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With the advent of Smart Phones, hiking and travelling are taking on a new dimension. Through websites such as Social Hiking you can Share Your Adventure on the internet in real time. Using your smart phone and a Social Hiking account you can chart your route on a map as you go, and if you tweet or upload a photo or video, this is also recorded on the map too. You are not restricted to hiking, you could also be cycling, motorbiking, driving or travelling over any time scale.

In a nutshell, Social Hiking is a geo-blogging tool designed to let you share your adventures with others live as you are doing them!

How Do You set Up Social Hiking?

In order to make use of Social Hiking you need location data. This can be provided by apps such as ViewRanger or Instamapper. With ViewRanger you can use web maps, but it is also possible to buy OS mapping, which you can view on your device while you are hiking. Instamapper is free and uses Google Maps. If you are going anywhere off road and/or you enjoy looking at detailed maps, then you’ll be wanting the Ordnance Survey mapping!

Share Your Adventure on-line, in real time, with Social Hiking!

Once you have the ViewRanger app you need to send BuddyBeacons from the ViewRanger app on your phone. You can set up each beacon or beacons on a route with a different PIN. This helps to identify a route and, if you do not want to share your position publicly, it can be used so that only people who know the PIN can see your position on the ViewRanger website. BuddyBeacon can be set up to automatically send a beacon periodically and/or you can send a beacon manually. The beacons are sent via your 3G internet connection.

Alternatively you can use GPX track recorded by your GPS, but this would not be charted online in real time.

The best way to find out about setting up Social Hiking is by looking at the video tutorials. I chose to figure it all out myself and it did take a while to set everything up. If you are planning to Share Your Adventure, I would recommend setting up your accounts and your device a few days beforehand when you have plenty of time, rather than leaving it until 5 minutes before you start walking.

A Google map showing waypoints and tweet locations

Waypoints on my walk shown on a Google Map

Sharing My Adventure

A couple of weeks ago I went for a 10 mile walk in Upper Dovedale in the Peak District. Excited about using Social Hiking for the first time, I sent my first BuddyBeacon and a tweet and began to walk. After less than 10 minutes of walking I discovered the flaw in the system. You need a 3G internet connection to send a BuddyBeacon. A predictable problem if you’re stuck in a steep sided valley and/or if you’re far from civilisation, but I was on a high spot not far from Buxton!

According to the ViewRanger website, your BuddyBeacon position is stored with a time stamp and uploaded the next time you have coverage. It is not evident to me whether multiple BuddyBeacon positions can be saved and uploaded, if they can be then this would be a major improvement to ViewRanger. Update: Please see comments below for how to set up ViewRanger to store way points.

About three-quarters of the way through the hike an intermittent 3G connection became available and I was able to participate in a some social hiking: starting with a tweet announcing that I was back online. At major turning points on the walk I manually fired off BuddyBeacons to ensure some accuracy on the route map. I also took a few photos and sent another tweet during the rest of the hike. Screenshots of resulting maps are shown on this page, including one showing the geolocation and text of a tweet. Its good to be able to view your walk on an OS map and also on the Google terrain map! An interactive version of the route can be seen on Social Hiking.

Route waypoints on OS map on Social Hiking

A tweet from my Peak District walk shown on Social Hiking

For uploading photos from my phone I linked Social Hiking to Twitpic, and to Flickr for uploading photos from my camera. With Twitpic it appears that you must upload the photo in real time for it to appear on the social hiking map. With Flickr you can upload your photos any time in the future, but you must set the date and time that the photo was taken in Flickr for it to appear in the correct place on your social hiking map. Initially I set up Social Hiking to import Flickr photos with the tag “Social Hiking”, however for this to work the space must be omitted when setting up the tag on Social Hiking, i.e. the tag should be “socialhiking”.

Should you Share Your Adventure?

Those of us who remember the days before mobile phones were popular, or even before they were invented, may find the idea of “Social Hiking” goes against our mindsets. After all, one of the reasons some people go hiking and camping out in the countryside is to get away from it all. Do we want these reminders of everyday life? I’ve been told off before now for texting and phoning home from Lake District summits. Tweeting and uploading my progress is another connection back to the reality I’m escaping from. Perhaps its nice to be in touch with friends who couldn’t come on the hike or perhaps they should have made the effort to join me on the fells! Whatever your opinion, it is likely that being in constant connection with our friends via the internet will continue to grow in popularity. And through Social Hiking you can also make new friends online whilst out on the fells…

@john386 I’m on the summit of Great Gable
@daveC64 Me too, awesome views across the Lakes
@john386 There are some nasty looking clouds on the horizon.
@daveC64 Hope the weather holds up!
@john386 Which route are your taking off the summit?
@daveC64 Follow me on Social Hiking…

Its also important to remember to watch where you are walking. On many occasion I’ve stumbled whilst admiring the view, when I should have been concentrating on my footing. It goes without saying that accidents could easily occur on the hillside if you’re staring at your phone instead of looking where you are going!

Social Hiking Review Summary

Musings from a Grumpy Old Man and a lack of 3G internet aside, the Social Hiking website has a lot to offer. Although it does take some time to set up, it is relatively simple to get most things working. Once you are out on your adventures Social Hiking adds an extra element of fun! You can track your hike or other journey so friends or family can see where you are and make them jealous! Its good to see the exact locations of tweets, photos and other media are displayed on the route. Your hike elevation profile and any peaks bagged are displayed too. And you can look back on the journey at a later date. For many people, Social Hiking is undoubtedly the future of hiking!

CheapTents: ★★★★½ 

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