Wednesday, 24 February 2021

ViewRanger: thoughts, memories, the future

On the GR5 Through the Alps, 2018

ViewRanger, the navigation and mapping app, is changing. In fact eventually the name will disappear as it's integrated into another app, Outdooractive. Recently I asked ViewRanger about the changes and wrote a piece on this for The Great Outdoors online. This elicited a large response. Many people obviously like ViewRanger and don't like the idea of it changing. 

On the Pacific Northwest Trail, 2010

Thinking about ViewRanger I realised that the app has accompanied me on every walk, long or short, for over a decade. No piece of physical equipment has done that. ViewRanger has been on several different phones in that time and has helped me navigate on the Pacific Northwest Trail and the GR5 Through the Alps, and in the High Sierra, Death Valley and, every month, the Scottish Highlands. Sometimes it's made navigation far easier than it would have been with just map and compass. Finding the hidden start of a faint trail in dense forest on the Pacific Northwest Trail, keeping me on the right ridge during a long descent through another forest into Death Valley, crossing the Cairngorm Plateau in a white-out.

ViewRanger in 2009

Having tried ViewRanger for the first time in 2009 I was impressed enough to use it on the Pacific Northwest Trail the next year. Indeed, I bought my first smartphone in order that I could do so. (I was loaned the one for the 2009 trial). After that smartphones came and went but ViewRanger remained. It did just what I wanted it to and it did it reliably.

Death Valley, 2016

Will Outdooractive be as useful and reliable? I hope so but I don't know yet. It's a much bigger app with far more features, most of which I probably won't want. As long as I can ignore them I won't mind that, just as I don't mind the ones that have been added to ViewRanger and which I've never used. My ideal navigation app has good mapping (OS/Harveys in the UK, equivalents elsewhere), gives your position fast and accurately, and can record or follow routes. That's it.

The ViewRanger app will be around for at least a year but it will disappear. I'll be sorry to see it go. It's been part of my outdoor life.


  1. As with Gaia GPS's recent buyout, I get concerned when smaller companies join a larger corporate culture. Perhaps things are different "across the pond" vs. the US when it comes to software companies. But having worked in technology for a large part of my life, I always see once nimble software getting feature bloat. Or even no longer working for the initial core audience as the new owners try to make the software more applicable to a broader audience.

    Fingers crossed that's not the case with these two stalwarts of electronic navigation.

  2. I'm also wary, 'progress' isn't always beneficial. I'll wait and see, but in the meantime I'll keep my eyes open for an alternative- just in case.

  3. judging by the comments on the OutdoorActive app page from those who have thus far moved over from ViewRanger the future does not bode well. It does not seem to be merely a learning curve of using new software but the fact that many users are stating that the basic functionality is not up to standard with some users calling it potentially dangerous for those who rely upon it when navigating. It is true that accompanying paper maps have always been the best bet and this would be essential with OutdoorActive. The app appears to be no more than an alpha or beta release and does not deserve to be marketed as a working app, let alone having to subscribe to it. Until things improve I will not bite the bullet and switch from ViewRanger which I have been using for some 5 years+. At least the remnants of ViewRanger is still reliable and offers decent offline maps based on Openstreetmap. In the meantime I am weighing up the options of other apps. I dont think anything will come close to ViewRanger, but most are going to be a lot better than OutdoorActive when it comes to reliability judging by the comments that keep flooding in each day

  4. I hardly ever used VR as I found it too awkward and non intuitive and didn’t like buying tiles when suddenly in a new place with no download ability.

    I’ve been transferred somehow to OA and so far have only used it for tracking abs only for that l so far, I really like it and find it very user friendly! Maybe it’s because I’m not having to unlearn VR ? apart from Endomondo OA is my first mapping app - I have done any route planning and I haven’t tested it alongside a real map to see how accurate the positioning is

  5. I think we all know how this is going to go... Outdooractive looks like a business trying to monetise walks information and travel guide content. I very much doubt they have a business plan that involves building serious navigation tools for people who spend a lot of time in the mountains.

    Alpinequest and Gaia GPS look like the best alternatives, but getting OS maps on them seems problematic.

  6. I downloaded the Outdoor Active app (and was offered a year's Pro+subscription free, although I don't have a View Ranger subscription, preferring to buy maps). I found that I couldn't get location information in the form of a British OS Grid Reference, only as latitude/longitude, UTM or What3Words. I contacted Outdoor Active and after some initial confusion learnt that OS Grid References are supported on the web version, but not yet on the app; however I was told that this should be rolled out "soon" which I hope is true, as otherwise I don't think it's much use in the UK. Apart from that, I haven't found it as easy to use as View Ranger and downloading to the device seems more cumbersome. Perhaps I'll get better with practice. They were very quick to respond to my request, friendly and helpful.