Using the Compass Waypoints and Backtrack features of the Apple Watch

Apple has put in a lot of work to prepare new features for the Apple Watch Ultra. That includes redesigning the Compass app in watchOS 9 with waypoints (points of interest) and Backtrack, the ability to track your steps using your watch’s GPS.

Waypoints and Backtrack are also not limited to the Ultra. Anyone with an Apple Watch Series 6 or newer can take advantage of this. (That includes both generations of the Apple Watch SE.) That said, Ultra owners get some extra perks. For example, there’s an exclusive Wayfinder watch face for the Ultra that puts the Compass app center stage. You can also use the action button as a shortcut to place waypoints along the way.

But whatever Apple Watch model you have, Compass Waypoints and Backtrack can also be useful tools for non-walkers. Waypoints can just as easily mark points of interest 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 want.

Before you get started, there are two things to check. First, make sure you’ve updated to watchOS 9. Second, make sure you haven’t uninstalled the native Compass app from your iPhone. If so, you’ll need to download it again for it to appear on your Apple Watch.

You can change the color and symbol of each waypoint to distinguish them from one another.

You have a few ways to create waypoints. The fastest way is through the Compass app.

Ultra owners can also create waypoints with the action button. But first you have to program the action button to open the waypoint action.

Close-up of the action button settings screen

You can use the action button to place waypoints or go back.

After you create waypoints, you can use the Compass app to navigate to them from your current location.

To navigate to a waypoint:

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

Close-up of the Backtrack screen

Backtrack is designed to help you find your way if you ever get lost in a remote area.

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

The Compass app on the Series 8.

Compass Waypoint and Backtrack features are available on Apple Watch Series 6 or later. Here’s the redesigned Compass app on the Series 8.

To use backtrack with the action button:

You can also open Backtrack from the Emergency menu:

Both Compass Waypoints and Backtrack have a bit of a learning curve to get the steps right. If you plan to rely on these features before hiking in a remote area, be sure to practice them beforehand.

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