Apple Watch Compass: Backtrack and waypoints not only on the Ultra model

Während Apple's September keynote as well as in subsequent reports and tests The new watchOS 9 compass features, such as backtrack and waypoints, were primarily related to the apple watch ultra called. But the model for extreme athletes, explorers and divers is not the only Apple smartwatch with these functions. Starting with Apple Watch Series 6, all models including the Apple Watch SE can use the compass functions backtrack and waypoints, provided you have watchOS 9 installed. I'll show you how to use the features below.

Use the waypoints and backtrack for orientation in the compass app of Apple Watch, Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Ultra from watchOS 9: Here you will find the instructions and important information.
Use the waypoints and backtrack for orientation in the compass app of Apple Watch, Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Ultra from watchOS 9: Here you will find the instructions and important information.

Find your way back: Add compass waypoints to Apple Watch

One way to track the route covered with the Apple Watch is to set waypoints manually. At crossings of the hiking trail or at other places you can set markers that are recorded using GPS data. So they can be used later for the way back. To add a waypoint, do the following:

  1. Types in the Compass App on the Apple Watch on the bottom left Waypoint button (speech bubble with compass needle icon)
  2. Adds a name for the waypoint under Label by tapping the date and time
  3. The longitude and latitude of the waypoint can also be adjusted under "Location".
  4. Furthermore, you can adjust the color of the waypoint to better distinguish individual points or to recognize them better
  5. Finish adding the waypoint by clicking Done
Setting waypoints with the Apple Watch compass: sample graphic from Apple.com
Setting waypoints with the Apple Watch compass: sample graphic from Apple.com

Note: If you want the set waypoint to be available for finding the way back, but not immediately displayed on the wind rose, then you must deactivate "Show waypoint" in its options. If you have carried out the individual steps and marked several points on your way, this results in a path that you can use for the way back. To do this, you activate “Show waypoint” for each set entry.

Follow your own path: Use Backtrack of the Compass app from watchOS 9

In order to be able to automatically retrace your own path with the Apple Watch, a few settings must first be made on the associated iPhone (if available). So if you are going to be traveling in unfamiliar terrain with no other navigation options, note a few settings on the connected Apple smartphone beforehand. Choose among Settings -> Privacy -> Location services the following options:

  • Tap on Compass and activate the slider for "Exact location"
  • Also choose System services off and activated there under Important Places the "Key Places" slider
Before using Backtrack in the Apple Watch compass from watchOS 9, a few settings must be made on the connected iPhone - here as screenshots under iOS 16.0.2 on the iPhone 12 Pro.
Before using Backtrack in the Apple Watch compass from watchOS 9, a few settings must be made on the connected iPhone - here as screenshots under iOS 16.0.2 on the iPhone 12 Pro.

Now it's about the backtrack function of the Apple Watch, Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch Ultra paired with the iPhone set in this way. To be able to retrace your own steps, proceed as follows:

  1. Before starting the hike, open the Compass App on the Apple Watch
  2. Tap on the bottom right Back track button (footsteps in a circle) – the function is now active and the button becomes a pause icon (two parallel vertical bars)
  3. If it is necessary to retrace the path and thus start the way back, tap on it pause buttonto stop tracking and view the recorded track
  4. Go back and follow the path white line, which is shown inside the compass on the watch display
  5. Are you back at the starting point or at a waypoint from which you can find your way back on your own or from which you have to turn differently, tap on the animated one Back track button (footsteps) and then up Delete Stepsto complete Backtrack
Retracing your own path happens through a white-colored path in the compass display on the watch display. Image source: Apple.com
Retracing your own path happens through a white-colored path in the compass display on the watch display. Image source: Apple.com

More GPS information and compass instructions

I think it's great that these aids against getting lost in the terrain are not only part of the Apple Watch Ultra. Even those who rarely go on hikes and discovery tours and don't want to buy an ultra-expensive smartwatch can count on these GPS functions. 

As a note, some sources state that the Apple Watch's GPS capabilities may be disrupted when metal straps are used. So if you really need to rely on waypoints and backtrack in the compass app, it's better to use a fabric or plastic strap on the Apple Watch. You can also find more compass app instructions in the Apple support document HT210324.

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2 comments on "Apple Watch Compass: Backtrack and waypoints not only on the Ultra model"

  1. Hallo,

    Many thanks for the interesting contribution. I bought an Apple Watch Ultra a few days ago. I was especially excited about this feature. I only tested it rudimentarily in my environment for very short distances to see how it works. I'm not entirely sure if I'm doing something wrong, but I thought it recorded the actual distance travelled, including bends etc. As far as I understand now, that is not the case. It shows straight lines from waypoint to waypoint, which I personally find a bit disappointing. Can it be that I'm doing something wrong or is that actually the case? Best Regards

    1. I think he only uses a few waypoints to save battery. Did you turn on the battery saver mode? And how many meters are between the waypoints approximately.

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