GPS Orienteering How to...
Important Safety Precautions: You are responsible for assessing risks and managing your safety. Ensure that you are properly trained and aware of the risks before embarking on any unsupervised orienteering activity. Always carry a whistle, a communication device, go with a "buddy", and obey all government and local regulations.
Note that maps may be out-of-date and may not have been recently field-checked. New hazards may exist that are not shown on the map. If you have any concerns about the safety of an area, please let us know and do not go out on the course or map.
What is GPS orienteering?
GPS orienteering is similar to running a regular foot orienteering course, except that there are no physical controls or flags set out on the course. You navigate to each control in order just like on a regular map, except that your phone will use your GPS location to let you know when you have successfully arrived at the control. You won't see any actual flags or need to punch any controls (except on your phone).
GPS orienteering is great for training, because you can do the course on your own without having to put out control flags. You can either print out the map, or use the map in the phone (which those of us with bad eyesight prefer because you can zoom in on the digital map).
GPS Orienteering will challenge your navigation skills (especially in forest or dense brush), because you won't be able to see any control flags from a distance. But it's super fun when you make it to the right place your phone rewards you with a loud beep.
How do I do GPS orienteering?
We've tested several GPS orienteering apps, but the only one we found that we currently recommend is called "GPS Orienteering Run" (this is the free version for using maps created with the paid GPS Orienteering app from HippsomApp.se . The full app costs ~$6/family). If you have an Android phone, you can follow the steps below to download the software and maps and try out a local GPS orienteering course. The developer hopes to release an iPhone version in Fall 2020*.
In GPS orienteering, you download the app, a map, and a course that we have created to your Android Smartphone. You then go to the start location on the course and the app will tell you when it detects you are within about 5-10m of the start location. Once you start, the software keeps track of your time and GPS track and will let you know when you arrive at the next control location. Normally, the GPS will automatically "punch" the control on your phone. Sometimes GPS can't calculate your position properly, but you can always manually "punch" the control on your phone if you are sure you are at the correct location. We have found that the GPS is usually accurate within 10m and that most of our manual punches were due to actually being in the wrong location when we looked at our GPS track at the end of the course.
You don't need to have cellular data/wifi enabled, but you do need to have GPS/location services turned on and an Android phone to use the software and courses below.
* iPhone or Android users could also create their own courses using a different app called MapRunF. Some clubs such as GVOC use MapRunF, but FWOC has no plans to create courses using MapRunF and prefers the ease of course creation and other capabilities of the GPS Orienteering app even though it is Android-only at this time. If you do create local courses with MapRunF, let us know and we will be happy to share the information.
Install the App on a Android Phone
Optional but highly recommended to improve your GPS tracking accuracy and speed:
i) Install and Open the free small Android app GPS Status & Toolbox by EclipSim from Google Play Store.
ii) Accept the terms and conditions, and click "Allow" when asked to give permission to access this device's location.
iii) If the GPS is working correctly, you should soon see numbered dots representing the GPS satellites.
iv) You don't need to go into this app, it will run in the background and download a small file with satellite locations once per day, which will help your phone locate itself using GPS more quickly.
Install the free small Android app GPS Orienteering Run by HippsomApp from Google Play Store. Or purchase the full paid version (about $6 per family) if you want to create your own courses, export courses for printing, or display your GPS track and splits using a Quickroute-style colour coded track showing your relative speed or RouteGadget-style mass start rerun comparisons.
Open GPS Orienteering and enter your First Name and Last Initial (e.g. Tim M) so that other participants can compare their results with you.
Select "Settings" from the menu in the upper right corner and enter our recommended settings below or try out different settings.
Set "Log interval" to 5 seconds. Using a smaller number might cause lags in recording a punch.
Set punching distance to 10m to record punches automatically if GPS detects you are within 10m. You can try higher and lower values, but we have found that GPS accuracy might not be good enough most times for a number lower than 10m.
Select the checkboxes for "Keep display on", and "Vibrate".
Go back to the main screen.
Downloading a Course in GPS Orienteering/Run app
Note: Internet access is only required to download the course and map to your phone.
Open the GPS Orienteering Run app (or the paid version).
Select the Courses tab and press the + button to download a course.
Enter the 8 character course code from our GPS Course List. You will not be able to enter upper case characters, so use all lower-case letters or numbers (e.g. 0 is a zero, not a letter 'o').
After downloading a course, if you don't see it in the courses tab, close and restart the GPS orienteering app.
Tap on the course to open it and select "Yes" if prompted to download the map.
Optional: if you don't see the course map, select "Download map" from the menu in the upper right corner and enter the map code after clicking the "GPS Maps tab" on the GPS Course List.
Pinch and drag to zoom in/out and figure out how you will get to the start triangle.
Optional: if a link to a printable map is available in the GPS Course List, you can print out the course beforehand. You can also export course maps to .jpg files for printing using the paid version of GPS Orienteering app (about $6). We have not tried that yet.
Tip: you may want to limit yourself to courses with printed maps if you have trouble viewing your phone display at maximum brightness and it is sunny out. In our testing, we haven't had a problem and we like being able to zoom in on the digital map. But if you want to be able to navigate really fast at competition speeds, you will most likely want a printed map.
Tip: to delete a course you no longer want, tap and hold on the course and select "Yes".
Navigating a GPS Orienteering Course
After completing the previous steps, bring your Smartphone, safety whistle, a friend, and an optional compass and printed map (if available) to the start triangle for the course you downloaded. Please remember to follow all health and safety precautions and regulations noted at the top of this page and on the Foothills Orienteering safety in orienteering pages.
Tip: to get the highest location accuracy, you should leave your Wifi and Bluetooth turned on and the GPS Mode set to High Accuracy in Android Settings. If you are in Nose Hill far from any Wifi or Bluetooth devices, you can turn these off and possibly save some battery life. We never run with our Cellular Data turned on, so we don't know how much the app uses (if any) if data is turned on.
Once you are near the start triangle (but 20m or more away from it), select "Run the course" from the menu in the upper right corner of GPS Orienteering.
Tap "Map" to display the map and pinch and drag to zoom in/out on the start triangle.
Tip: if you want to "cheat" and see where you are on the map and at any time, select "Orienteering support" from the menu in the upper right. Select the checkboxes and click ok. Turn this back off by unchecking "Use Orienteering support" from the menu.
Start the course when you are ready. Once you are near the start triangle location, your phone will beep and/or vibrate and you should proceed to the next control location. Or if you have disabled auto-start in the settings, just click on the start control.
Once your are in the correct location for the next control, your phone will beep and/or vibrate. Your notification on your phone will indicate the last control punched (e.g. "Last punch: 1" means you should be going to Control 2). The digital map will show an "X" through every control circle that you have punched (whether manually punched or automatically punched by GPS).
If your GPS doesn't automatically punch a control when you think you are in the right location, this is because the GPS thinks you are not in the right location. Sometimes GPS can be inaccurate, so if you are sure you are in the right location but GPS is wrong, you can "manually punch" the control by clicking the orange and white control flag symbol in GPS Orienteering.
Tip: even with the free GPS Status & Toolbox app installed, GPS accuracy can be 5-15m (unless the map was poorly georeferenced or the GPS satellites are obstructed by nearby buildings or overhead trees. But a lot of the time when we decided to manual punch, it was because we had actually made a navigation error (such as parallel features) which was obvious from our GPS track which can be displayed at the end of the course. If you want to double-check your location before resorting to a manual punch, you can briefly turn on "Orienteering support" and show your GPS location using the instructions in the tip after Step 3 above.
Once you are finished your course, please click on your results to view your splits and upload them when prompted so that we can assess the level of interest in our GPS courses. You can also download results from other participants and examine various tables for splits and other data. Some of the features such as viewing your track on the map using QuickRoute-style colour-coding to show your pace require the paid version the GPS Orienteering app. It is about $6 per family and adds some fun features including ability to create your own GPS orienteering courses. You can also compare uploaded results and splits by entering the Course Code in GPSoLobby.com
Note: it is possible in GPS orienteering to record a punch even if you are not in the correct control location (e.g. on the other side of an uncrossable fence or while sitting in a cafe). To play fair, you should still go to the correct location even if a punch was recorded!