Recording Tracks

in this lesson

You can use the mobile app to record a track as you travel your route. Any track recorded with the mobile app will be automatically saved to your account and can be saved to a specific map. While you record your track, you can display information such as elapsed time, distance and elevation gain. You can also view data about previously recorded tracks such as the elevation profile as well as navigate the track in both forward and reverse directions.

This lesson will cover how to record and manage your tracks using the mobile app. In addition we will also discuss GPS accuracy since we frequently receive questions about this topic from users.

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Remember if you plan to record a mobile track in an area without a data connection, you will need to download base layers for that area ahead of time in order to view your track on a map while you are offline. Please refer to the previous lesson for instructions on how to download base layers for offline use.

How to Record a Mobile Track

You can record a mobile track using the CalTopo mobile app with or without a saved map open. If you wish to save your mobile track to a particular map, it is easiest to have the map open before you start recording your track. The screenshots below show the steps for recording a mobile track with a saved map open. If you did not have a saved map open, the process for recording a mobile track would still be the same.

To begin recording your track, tap the 4 dot location menu in the lower right corner of the map viewer and select Record Track.

The Create Track Recording dialog will appear. By default, the track name will be today’s date. You can change your track name if you wish. If you don’t have a saved map currently open, the track will save to your account only. However if you do have a saved map open (as in the example below), you can use the Save track to drop down menu to set the track to either save to your account only or your account and the map that is currently open. Tap Record Track and the track will begin recording.

Create Track Recording dialog with a saved map currently open

The map viewer will center on your current location which will be indicated by a blue dot and compass arrow. As you move, your previous track will be indicated by an orange and white line. If your track is being saved to the map then your track will appear in the App Tracks folder on the Map Items page while it is recording

As long as you have a data connection, anyone viewing the map will be able to see your track. If you don’t have a data connection, the track will save locally to your mobile device and then automatically sync once a data connection is reestablished.

A Recording dialog will also appear in the bottom of the map viewer with the elapsed distance traveled and time as you move around. Tapping the Recording dialog will bring up a Track Information dialog with the track name, elapsed distance traveled, elevation gain and time as well as options for making changes to or finishing the track.

Tap Edit to open the Edit Track Recording dialog. You can change the track name as well as where the track is saved. Tap Update Track to update the current track with any changes.

Edit Track Recording dialog

Tap Show on Map to toggle the track visibility on and off.

You can toggle track visibility on and off by selecting or deselecting Show on Map

Tap Finish to end the track recording. The Finish Track dialog will open and you can choose to either discard or save the track. If the track is set to save to the map, it will appear on the map and move from the App Tracks folder to the Lines & Polygons folder on the Map Items page.

If the track is only saved to your account, it will disappear from the map viewer and it will not appear in the Lines & Polygons folder on the Map Items page.

Managing Tracks

Whether or not you save them to a specific map, all tracks recorded with the mobile app will be saved to your account in Your Tracks (on the web) or Tracks (on the mobile app). At this time you can’t import gpx tracks from other devices or apps into Your Tracks.

Your Tracks on the Web

To view tracks saved to your account on the web, click on Your Data in the upper right corner of mapviewer and then select the Your Tracks tab.

To view Your Tracks on the web, click on the Your Data button and then select the Your Tracks tab

Click on a track name to open up the Track Details page for that track. An interactive image of the track as seen on the map, the track name, start and end time, total distance, elevation loss and gain and options for exporting the track will be displayed. You will also see an elevation profile along with terrain statistics such as slope angle, land cover and tree cover for the track.

Track Details page for an individual track on the web

To add a track from Your Tracks to a map, you need to export the track from Your Tracks and then import it into the map. At this time there is no way to add a track directly from Your Tracks or the Track Details page to a map.

It is possible to view and add tracks from your account directly to the map using the Your Tracks overlay. You can also set the Your Maps overlay to display tracks that are saved to your maps. For more information on these processes, please see the Overlay Descriptions lesson.

Tracks on the Mobile App

To view tracks saved to your account on the mobile app, tap the three bar main menu and select Tracks.

The Tracks page will open with all your tracks displayed. You can tap the sync arrows icon to sync your tracks with your account and you can tap the Edit link to show, hide, export or share tracks.

Tracks page

The eye icon to the left of each track name indicates whether a track is currently visible in the map viewer.

Tapping the eye icon shows the track in the map viewer. Tracks will appear as an unlabeled orange line. Currently it only shows where a track is on the map; there is no way to add it to the map as a map object or otherwise interact with it.

Visible tracks appear as an unlabeled orange line in the map viewer

The information icon to the right of each track name opens the Track Details page. This page displays the track name, track URL (…), last update and options for changing track visibility, sharing and exporting.

Track Details page for an individual track on the mobile app

Tracks cannot be deleted from your account on the mobile app at this time. You can only delete tracks from your account on the web.

GPS Accuracy

Users often ask about the accuracy of recorded tracks with the mobile app. Some users point to how track length and elevation recorded with the CalTopo mobile app may differ from planned routes or tracks recorded by other GPS devices or apps.

It's important to remember that many factors can influence GPS accuracy, such as satellite geometry, signal blockage or reflection, weather and climate conditions, and the actual design and quality of the GPS receiver in the mobile device itself. In addition, raw GPS data can be messy, and so some programs use techniques to smooth the tracks when recording or importing them, such as applying a smoothing algorithm.

Raw data for a recorded track (red) versus a trail traced using satellite imagery (blue)

At this time, CalTopo does not do any smoothing when recording tracks in its own app. This, along with a huge range of other outside factors, can cause the resulting recorded track to differ from the planned route or recorded routes from other GPS devices or apps.

Although the overall accuracy is still incredibly good, these differences are expected and are a normal part of the experience of using any GPS product. Check out this blog post for a more in depth discussion of GPS accuracy as well as the results of an interesting experiment comparing 4 different devices!

Troubleshooting Recording Tracks

Why do I get straight lines when I record a track?

The CalTopo mobile app uses your mobile device’s GPS to determine where you are when you use any of the app’s location functions, including recording a track. However you may notice straight lines in the track that don’t accurately reflect where you actually travelled, typically after the app has been in the background (such as when the screen is off and the device is in your pocket). You may also see a Recover Track dialog with options for continuing, finishing or discarding the track. Examples of both of these are shown below.

The most common cause for straight lines in recorded tracks is aggressive battery management by your mobile device that restricts background access to the GPS or kills the app when it’s in the background. The straight lines occur because the app wasn’t allowed to access the GPS while the app was backgrounded so the track jumps from the last time the GPS was accessed to your current location, resulting in a straight line.

This can be resolved by ensuring the CalTopo mobile app is allowed to run in the background with continued access to GPS. Battery management settings vary by mobile device although commonly this can be fixed by turning battery optimization and battery saver settings off in your mobile device’s settings for the CalTopo app. Some mobile devices also have system management settings that may affect what an app is allowed to do in the background. Consult your mobile device’s user manual if you are unsure how to change battery and/or system management settings.

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