OpenStreetMap – Great detailed maps and GPS navigation app
October 29, 2023
Table of contents
This article will tell you how to install and use OpenStreetMap.
OpenStreetMap is a freely available map actively developed by the community.
Thanks to the large number of contributors, OpenStreetMap maps are up-to-date and more detailed than, for example, Google Maps. At least this is true for small roads and paths (trails) that may be of interest to athletes (cycling, trekking, hiking).
OpenStreetMap is used by some navigation applications.
Even without registration, you can use the OpenStreetMap website and application to:
1. Building routes and GPS navigation
2. Search for objects and view detailed maps
3. Determine your location on the map using GPS
4. Switch between multiple available map layers
5. Share a link to a geographic location
6. Get information about a geographic object
7. View other users' notes on geographic locations or write your own message.
OpenStreetMap does not have a mobile app. At first glance, this may seem a little unusual in this day and age. But the explanation is simple: OpenStreetMap works great in any web browser, including a mobile phone.
On your phone, you can create a shortcut to https://openstreetmap.org/ and launch it as if you were launching an application. But you can even install OpenStreetMap as an application – even though you won't find OpenStreetMap installation files on Google Play.
To install OpenStreetMap you need to do the following:
1. Open the website https://openstreetmap.org/ in your web browser
2. Go to your web browser settings by clicking on the button with three vertical dots.
3. In the menu that opens, select “Install app”.
4. Confirm the installation of OpenStreetMap.
You will see a message indicating that OpenStreetMap is being installed.
A similar notification will appear in the notification shade.
5. Wait for the installation to complete. An OpenStreetMap shortcut will appear in the list of applications.
6. If desired, you can add an OpenStreetMap shortcut to your home screen.
How is installing an application in a web browser different from opening the OpenStreetMap website using a shortcut? There are no fundamental differences; you will still need Internet access to use OpenStreetMap. Setting permissions will vary slightly – after installation, permissions can be configured in the Android application settings, rather than in the sites settings in the web browser.
In general, there is not much difference whether you use OpenStreetMap in a web browser or install it as an application.
By the way: did you know that many “mobile apps” are actually web apps or just links to websites. This even applies to some games. As a rule, such applications do not work if the phone does not have Internet access.
Whether you have installed the OpenStreetMap app or opened https://openstreetmap.org/, using OpenStreetMap is the same.
To change the scale of the map, place two fingers on the map and move them closer or further away – this will lead to a decrease and increase in scale, that is, “zooming in” and “zooming out” the map.
To move around the map, touch it and move your finger in the desired direction.
If you are using OpenStreetMap on a computer, then use the mouse wheel to change the scale of the map. And to move around the map, left-click and move the cursor in the desired direction. You can also use the cursor keys on your keyboard to move around the map. And to change the scale of the map, you can use the buttons, which will be discussed below.
On the right side of the screen you will see buttons with which you can change map settings and access additional functions.
1. This button opens a search window for geographic objects, as well as access to the route building and GPS navigation functions.
2 and 3 – Zoom In and Zoom Out – changing the map scale, that is, zooming in and out of the map.
4 – Show my location – shows your location on the map.
5 – Layers – selecting a map layer – more about them below.
6. Map Key – that is, an explanation of the symbols on the map. The symbols differ for different layers. Some layers have more symbols than others, and for some layers there is no list of symbols.
7. Share – Create a link to a selected geographic location
8. Adding a mark to the map
9. Obtaining information about the selected object on the map.
To see your location on the map, click the button marked above with number 4 – Show my location.
If this is your first time using this feature, the app will ask you for permission to use GPS.
Then you will see a dot on the map that marks you.
Next to the dot you will see a small arrow – this arrow indicates the direction in which your phone is pointing. This indicator can be used as a compass.
To disable this feature, press button 4 again.
Click on the button in the form of three horizontal lines, indicated by the number 1.
Enter the name of the geographic feature in the “Search” field.
Click the “Go” button.
In the search results, select the most suitable one and click on it.
In the window that opens, you can do several actions.
For example, you can scroll down the page and see detailed information about the found item.
To see an object on the map, click the inscription with coordinates that begins with the word “Location”.
Click on the button in the form of three horizontal lines, indicated by the number 1.
In the window that opens, click on the arrow icon.
Enter your starting point and destination.
In the third line, you can change the method of transportation (bicycle, car, foot) and select the route building engine.
When everything is ready, click the “Go” button.
You will see a list of turns and other route events – you can click on them and they will be shown to you on the map.
To find out what the colors of the roads and other symbols mean, click on button 6 – Map Key – that is, an explanation of the symbols on the map.
The symbols differ for different layers.
Some layers have more legend than others.
For some layers there is no list of symbols.
If you are already familiar with Google Maps, then you probably know that you can change the map view, choosing between: standard view, satellite view, terrain display and some other additional layers.
OpenStreetMap doesn't have a satellite view, but it does have several layer options, some of which differ in content and some of which seem to differ only in appearance.
To go to the selection of layers, press button 5 – Layers.
The following layers are available:
- Standard – the default view, contains information about bicycle tracks and paths in rough terrain, but the paths on the map are barely visible.
- CyclOSM – has data on bike paths and walking paths, with bike paths highlighted very clearly. There is information about the landscape indicating the height of the mountains. Landscape lines can often be confused with roads.
- Cycle Map – data on bicycle paths and trails in forests is highlighted more clearly than in Standard. Cycling tracks and trails differ from each other only in color – cycling trails are blue, walking trails are red. There are data on the landscape without indicating the height of the mountains. Landscape lines are more difficult to confuse with roads, but this is also a danger.
- Transport Map – no data on forest roads and trails.
- Tracestrack Topo – there are forest cycling and hiking trails, which are marked rather dimly on the map. There are also landscape data including elevations. Landscape lines are sometimes brighter than trail markers, sometimes just as faded.
- ÖPNVKarte – all trails are marked the same, there is no information about the landscape.
- Humanitarian – there is information about the trails, but they are barely visible on the map.
So, to see forest and mountain paths, select one of the following layers:
- Cycle Map
- Tracestrack Topo
Apparently, except for the color intensity, these layers do not differ in data, that is, the same paths are marked on them.
You can choose the type of map that suits you best.
I mention information about the terrain for a reason – sometimes I specifically chose routes through mountain peaks, and sometimes I tried to avoid them, on the contrary.
It is also not without reason that I mention the danger of confusing trails with relief symbols – after you cross a couple of mountain peaks, the body begins to save energy and gradually turns off the most energy-consuming organ, namely the brain. And the way you see the map in a cozy chair under the coolness of the air conditioner differs from the way you will see the map after the first ten kilometers traveled through the mountain jungle.
A mountain path, and especially a forest path, is not something permanent and unchanging. For example, the path along the trail may be blocked by a fallen tree, and in this case the path changes its route. Depending on the terrain, the detour can be in the form of a small or quite large loop.
Sometimes when planning a route, we rely on trails that have not existed for a long time. Walking 10 km through mountainous forested terrain and discovering that the next stage of the route simply does not exist is a rather unpleasant discovery.
You can use OpenStreetMap to check if anyone is walking on the mountain road you're interested in.
Click button 5 – Layers and check the “Public GPS Traces” checkbox.
Return to the map.
Colored lines will now be superimposed on the path map.
If there are no public GPS routes for a trail, then the trail most likely has not existed for a long time.
I searched in vain several times for the path that I marked with a red oval. There are no public GPS routes for it because the trail itself no longer exists.
Another example – it would seem, what could go wrong when planning a route along mountain trails?
It turns out the trails called “Buffalo” and “Trail D” no longer exist.
This method may not be 100% guaranteed, but if there are no “Public GPS Traces” for any trail, then this is a very serious signal that you need to prepare a plan B in case it turns out that the trail does not exist.
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