Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Activity trackers and such

I'm always interested in how technology can assist hikers, so I was excited to try out the Strava app. For the past 3 hikes, I turned on my phone, started the application, pressed record, then pressed end when I was back to the trailhead. Surprisingly (to me) it captures data even when there is no cell signal -- I saw this first hand at Dawn Falls. Back home, I emailed my hike's data to myself and then opened a Strava webpage to see the hike on a topo map, as well as the hike's elevation profile and distance.

It's all a great idea, but not implemented successfully, in my eyes. The most compelling plus is very good data collection -- the app worked in heavy tree cover, which is usually a dead zone for all but the strongest GPS units. But there is no option to see your hike on a topo as you are hiking, so if you're in danger of getting lost or just wondering where you are in relation to other trails, Strava will not be helpful. Maps displayed on the Strava webpage are just too small -- I can't zoom in close enough to check the location details. And lastly, although this is a minor point, I am annoyed by Strava's persistent cycling emphasis. If the app is intended for cycling, fine, make it a cycling app, but since the app lets me save my activity as a hike, they might want to acknowledge the hikers could be using the app -- as it is their corporate chatter is heavily bike-weighted. For example I don't really want to challenge my friends to hike my latest hike (as you might want to for a bike ride), but I might want to share it with them.

I have been using the free app -- a premium status is available as well, but it doesn't look that that would address my issues.

Does anyone have an iPhone activity-tracking/gps app they like?


6 comments:

Susan Cheng said...

I use MapMyFitness to track hiking/walking and bike rides. It does include Google Maps, and also does calorie counting and sharing with friends or on Facebook.

Sky King said...

I use Google MyTracks. It has great integration with Google Maps. Less of "steps taken/calories burned", more min/max elevation grade/total distance/total elevation gain/moving time/resting time/elevation graphs and nice maps!

Jane Huber said...

I tried the free version of MapMyFitness and it's fine but doesn't have enough features for hiking. Maybe I need the $ version? Thanks Susan!

Sky King, Google MyTracks is what I now want (thanks!), but they don't have a version for iPhones.

Ben Pease said...

This musing quickly goes off-topic, but Shiz and I have done maps for several bicycling guides - two where the authors used MapMyRide (AKA MapMyFitness), and the other with Ride With GPS. Map my Ride lets you drop in your actual GPS routes, but if your track is lousy, you get a lousy red line that leaps across canyons and over ridges. Ride with GPS is a more robust tool, but relies I think on Google roads (and trails where they exist); it's better for compiling a route tracking segment to segment; not sure if it lets you drop in independent routes. The neat thing about this as an interface is it has not just Google and Satellite views, but USGS quads and Open Street Maps, so it's a lot easier to trace guidebook map from several overlapping, authoritative (if argumentative) base maps. They don't just take the limited three options Google gives as a default. They also seem to have a real development team and discussions on features, workarounds, etc. It's certainly the platform I would lean toward trying if I had a smartphone. Doesn't work on landlines.

One of Shiz's big gripes is the author says "show bridge here" and the Google maps don't show what the bridge crosses - also you can scroll to the ends of the earth and you still won't find a label for the streams you see (even big rivers). The general hazard of all these tools for us guidebook mappers is when the editors say "provide all the scrap on one page" but the devil is in the details (of turns through towns, road names, etc), which drop out at the scale where you can see an entire 40-mile ride. At least when the authors shared their Ride with GPS tracks, we could zoom in and see their actual red line and grab screen shots of the puzzling sections. But the mile markers tend to sit right on top of what we are looking for and they are not transparent.

"Back in the day" (2-10 years ago) authors would give us routes they attempted to draw in TOPO! and generate a profile that followed every stray line - profiles of Huddart Park or San Bruno Mountain or the Old Railroad Grade on Tam with roller-coaster elevation gains/losses, where you KNOW the trails are rock-solid 10% (or 7%) grade from end to end. We smoothed those out. Local knowledge at your service. Better trails online, and better route-following apps, have made this less common but our editors and authors are using a different tool for every guidebook so fast is the world changing.

Another tool, which doesn't to my knowledge track your route, but will put a dot where you are, are the georeferenced maps on The Map Store app. Locally, Tom Harrison's maps are on there, along with GGNRA/NPS maps and regular topo maps.

Ben Pease said...

P.S. As I recall, Map My (Ride) will hit you up with team-building, up your performance emails daily, which isn't quite as off-kilter as the "Compete with your Friends" Strava meme (and probably kills fewer pedestrians) but it's one more stream of too much email, and a turn-off if you're not using it as they envision it. Ride with GPS mercifully does not do this, another star on their forehead.

spinnity said...

I recently hiked with someone using the Nike fitness app on an iPad - we got real time visuals of our hike distance and (I think) elevation