Use GPS Apps To Find Your Land

By Matt Valzania

GPS Apps on Your Smartphone/Tablet

Navigation-for-iOSLandCentral is frequently asked two questions: “how do I get to my property?” and “how do I find the corners of my newly purchased piece of property?” Both of these questions can be answered by a GPS (Global Positioning System). When it comes to GPS applications for your smartphone, the market is full of good options. Before deciding on one, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. What do you need the application to do? Will you use it to navigate to the property, but once there not much else or do you need it to hone in on the corners so you can set temporary stakes?
  2. Are you willing to pay for the application giving you more features or would you rather get one of the free ones that may have limited features or built in ads?
  3. What device are you using? Is it an Apple iPhone, an Android, a Windows phone or a Blackberry? You can even use most of these applications on a tablet giving you a better view and easier functionality. For this post we’re going to stick to the iPhone and Android options.

Identifying what you want the application to do is very important. A majority of the applications can be split into two different categories, on-road navigation and off-road/backcountry navigation. No matter what application you wish to use, they can be downloaded from your device’s application marketplace. Apple offers the iTunes App Store, and Androids use the Play Store.

On-Road Navigation Applications

Applications used for on-road navigation are plentiful on both platforms (iPhone and Android) and vary widely from being available for free to costing $50-$100. These apps allow you to enter a destination and receive turn-by-turn instructions from your current location to get where you need to go. Often they will also take into account current road conditions, traffic congestion and tolls, if so desired.

One of the biggest players when it comes to navigation is Google Maps (Apple | Android), available for free on both the iPhone and Android. Google has long been the predominant supplier of mapping and navigation online, so it lends itself well to providing a feature-packed and easy to use navigation application. A nice feature of Google Maps is its ability is to offer turn by turn directions in a natural voice.

One of the big advantages for our customers using Google Maps is that we offer a .kml file. This gives you precise, custom driving directions directly to your property. This is helpful with many vacant properties that do not have county-assigned addresses yet or if the marked roads leading to the property stop short of the property’s boundaries. Even without the .kml file, all you have to enter is a set of coordinates for the property and Google Maps will get you there.

One of the biggest drawbacks to Google Maps is that you must have a data connection when you initially input your destination. This might be possible on the way out to the property; however, if your property is in a remote area, entering your return trip might not be possible. This is because the application lets Google’s mapping server handle the heavy computing and needs to transfer data over the Internet. Once it has done this, your navigation should work fine both in and out of service. But if you leave data service for an extended period of time or take a detour along the way, it won’t be too happy, and you could end up using your paper maps.

To combat this loss of signal, look for an application that offers “offline” use. These applications download the maps to your phone’s memory upon installation so that no matter where you are the application will always be able to use the built-in GPS and navigate you safely. Below is a list of available “offline” use navigation apps each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Review them and see what works best for your needs.

Sygic: GPS & Navigation (Apple | Android)

TomTom (Apple | Android)

Copilot (Apple | Android)

MapFactor: GPS Navigation (Android)


Off-Road Navigation

The second use for a navigation application, and one that we are asked about often, is more for on foot navigation than off-road. An example would be if someone gets to a new property and they want to roughly stake out the corners. You can get the property surveyed, and this would be necessary if you plan to build on it. If the property is more of a recreational or occasional use piece, you can probably get away with using an application on your smartphone or a handheld GPS.

Since we can provide the GPS coordinates for the corners, with the proper application or device, it’s as easy as plugging in each coordinate and letting the application identify your borders. Some of these applications and devices also track your path; this makes them great accessories for hunting, hiking and helping you get back to basecamp or your vehicle.

One thing to note when entering coordinates into a GPS application is that you need to make sure the app is set to use the Degrees Lat Long format. Some applications come preconfigured in the Degrees Minutes Seconds (DMS) format, which is slightly different than the Degree Lat Long format we use. Below are examples of each using the geographic location of our office.

Degrees Lat Long 46.6111167°, 122.5010000°

Degrees Minutes Seconds 46°36’40”, 122°30’03”

If your application or device isn’t able to accept Degrees Lat Long, visit Earth Point for a handy conversion tool.

Tip: to get the degrees symbol (º), hold down the Alt key and type 0186.

Below I have listed some common GPS applications that will allow you to enter coordinates, either singularly or batched, and then guide you to them. Know that the accuracy of these directions is solely dependent on the accuracy of the device you are using. Therefore these should not be used in any legal capacity to mark your property. Each of the applications operates differently, so be sure to familiarize yourself with how they work prior to using them in a remote area.

GPS Essentials (Android)

Maverick (Android)

Locus Map Free – Outdoor GPS (Android)

MotionX (Apple)

GPS Kit – Offline GPS Tracker (Apple)

Common GPS Application Pitfalls

Talking about all these various applications and all the great information they provide must also include some of the drawbacks. The most notable is accuracy. The priorities of the GPS receiver in a smartphone are:

  1. Draw the least amount of power possible (saving battery)
  2. Acquire a fix on your location as quickly as possible
  3. Provide an accurate fix

With these priorities, one might figure that the accuracy would be marginal. Testing by Esri, a leader in GIS technology, found that 90% of the phones they tested came within three meters (3m) of their baseline when in an open area. Unfortunately, if you add trees to the landscape the accuracy drops. Of course this is still not as accurate as a full GPS receiver that a surveyor may use, but it will still give you a good idea of where things are.

Another pitfall to GPS applications is that while your GPS is active and your screen is on, the battery will draw down relatively quickly. If using a navigation application while driving, it is advised to have it connected to a charger. While using the application outside, try to turn off the screen in between uses or while walking to conserve battery usage.

When using any navigation product, know that the program it relies on to figure out directions is only as good as the information in its database; it may not be perfect or totally up to date on roadway changes. Stay alert and make sure you pay attention and don’t miss a tricky off-ramp or go the wrong way down a one-way street. Along with getting to know your GPS, it’s a good habit to get into to review the overall route prior to departing. Get a general idea of the areas you’ll be going through and the major roads you’ll be taking. That way if something happens to your phone on your trip you can still stop and ask for assistance or check an atlas.

Hopefully the above information will help guide you in selecting an application that meets your needs. If you have any questions about mapping, coordinates or anything else feel free to call us and we’ll do our best to assist you with your property exploration.

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