How to use the Apple Watch Compass Waypoints and Backtrack features

How to use the Apple Watch Compass Waypoints and Backtrack features

Apple did a lot of work prepping new features for the Apple Watch Ultra. That includes redesigning the Compass app in watchOS 9 to include waypoints — points of interest — and Backtrack, the ability to retrace your steps using your watch’s GPS.

Waypoints and Backtrack aren’t limited to the Ultra, either. Anyone with an Apple Watch Series 6 or later can benefit. (That includes both generations of the Apple Watch SE.) That said, Ultra owners get some extra perks. For instance, there’s an exclusive Wayfinder watchface for the Ultra that puts the Compass app front and center. You can also use the Action button as a shortcut to drop waypoints while on the go.

But regardless of which Apple Watch model you have, Compass Waypoints and Backtrack can be handy tools for non-hikers, too. Waypoints can just as easily mark interesting spots when exploring a city or serve as a reminder of where you parked your car. And while Backtrack is designed for remote areas with no Wi-Fi, there’s nothing stopping you from using it wherever you’d like.

Before you get started, you need to check two things. First, make sure you’ve updated to watchOS 9. Secondly, check that you haven’t deleted the native Compass app from your iPhone. If you have, you’ll have to redownload it so that it appears on your Apple Watch.

Close-up of Waypoint creation screen
You can customize the color and symbol of each waypoint to distinguish them from each other.

Creating waypoints

You’ve got a few ways to create waypoints. The quickest way is through the Compass app.

  • Open the Compass app and tap the Waypoint icon. It’s in the lower left-hand corner; the icon is a small arrow in a bubble.
  • You’ll then see a Label section with a suggested name. If you want, you can tap to edit the name to something more memorable or appropriate.
  • Scroll down and you’ll see the Color and Symbol sections. These are optional, but you can customize colors and icons to differentiate between multiple waypoints at a glance.
  • Tap Done.

Ultra owners can also create waypoints using the Action button. But first, you’ll have to program the Action button to open the Waypoint action.

  • Go to Settings, and then tap Action button.
  • Tap Action, then select Waypoint.
  • Press the Action button.
  • Follow the steps above.
Close-up of Action button settings screen
You can use the Action button to drop waypoints or start backtracking.

Navigating to waypoints

Once you’ve created waypoints, you can use the Compass app to navigate to them from your current location.

To navigate to a waypoint:

  • Tap any waypoint you see on the Compass screen to bring up a full list. They’ll appear as colored dots. If you can’t see any, scroll the digital crown to zoom in or out.
  • Select the waypoint you want.
  • You’ll then see the distance and direction to get to your waypoint.
  • If you want to view the waypoint’s exact location, you can tap the bottom of the screen to bring up a map and coordinates.
  • You can also tap the pencil icon in the bottom right-hand corner to edit the waypoint.

For even easier access, you can create a complication on your watchface. Here’s how to do that.

  • Touch and hold your current watchface. Tap the Edit button when it appears.
  • Swipe all the way to the left for the Complications screen.
  • Tap an available complication and scroll to Compass Waypoints.
  • You can then either pick one of the first three listed waypoints or tap More for the full list. The full list includes your Last Viewed Waypoint and a Parked Car Waypoint as well as any of the waypoints you’ve created.
  • Press the Digital Crown to finish.
  • From here, you can tap the Compass Waypoint complication from the watchface to navigate to the waypoint you selected.
Close-up of the Backtrack screen
Backtrack is meant to help you find your way if you ever get lost in a remote area.

Using Backtrack to retrace steps

Backtrack creates a virtual breadcrumb trail that helps you “go back the way you came.” It uses your watch’s GPS and is meant to be used when you’re exploring unfamiliar locations where you might not have a good signal. Apple also says that, at least on the Ultra, it’ll automatically start the Backtrack feature once it detects you’ve left a Wi-Fi-rich area in case you need it, sort of like how it detects automatic workouts.

To use Backtrack:

  • Open the Compass app and tap the footprint icon in the bottom right-hand corner at the start of your hike, walk, or exploration. You may have to grant access to recent locations.
  • Tap Start.
  • The footprint icon will turn into a Pause button once it’s successfully begun recording.
  • When you’re ready to head back, tap the Pause button. Tap Retrace Steps.
  • Follow the white path back. The location where you first tapped the footprint icon will be your destination.
  • When you’re finished, tap the footprint icon again and tap Delete Steps.
The Compass app on the Series 8.
The Compass Waypoint and Backtrack features are available on the Apple Watch Series 6 or later. Here’s the redesigned Compass app on the Series 8.

To use Backtrack with the Action button:

  • Open the Settings app and select Action button.
  • Tap Action and select Backtrack.
  • Press the Action button when you want to start backtracking. You can press the Action button and either the Digital Crown or Side Button simultaneously to pause recording.
  • Follow the remaining steps from the above section.

You can also access Backtrack from the Emergency menu:

  • Press and hold the side button.
  • When the Emergency menu appears, locate the Compass Backtrack slider.
  • Slide the Compass Backtrack slider to begin backtracking.
  • Follow the appropriate steps from the first section.

Both Compass Waypoints and Backtrack have a little bit of a learning curve as far as getting the steps right. If you’re thinking of relying on these features before hiking in a remote area, make sure to practice them beforehand.

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