I read about the VAST Trail app for the iPhone in the VAST News and have been wondering if anyone has been using it and how well it works. There appears to be multiple uses for it. In its simplest form it is a mobile trail map that can pinpoint your location on the app’s digital VAST trail map using the iPhone’s GPS. More impressively it can track (record bread crumbs of) your route through the VAST trail system resulting in a GPS track you can keep for future reference within the app.
GPS tracking has the advantage of being satellite based so recording your GPS track will be uninterrupted as you travel in and out of cellular range. The creator of the app took full advantage of this feature of your phone and included all the VAST map data for the entire state of Vermont stored within the app right on your phone so you can see your track and your location on the map even whiteout cellular service. You can choose what features are displayed on the map. These include trail labels (including the local club’s phone number), intersection numbers, services (such as gas, food and lodging) as well as the trails themselves.
It is possible that dense forest or a near by steep hillside could block GPS signal to your phone but this usually only occurs for shot periods if at all. GPS tends to use battery power more quickly on your iPhone so an accessory charging port (cigarette lighter) or some form of auxiliary battery for the iPhone may be a requirement. Cold temperatures can detrimentally affect the iPhone’s operation as well as severely reduce battery charge so an inner pocket may be a good idea. Also personal experience has told me how sensitive our electronic gadgets are to moisture. I use a durable case that provides some water resistance but snow blown into the pocket carrying my iPhone rendered the phone’s microphone unusable for the next day. There are several waterproof cases available that would protect the iPhone from snow and I strongly recommend getting one if you take your phone with you snowmobiling. Here are a couple of options: OtterBox and LifeProof.
As you can see there are many sources of failure in navigating by GPS on your snowmobile. Take measures to reduce these failures and always carry a paper map as backup navigation. In my experience, in hiking or skiing with a GPS device, I carry it to track my route and use a paper trail map for navigation but most digital maps don’t include trail markings. With the VAST Trails app you have a huge advantage of the trails being well marked on the map! It seems to me, this makes GPS a lot more useful to VAST snowmobilers. iPhone owners should really consider it.
The more general purpose GPS app I have used for years called MotionX GPS has proven to be quite reliable in not losing the GPS signal though it’s maps do not show VAST or any trails. I am curious if the VAST trail app is reliable in holding the GPS signal and how useful it is. One thing the app appears to be missing is the ability to share, import or export tracks. If you know this feature exists, please correct me. I’ve made a short form you can fill out to provide me with some feedback if you have some experience with the VAST Trails app. Please also share your thoughts about it in the comments of this post so your fellow VAST members can read them. If enough people fill out the form, I’ll write another post with the results. Thanks!
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