Do you need to retrace your steps in an unfamiliar place with little to no Wi-Fi or cellular signal? Using the Apple Watch Backtrack feature, you can track and trace your steps to get back to your starting point in the Compass app. This feature works even if your Apple Watch isn’t connected to the Internet, which makes it extremely convenient during emergency situations in remote locations. This tutorial examines which Apple Watch models and watchOS versions have this feature and how it’s used.
Apple Watch Backtrack Supported Models and WatchOS Versions
The Compass app is available starting from the Apple Watch Series 5, but the Backtrack feature is only available on the Apple Watch models released after Apple Watch Series 5. These include:
- Apple Watch SE (1st generation)
- Apple Watch Series 6
- Apple Watch Series 7
- Apple Watch SE (2nd generation)
- Apple Watch Series 8
- Apple Watch Ultra
On top of model compatibility, your watch also needs to be updated to watchOS 9 or above to use Backtrack.
Note: the Backtrack feature isn’t available on Family Setup Apple Watch devices, so if yours was set up using a family member’s iPhone instead of your own through Family Sharing, you can’t use the feature in the Compass app.
Things To Do Before Using Backtrack
The Compass app requires permission to access your precise location and significant locations to provide you with accurate location and route data. Follow the steps below to allow location services for the Compass app:
- Launch the Settings app on the iPhone that is paired with your Apple Watch.
- Scroll down and tap “Privacy & Security.”
- In the Privacy & Security screen, tap “Location Services.”
- Find and tap “Compass.”
- Under “Allow Location Access,” check “While Using the App” to give the Compass app permission to show your location and calculate true north. Enable “Precise Location” to let the Compass app use your location.
- Go back to the Location Services screen.
- Scroll all the way to the bottom of the list and tap “System Services.”
- Tap “Significant Locations,” located at the bottom of the list on the System Services screen.
- Enable “Significant Locations.” This allows your iPhone to learn places significant to you to provide location-related information in Maps, Calendar, Photos, and other apps.
Good to know: Backtrack does not require Apple Watch to be paired with your iPhone, allowing you to retrace your steps off the grid with only your Apple Watch.
How to Retrace Your Steps with Backtrack on Apple Watch
After allowing your Apple Watch and iPhone to access your location, you can use the Backtrack feature to retrace your steps. Follow this step-by-step guide to use it:
- On your Apple Watch, launch the Compass app.
- Tap the Backtrack button at the bottom right of the screen.
- When the Backtrack button turns into a Pause button, the Compass app has started tracking your step route. You can use other apps while Backtrack is tracking your steps and can also put your wrist down.
- Once you reach the end of your step route, tap the pause button, then tap “Retrace Steps.”
- The tracked route will show up on the compass. Rotate the digital crown up and down to control the compass zoom.
- To go back to where you started, follow the white line that appears on the compass, which is the route you’ve taken.
- After reaching your starting point, tap the Backtrack button.
- Tap “Delete Steps” to give room for another route. The Compass app can’t save previous routes.
Safety tip: If you forgot to turn Backtrack on at the start of a route, the feature may be able to retrace your steps using your historical location data. To use this feature, launch the Compass app on your Apple Watch, then tap the Backtrack button. This feature only works when your current location is away from significant locations, such as your home or workplace, or there’s no Wi-Fi signal.
Other tracking: aside from your routes, your Apple Watch can also track your sleep.
Other Apple Watch Compass App Features
If you enjoy the great outdoors, there are many benefits with the Apple Watch’s Compass app?
1. Find your direction, elevation, incline, and coordinates.
When you launch the Compass app, you’ll see the direction you’re facing. To view your elevation, incline, and coordinates, rotate the digital crown up. You can also tap on the menu button at the top left of the screen to view this information better.
Note: coordinates aren’t supported in the Compass app in Mainland China.
2. Add waypoints.
In the Compass app for Apple Watch, you can set waypoints for locations you want to go back to. They’ll show up on the compass and as map locations in the Compass app. You can use these waypoints to find your way back to important locations and measure the distance between each waypoint and to your current location.
To add waypoints, launch the Compass app on your Apple Watch, then tap the waypoint button at the bottom right of the screen.
Note: like Backtrack, adding waypoints in the Compass app isn’t available for Family Setup Apple Watch devices.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it possible to save step routes in the Compass app?
It’s not possible to save step routes for future use with Backtrack. The only route you can retrace is the one you just took. If you want to save your step routes, use third-party apps that allow you to record, save, and view routes.
Is there an iOS app that has the same function as Backtrack?
If you’re looking for a similar feature you can use with your iPhone or older Apple Watch models, the Footpath Route Planner and Relive apps record your walking, running, cycling, and other activities. Using the apps’ recorded routes, you can retrace your path if you get lost or want to take the same route in the future.
Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Natalie dela Vega.
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