popular, most useful apps that IMBA supporters run on your smart phones? How accurate can you be? Can you capture photos? Can you plug in trailheads, intersections and your favorite viewpoint or landmark from your ride?

Someday (probably sooner than you think) IMBA will start asking our supporters to help us gather map-based data. We plan on building a digital fabric of singletrack across the country and, eventually, throughout the world. The possibilities are exciting, but it all hinges on collecting solid information.

So, what's your favorite smart phone mapping app? Post in this blog's comments field if you like, or send an e-mail to info AT imba DOT com with "map apps" in the subject line.

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iPhone Mapping Apps

I've tried several apps for the iPhone, including Garmin Fit (which is free), iMapMyRide (which has a free version), and MotionX GPS ($2.99).

However, GIS Kit seems to be the most powerful mapping app I've found for the iPhone. It costs $199 but has a lot of useful features such as layering, feature classification, photos, and the ability to add attributes to the trail features such as descriptions, trail surface, difficulty levels, and a relatively user-friendly interface. GIS Kit also has the ability to filter out points based on distance and accuracy levels when using the app to record tracks. You can export projects in .kmz or .gpx format, although .kmz exports seem to maintain all the data better than .gpx exports.

mapping app

Sports-Tracker on my Droid 3 SHARE WITH THE WORLD!