I was asked by a (hillwalking) colleague in the office the other day about ‘bluetooth tags’. As the chat progressed it became apparent that what they were unsure of was what was the easiest method of confirming their location (eg whilst out walking) and passing that location on to somebody be that for social reasons (eg to meet up half way round a walk) or in case of needing help eg if lost or injured. They thought maybe a bluetooth tag would help …
The colleague isn’t an avid navigator and does most of their walks on easy ground on marked / signposted paths and trails – probably like hundreds of thousands of other walkers in the UK.
I recommended the OS Locate app from Ordnance Survey
I’m not going to get in to the pros and cons of all of the other apps and tools for doing this. Suffice to say that my colleague, plus another colleague in the office (that can map read but had never used the app) found it simple.
I have used (and paid for) probably a dozen different apps over the last 10 years – and i have deleted them all and pay for a pro account with OS Maps. However – the OS Locate app is FREE to download and FREE to use. Whether i am walking for pleasure, guiding a walk, or out on a rescue call-out i use the OS apps.
It came with the very important health warning that you need to have a functioning phone … ergo in my personal opinion a spare power pack and cable for the phone is one of, if not the most important things to pack when going walking. And a Sharpie pen. (* I always also carry the relevant paper map and a compass)
1. Download the app
2. Go for a walk
3. Decide you have a reason to pass your location to somebody …. (be that for social or emergency reasons)
4. If its social reason then open the app – give the app 20 seconds to settle – press the ‘share’ button on the bottom of the screen – select how you want to share your location (eg email / SMS / whatsapp / twitter / facebook etc ….. you can also use this to save a point of interest eg a nice flower you saw or a lovely view by sending the location to your notes or another note-taking app)
5. If its emergency reason then open the app – give the app 20 seconds to settle – write the 2 letters and the numbers on your hand with a Sharpie – then dial 999 and ask for the appropriate emergency service – when you are asked for your location state ‘i am at grid reference SK 3136 8610’ (using the example in the picture above).
In the ‘about’ tab on the app there is some tips and advice for the app ….
If you click on ‘Settings’ in here and move the ‘grid reference format’ to ‘8 figure’ this means that the location you are sending out for yourself is accurate to 10 metres on the ground (eg you are within 10m of that spot) – this is perfect for social and emergency use …
You must remember to state the 2 letters at the beginning of the numbers when you pass your location. If you don’t know the phonetic alphabet then just make up words eg SK would be ‘…. S for Sausages and K for Kettle). The 2 letter pre-fix is really important to locate you in the correct part of the UK.
Perhaps try using the app when you’re next out walking with a friend – you could try both sending and receiving a location and familiarise yourself with how the app works.
Again, this is only a recommendation of one free app – i am not comparing or contrasting it to the others. I’ve used this hundreds of times and it is my preference over the others, and the one i recommend when i’m teaching navigation.
The app has limitations (see below) and is not a substitute for being able to locate yourself using a paper map and compass – and i would always encourage navigation tuition form an instructor to learn this essential hillwalking skill. However, if you are ever involved in an emergency in the hills / mountains then don’t fret about being able to remember how to find your grid reference as the emergency services have a few tools they can use to pinpoint your phone.
A few reminders:
The app (and your phone) are useless if you don’t have a working telephone – carry a spare power pack.
If you have no phone signal the app will still work but you wont be able to message it to anyone …. still record the location (using the Sharpie pen) before going (or sending) someone to seek help
All navigation apps draw extra power from the phone battery – so your phone will die quicker
There is an article from Mountain Rescue England and Wales on how to call for mountain rescue here