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I'm looking for suggestions for an app I could use in the Dolomites that would be good for tracking my position on both via ferrata and normal hiking routes.

I would hope that the app has good quality maps that can be panned around, and maybe zoomed in and out of.

I intend to buy some Tabacco (paper) maps. I will draw the routes on these beforehand but I would like the security of being able to follow my position with GPS so I can check if I am on track.

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  • Are the Via Ferrata you plan actually feasibly mappable in the horizontal plane? I'm asking because I have been on ones in Switzerland that look more like big wall climbing, and in a traditional top-down map the route would be an unidentifiable squiggle, backing over itself tons of times. --> In such a case you might have to revert to maps similar to climbing routes, i.e. showing side/front views or photos of the mountainside.
    – fgysin
    Jul 5, 2022 at 7:50
  • Just a general comment, if you are counting on GPS to navigate, have a backup that can at least give you GPS coordinates(Watch, phone etc) . Or at least have a compass and the knowledge to shoot bearings+map nav. Jul 5, 2022 at 20:18
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    I would like to question the need for a backup (and to be honest the need for GPS navigation as well). Ferratas in the dolomites are pretty popular and trails are maintained and marked. With any half-decent preparation you will be able to just follow the trail. Getting off-track will require some deliberate effort for those ferratas. This is not some undeveloped mountain range, this is a very popular and touristy part of the playground of Europe
    – Manziel
    Jul 6, 2022 at 7:58
  • Getting lost on via ferrata would require "extra skills", there is no need for navigation there, you are attached to a metal cable that is laid across whole length of via ferrata.
    – Wiktor
    Jul 18, 2022 at 5:46

4 Answers 4

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OsmAnd is a popular choice for outdoor activities, using OpenStreetMap* (primarily). It works fully offline if you download the maps in advance. The only reason I don't use it is that my bike computer app (IPbike) gives me the same mapping with the addition of the bike-specific information I want.

If you're planning on relying on OpenStreetMap, which is crowd-sourced data, you should spot check it against other sources before you go. It's very good here, but I know there are places with incomplete path coverage, and you should check that paths of interest are displayed.

Most outdoor navigation apps, including both that I mention, will allow plotting both the intended route, and the recorded track, usually via .gpx files.

For outdoor navigation, pan and zoom are both essential.

I recommend testing before you go, in aeroplane mode to simulate lack of signal, to ensure that your mapping is correctly downloaded.


*The reason for "street" in the name is largely historical - it aims to map everything and can be better than official maps for off-road paths in some areas.

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  • Is it possible (when classified) to tell the sac_scale tag for a trail when using offline maps in OSMand?
    – gerrit
    Jul 5, 2022 at 8:29
  • @gerrit it's possible in a technical sense because I know the similar mtb_scale is sometimes mapped. It looks like OpenAndroMaps' Elevate tiles make use of sac_scale; this is the rendering of OSM that I use in IPbike (I like having contours)
    – Chris H
    Jul 5, 2022 at 15:05
  • @gerrit yes it is, you just need to enable it in the profile settings inside OsmAnd. In addition to sac_scale, OsmAnd also shows via ferrata's difficulty (when the tag via_ferrata_scale is available). To understand the meaning of the different rendering styles you can refer to the official documentation.
    – D. Campa
    Aug 20, 2022 at 10:33
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via ferrata and normal hiking routes.

the security of being able to follow my position with GPS

You do not have this security on a via ferrata. A via ferrata may be literally located in a vertical rock face. This has two consequences. Firstly, due to multipath signal reception and other problems, the error in satellite positioning will be enhanced. Secondly, in steep terrain the same horizontal error can be more consequential, as the next trail or via ferrata may be 30 metre away when projected on the geoid, but completely inaccessible in practice. This error may be reduced if you have a dedicated GNSS receiver such as Garmin outdoor devices, which may have better antennae than smartphones, but you still need to be very careful.

Tabacco maps are rubbish (but still better than Kompass). Do yourself a favour and get maps from 4land if they cover your area.

ChrisH mentions Openstreetmap and OSMand. I agree. Openstreetmap is pretty good in popular areas such as the Dolomites. However, be careful! Trail difficulty (SAC scale) may be not classified, not shown, or classified by someone who has a vastly different idea of difficulty than you, so you should be careful to follow a trail on Openstreetmap alone. There are trails on Openstreetmap that you cannot access without mountaineering equipment, and attempting them without proper preparation may be very dangerous.

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  • That's a very good point about GPS error (and horizontal/vertical position error). But hopefully GPS and a decent map will still be useful for making sure you're in the right place before committing to a section.
    – Chris H
    Jul 5, 2022 at 15:13
  • @ChrisH Yes, they can be useful, but assuming they provide the security described is risky. They can also get one into danger if one is not using them smartly and aware of the limitations.
    – gerrit
    Jul 5, 2022 at 17:17
  • yes, and because GPS is so easy to use, the limitations aren't as obvious as with old-fashioned navigation. I sometimes forget how easy it is to be misled, because it's second nature to look for the uncertainty in data given that I do it for a living. And these days only the better/bigger dedicated GPS units can beat phones and even then only in marginal signal areas - miniaturisation has levelled the playing field
    – Chris H
    Jul 6, 2022 at 7:48
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I don't believe what you want is possible. You will not be able to track your progress up any via ferrata, only the horizontal movement could be seen. For this purpose I use OsmAnd which is definitely helpful for hiking tours, once properly configured.

Another good option for looking at the Via Ferrate ahead of time is Fatmap. This works very well for visualizing the mountain ahead of time, as you can pan and zoom very freely.

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On the iPhone/iPad side of things, I use PocketEarth a cheap one-time fee app which, at baseline, shows just roads (based on Open Street Map). For an extra minor fee you can unlock unlimited topo maps, where they are available (I assume they would be in Italy). This would be roughly equivalent in functionality to OsmAnd , I would expect. System is fully standalone once maps are downloaded.

Totally agree it's a good idea to have a large scale paper map to back you up. Enough to point you in the general direction if your phone goes down. As well as minding gerrit's words of caution.

In the iPad world, beware that wifi-only (no cellular) models do not have a real GPS, only assisted GPS which won't work out of rural areas. You don't need a SIM card to use GPS, but you do need to get a model that accepts SIM cards to get the hardware GPS.

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