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Offline Trail Map/GPS Mobile App- What do you use and Why???

As I'm preparing for my next hiking trip (Big South Fork in Tennessee- going to string together a few trails for a ~30 mile 2 night/3 day trek), I'm curious what you all use for GPS navigation on the trail?

I always use a combination of 3 different navigation methods to ensure safety and avoidable errors:

1) A mobile offline GPS app which with trails identified on it

2) Physical map or print out of the trail

3) Compass

The mobile app is my last line of defense, as I always want to make sure I can navigate effectively should my cell phone lose power on the trail.  However, it is a comfortable safety net, for me personally.  I always like to have assurance that I can use my GPS coordinates if my trail map isn't EXACTLY what I expected it to be on the trail.  Here is the kicker though...I do NOT want to pay for a map download on the specific app I am using!  My traditional go to has been the "" mobile app.  This app has free downloads of areas you are in, has a decent success rate for backcountry trails, and I've even used it internationally.  I have also discovered the Gaia GPS.  Gaia does have a paid version....but I THINK I can use it for free and still have offline GPS service with better trail and waypoint identification on the map.

Has anyone ever used the Gaia GPS app without the paid 'subscription'?  Or any other recommendations for free trail map downloads?

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11 Replies

I use Gaia, with the paid subscription. I find it worth it for the downloadable detailed maps of specific places I want to go. I also like that different layers can be used for different uses. For example if I go on a hike/fishing I can download both detailed maps for hiking and waterways.

you can also download or view other peoples routes which I find fun for off-roading and exploring.

I have discovered that it’s hit or miss with offline gps, if the phone resets on its own you will lose your way until you get back online. So I always download the maps.

and as ya know the waypoints is helpful for knowing elevation, trail length etc.

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Very helpful about the being hit and miss with the offline GPS.  Appreciate your insight!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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Pretty sure Gaia won't work well without a paid subscription but I haven't tried.  

I have used US Topo Maps Pro from ATLOGIS on Android.  It's a one time fee. You can download and cache different map layers.  There is a free version but probably you can't cache the maps and there may be ads... I don't remember.  

I have loaded tracks and marked way points with it but generally I have just use it as a back up for a printed map and haven't bothered with that aspect much. Walking trails generally does not need too much in the way of navigation and a recent printed map is usually more convenient than switching the phone from being a camera and loading the GPS/Map app. Since I carry a Garmin InReach Mini I have a backup GPS to my phone and that gives a GPS coordinate on its screen if I ever needed to translate that position to a map and the phone was out.   I mainly use a compass for a quick back bearing if I'm going off trail any distance.  I can use the Mini's backtrack feature but a compass bezel is a simpler way to remember for quick diversions.

I also use CalTopo but it is a paid subscription to cache maps on its phone app I think.  There is a web app you can use for free to plan with to make the tracks and waypoints.



I use Gaia with the paid subscription. I used to have the paid version of AllFails but after being sent on too many wrong turns, I gave it up. 

And as @joshmblott says, I too always download the maps for offline use.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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I use Gaia GPS, the pro version. Like others, I do not think you can download maps without the paid version - but try it out!

I will say that the Gaia Pro version is absolutely 100% worth it. It's very powerful, easy to use with a tiny bit of a learning curve, and if you wait for a holiday you can get a great deal on the pro version. I let my subscription lapse about 30-60 days and they always send me a discount so I buy it for about $20 a year. What I love (being in AZ) is the ability to adjust the perspective to see what the trail will actually look like when I'm hiking vs only looking top-down. No all trails are on the maps but most of them are. The features listed with the ability to look at current/past fires, air quality, public tracks, private land etc... really make it worth it. I love the ability to route plan and do research on my PC and then download all that data to my phone. 

I understand that I really didn't answer your question but I think that paying the yearly price for a pro membership, even for 1 extended trip, is worth it. 

"Turn and listen, for not only in my eyes is Paradise"

this has come up about 100 times, because it's such a great discussion (deserves its own area)

anyway, 2 things sent me into 'red alert', navigating using an app, and 'offline gps'.

I also use the gaia pro, which gives me nat geo maps, which are probably the best out there, but I also use pro caltopo to actually create my 'maps' (routes, camp sites, points of interest). I use the latest forest service maps as my base map (and as my base map on gaia, so the maps are always the same) For just it's ease and utility, caltopo is head-and-shoulders over gaia.

So..I create my 'map' in caltopo, send it to my phone to use on gaia.

I use my phone gps, never ever offline, because that's not how gps works, but maybe on airplane mode or just turned off, when I want to pin point my exact location on my paper map.

My paper map is a downloaded pdf of my caltopo map, uploaded to my local UPS store and printed out on beautiful, color 11"x17" for just a few $$.

HIGHLY RECOMMEND never using your phone to 'navigate', see your e-maps - yes, check your location - yes, but 'navigate' no.

But you're either on a trail or you're not.  If your on a trail, your navigation is just following your feet and checking the map to make sure you're where you think you are.

Off trail, you better be using a paper map to make sure you don't dead end or walk off a cliff.

REI Member Since 1979

AllTrails Pro. I love it. Never let me down, and I love the features. I even bought a subscription for my wife also.

Started using topo maps back in the 50's,  sometimes supplemented with USFS or NPS maps (usually non topo) and have never had a reason to go electronic.  I sometimes have a problem seeing my screen clearly is some kinds of light; never a problem with a paper map

If I use a map a lot, I cut it into squares, and tape the squares so they fold up and tuck into my chest pocket, then coat them with waterproofing compound.

I find that the topography is always accurate, while the cultural features (roads and trails, etc) may be obsolete.  The topography works to keep me oriented.

On the northern Channel Islands, the maps were printed in 1943 from some of first aerial photos exposed in 1938 (just a year after my birth).  They are still quite accurate and useful.  Wish I could say the same......

I only haul out my compass when visibility is restricted, usually fog.  Rarely used, but invaluable then.


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I have also occasionally found aerial photos useful.  Has anyone tried using screen shots from Google Earth?  I'll bet they would be great....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.