Taking the Tracks4Africa Navigation App off-road in Botswana

On a three-week wet season trip to Botswana, Chris Davies suddenly found himself Garmin-less in the Kalahari. The Tracks4Africa Navigator app came to the rescue. Here are some tips for getting the most out of it when you’re in the bush.

Two months ago, my ageing Garmin suddenly died. It was day two of a three-week trip into the Kalahari – so not ideal – though I did have Tracks4Africa’s paper map for Botswana. The question was, did I dare to go old-school?

Wonderful elephant encounter on a seemingly little-used cut line south of Xade Gate.

Then I remembered that I’d installed the Tracks4Africa Overland Navigator app a few weeks before. I’d not planned to make it my main GPS tool, but a quick search turned up Khutse South Gate, which routed without a hitch, and around the campfire that night I began familiarising myself with my new toy.

As someone coming from a Garmin, the app took a little getting used to. There’s no option, for example, to import routes or waypoints from Basecamp (that alone will probably mean that I buy a new Garmin unit at some point). But the app’s search function worked quickly and smoothly and I was able to resave my trip POIs and campsites without any trouble.

From there it was plain sailing – a really useful (and holiday saving!) product. I found that setting things up right made all the difference, so if you’re a first-time user, these tips might help.

The Kalahari is at its most beautiful in the rainy season.

1. Search for and save key locations before you create a route

Creating a new route is very easy in the app, but amending and playing around with multi-stop routes is much quicker with saved locations. Once a location is saved, it’s available with one click from the ‘Saved Locations’ menu. I found tweaking and adjusting routes much quicker once these were set.

2. If you like to record your tracks, set up the track log right away

I always like to keep a track log – both visible as I drive and for mulling over when I’m back home. To enable the log, select Trip Monitor from the main menu and make sure the ‘Save Track Log’ is On. Then, while navigating, click the menu button (those three horizontal lines) on the bottom right, select Useful Information > Trip Monitor > Current Trip and check the box to make the current trip visible on the map. From here you can also split tracks and export them to GPX. This saves the track files to your phone for importing into Basecamp later.

2nd Bridge out of action, and the main track flooded. The T4A Navigator app routed us around no problem.

Also read: How to book campsites in Botswana National Parks

3. Turn on the route progress bar

I found this a very useful tool for seeing an overview of the route at a glance. A handy feature that wasn’t on my old Garmin! The route progress bar can be found under the main menu > Navigation View.

4. A temporary fix for the positional lock

You’ll probably find that when you start scrolling around the map while navigating, the positional lock fails (i.e. your position no longer centres on the map) and you slowly start ‘driving off screen’. At time of writing the T4A developers know about this bug and are working on a fix. In the meantime, I found that closing and reopening the app is the best temporary fix – the route you’re on will automatically reload and the vehicle will remain locked to centre.

Finding a fantastic loop through the wildlife management zone bordering Moremi.

There are a lot of setup options to play with and spending a bit of time definitely pays off. Routing times are accurate, the map scrolling and zooming very smooth, and all the tracks and POIs you’d expect with an up-to-date Tracks4Africa GPS map present.

If pre-planning routes on Basecamp is a key part of your process, then a Garmin unit remains your best bet. But as a point A to B navigator I found the app to be excellent. Combined with a good paper map, it’s undoubtedly the most cost effective navigation tool for off-roading in Africa.

Also read: Smartphone vs GPS for navigation

More Tracks4Africa Navigator app tips and tutorials

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