Using A Smart Phone As Your Bushwalking GPS

Anthony Dunk


With the rise of smart phones, more and more bushwalkers are using a smart phone for bush navigation instead of a dedicated GPS unit. This makes sense since you avoid the cost of buying two devices, plus it’s lighter to just carry one piece of electronics. However, smart phones have their limitations.

Most smart phones are not waterproof, so if you’re hiking in the rain, you need to keep them covered, which makes it tricky to view the screen without exposing the phone to the elements. In addition, the battery life is, at best, only one third that of a handheld GPS unit like an eTrex.

However there are ways around these lim-itations. You can take a spare battery or a USB battery pack to recharge your phone and a waterproof case to protect it. If you’re prepared to take these measures then you can certainly use your smart phone as a GPS substitute, especially on day walks.

My switch from an eTrex to an Android smart phone came a couple of years ago when my eTrex screen got cracked while I was climbing down some rocks. My wife had just given me her old Android phone when she upgraded and I had been interested in writing a smart phone app for quite a while. So, pretty soon I had cobbled together a basic GPS app for my phone and could use that to re-cord waypoints and track logs on my walks.

After many months of refinement I launched the app as “Handy GPS” on the Google Play Store, and it has now had more than 70,000 downloads. I also launched an iPhone ver-sion of the app last year on the App Store. Both free and paid versions are available.



Handy GPS started out as a feature-for-feature replacement for my eTrex, but as I used it on bushwalks and incorporated feedback from users, it has grown into much more than that.

Handy GPS has a basic map mode like the eTrex, which just shows your current location, waypoints, and tracklogs. If you’re within phone range you can also view the same information overlayed on a Google or Apple map, complete with aerial photography as the background. Handy GPS is also able to export recorded data directly to a KML file which you can view later in 3D using Google Earth.

The Android version of the app also allows you to set a session name so that you can take photos directly from the app, associating them by name and time-stamp with the waypoint/tracklog file for a given walk. That way, when you come back to view an old walk later, you know where to find the related photos. You can even choose to geo-tag the photos, so you know exactly where they were taken.

Handy GPS is only one of many, many apps for bushwalkers which are now available. More expensive apps include offline map sets and other similar features, so try a few different apps and see which one best suits your needs.

Anthony Dunk


Anthony Dunk has been a keen bushwalker all his life and is the author of three bushwalking guide books covering parts of the greater Sydney region. He has recently self-published a book on the rock art of the Central Coast of NSW. He also develops bushwalking related software including the Handy GPS app for Android and iPhone.
His web site is