Bottom Line: Your GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude) can be found in iOS’s built-in Compass app.

A few months ago, I had a family member get lost in the woods. He spent a cold, underprepared night alone while we searched continuously from about 4 pm until 9 or 10 the following morning, when he was finally found by the helicopter, miles away from where we thought he would be.

While we searched for him, I tried to keep track of our location using EveryTrail, so we could mark where we’d been as we searched and update our strategy accordingly. However, knowing that perhaps not everyone loves EveryTrail like I do, I wanted to figure out how to find my GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude) using a built-in iOS app.

Initially, I used some really silly round-about way using Maps, dropping a pin, texting my location, then opening the location pin from the text. It wasn’t until a day or so later that I discovered the coordinates font-and-center in the long-forgotten Compass app (which I haven’t really used in years).

As you can see, I have no service while I took that screenshot, but my GPS location is still correct. This is a critical point to understand: phone calls, texts, GPS, and data use different types of connections. I don’t think the details are particularly pertinent, it’s just critical to realize that even when you have no signal and can’t make calls, and even when you have no data and can’t access the internet it’s fairly likely that your GPS will still be working okay. I started messing with it the iOS Compass app, and so far I haven’t found a way to copy the GPS coordinates to the clipboard. If you were lost, you could just screenshot your location and send the picture (or in my case I just used the screenshot to record my location for later), but typing your coordinates into a text message will probably be more likely to get through if your signal is poor.

If you were to get lost, my general recommendations are:

  1. Get your GPS coordinates from the Compass app.
  2. Type them into a text message and try to send it by text to a few people.
    • Even when your signal is so poor that you can’t make a phone call, sometimes you can get a text message to get through.
  3. If it doesn’t work, try to resend it a few times.
  4. If you still don’t have any luck, turn on Airplane mode to save battery, and hike to the nearest little peak or closest place you think you could get a little signal*. Don’t go far.
  5. Every once in a while, try to resend the text again.
  • Generally you should not try to get yourself unlost. If you’re lost, sit down and stay put. There’s a good chance that trying to find your way out / home will get you more lost and farther from help. My only exception to this rule is trying to get service to contact help, where if there is a nearby spot that you think you can get service, it’s reasonable to try.

Well, I think I’ll end this post here. The bottom line is that an an iPhone you can get your GPS location / coordinates from I’m planning on a followup post in the next few days with some info on the accuracy of this location as well as a Pythonista / Launch Center Pro script to get your coordinates and text them to somebody. [Update: post is here.]