GPS and navigation stuff

Navigation and good mapping is essential for a good time on and off road. Here’s some of the things I use. This is a bit less Jimny specific; I have some Jimny specific tips but a lot of what I say is universal and hopefully will help some people out.

My nav tools

Overlanding: offline mapping via CarPlay/Android Auto

If all you’re doing is some basic touring, you’d be surprised how much detail is saved in Google maps. You will want to have saved offline mapping in your device. I’ve got a bit on the how you do enable this further down this page. I have offline maps saved for basically anywhere I’m likely to go.

I find it’s also easier to have the phone actually in a holder.

Phone in holder. This is one of the benefits to using the RAM mounts in the dashboard – flexibility in mounting things. This will become more apparent with the iPad stuff later.

Driving around daily I don’t do this as mostly I have Waze up and some music playing, but, the additional turn-by-turn heads up display on the phone is a good thing; you can also have a GPS speedo application up as Google Maps doesn’t seem to display GPS speed (annoyingly). The other benefit it’s a good cross-check against the mapping; once you go remote the mapping is never perfect, not least because roads change especially outback Australian roads. It’s also nice to have an easy to find overall distance to go measure, which is more challenging in more specialist mapping packages that don’t necessarily understand routing in the same way Google Maps etc does.

One of the aspects is most more specialist 4wd mapping software doesn’t work with CarPlay and potentially also Android Auto. Presumably due to stuff around the licensing of the mapping itself or terms and conditions of approved mapping applications. That’s fine, one of the things I do even when remote is still have up offline mapping on Google Maps as an additional display.

Mainstay of navigation: HEMA maps via iPad and phone

The biggest benefit here is the array of topographic maps, especially suited to long touring but has some surprising detail on fun tracks etc.

There is a cost to buying these: the one I have is the Hema 4WD application, which is a one-off cost of $99. The mapping quality is excellent, as you expect for the Hema mapping. Additionally they include the 3rd generation 1:250k topographic maps of Australia which can be a better choice in certain areas of the country. The Hema mapping also includes their specific mapping e.g. the Desert Tracks product which is useful for additional info in certain areas.

Another benefit to the Hema mapping system is you can also add waypoints etc. While this can be done on the fly, it’s even better done offline and added in, especially if you want to map out tracks. I do this using Google Earth, some GIS stuff to translate it and then the supported website which works with the Hema 4wd mapping application.

The Hema system also means I have synchronised waypoints and tracks between my phone and my ipad which is great. For short trips I generally just use my phone, but for longer trips I prefer the screen on the iPad. Note that buying the application once means you can use it on all your devices. If you have family sharing then your family members can also use it, too… at least under the Apple family sharing system. No idea about the Google equivalent.

One challenge of using an ipad for navigation is that you need to account for having a GPS in the ipad itself – not all do. I actually use an external bluetooth GPS (a Bad Elf GPS Pro) which I’m really happy with, but it is an added cost.

I chucked some velcro at the back of the GPS and got a 90-degree USB cable to suit the unit and it just sticks nicely up on the factory dash mat.

You’ll need a reliable way to power your devices if you go down the ipad/bluetooth GPS route. For this I have a BatPower CPD2 adapter that goes off the cigarette lighter socket. This gives me a USB-C port that will work even 90W laptops, and two USB-A ports suitable for high power devices. The USB-C port is perfect to power my ipad pro directly via a USB-C cable, and the other USB port can be used to power the GPS.

I have previously used this adapter to even power my macbook on a work trip when using it for GIS work, so it’s a really versatile and highly powerful adapter!

Backup: handheld Garmin GPS with Hema mapping

If you’re doing something serious don’t just rely on a single navigation method. The primary backup method I use is a Garmin handheld GPS, a GPSmap 62s. A huge advantage to this is you can add map overlays from a microSD card. For consistency with other mapping I added the Hema 72k topo mapping product, which can be bought direct from Garmin or via 3rd party resellers.

Plotting and planning routes

Plotting interesting routes from Google Earth

A really useful tool to seek out interesting routes is to grab them from Google Earth. I’ve never seen this documented really well so I’ll try to do it justice here.

Conversion and data cleanup

This is going to seem like overkill but to convert various formats back and forwards, and can do way more than we’ll ever exploit for something like this… but I’ve switched over to doing a lot of my stuff in the open source GIS package QGIS. It works on PCs, Macs and Linux machines and is non-proprietary. Previously I’d used some Garmin software and a few command line tools for conversion but QGIS does bring a lot of useful things together.

QGIS is, however, primarily a bit more powerful than people need. As an example of how to use it for something, here’s a tutorial on converting a KML/KMZ extracted from Google Earth into a GPX file for loading up onto a handheld GPS or also the HEMA 4WD mapping software.

Convert KML to GPX using QGIS

Extract the data from Google Earth

Load the data into QGIS

Export the data as a GPX file

Load onto HEMA mapping or copy to a handheld GPS

Accessing public data repositories

Here’s an interesting reason to get into GIS stuff: you can access modern data repositories. This is something I do regularly to get the latest dieback regions to avoid these areas on a random trip. It’s also good to get, say, the most up to date Aboriginal Heritage places to avoid disturbing culturally significant sites on a trip.

For a practical example of this we’ll look at how to extract the DPAW dieback layer.

Retrieve service endpoint

Add layer in QGIS

Export as GPX

Load into HEMA

Archive of some routes and maps

Another aspect you find with 4wding is a lot of people don’t share routes they’ve created, or they’re locked up behind paywalls or annoying forums as attachments etc. Or, additionally, they’re published as waypoints but in a way that really sucks to paste and get into a GIS or onto a GPS system. Currently I don’t have too many routes saved but this is a little spot where I can put them as GPX and KML files eventually.