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How to Use the Gaia GPS Smartphone App in Offline Mode

I’m often asked whether Smartphone GPS Navigation Apps like Gaia GPS can work when they’re not connected to a cell phone network. Most Apple and Android Smartphones purchased in the past 2-3 years can operate in what’s called offline mode without access to to WiFi or a cell phone network. This is because GPS signals operate on a different network that can be received by the GPS-chip in your phone, even when you’re in power-saving airplane mode. You just have to activate the setting on your phone that allows your GPS App to access “Location Services” under the Privacy Setting on iPhones, or the equivalent on Android.

How to turn on location services for Gaia GPS on the iPhone
How to turn on location services for Gaia GPS on the iPhone

Offline Mode Preparation

For offline mode to work, you need to download the map you want to use for the area you plan to hike beforehand. It’s faster to download this data while you’re connected to a WiFi network, but it will also work over a cell phone network. You’re not actually downloading the entire map, but the region you plan to travel through. When you start hiking, you’ll load the region into the Gaia GPS app, so it will be resident in memory.

In Gaia GPS, this is an easy process. Open the app and navigate to the area where you plan to hike. Click on the rightmost “layer” icon on the top right and choose the map that you plan to use for your hike. I almost always use the USGS basemap although the USFS 2016 map has a little less clutter and can be easier to read (unless the clutter contains useful navigation information.)

Scroll to the area where you plan to hike and choose a map to use.
Scroll to the area where you plan to hike and choose a map to use. Here’s I’ve selected the USGS Topo base map.

Next scroll down to the bottom of the map list screen, and click on ‘Download Maps.” This will display a pick box on top of the area where you plan to hike.

Scroll down the map pane and click on "Download Maps". A pick box will appear on top of the area you want to hike.
Scroll down the map pane and click on “Download Maps”. A pick box will appear on top of the area you want to hike.

Use your finger to resize the area covered by the pink box, click save, and give it a name.

Resize the pink box to include the portion of the map you want to use offline, save it, and name it.
Resize the pink box to include the portion of the map you want to use offline, save it, and name it.

That’s all the prep you need to store a map for offline use.

At the Trailhead

When you get to the trailhead, start up the Gaia GPS app and load this map into your phone. You can be offline when you do it, since it’s already stored on your phone.

Click on the Maps icon to open up your Map library, and click on the map you want to load for your hike.
Click on the Maps icon to open up your Map library, and click on the map you want to load for your hike.

Click on the leftmost icon on Gaia GPS screen and click on the Maps icon. This will display all of the maps you’ve downloaded for offline use. You can collect quite a few and download far larger areas if you need to.

Load the map you need and it will be displayed, ready to navigate for you in Gaia.
Load the map you need and it will be displayed, ready to navigate for you in Gaia.

Click “Load in Main Map” and the area you plan to hike in will be displayed in Gaia, ready to use.

That’s all there is to it.

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20 comments

  1. Very helpful. I’ve been using Gaia but don’t hike anywhere near as frequently as you do, so I forget from use to use how to do this. I may find a way to save this blog post on my phone!

    • If you hike in the same area over and over, you can download the map for the entire area or break it up into regions and store that on your phone almost permanently. It’s takes up some storage, but cuts down on prep. Personally, I recommend the prep because it makes you think about your route more, which can be helpful even if you hike on trails all the time.

      • Good point about making it part of the preparation routine. I can almost pack my pack in my sleep, but forgot to do this for the Ozark Highlands Trail trip last month. Good thing it’s a well-marked trail with a great map. I’ll add this to my written and mental prep lists.

      • Gina Feliciano, Phd

        Important!!!’

  2. Don’t know if this applies to Gaia, but the maps I load into Backcountry Navigator for offline use often don’t show the trail I intend to hike on them, so I need to go through the additional step of downloading a gpx file of the trail and/or waypoints so the app will overlay that onto the map as well.

  3. Another nice feature is, if you have a track installed, you can download the map for that track. Open tracks, select the track and tap “Download Map for Track”. Pretty slick!

  4. I love Gaia. I usually download at the highest resolution. Gaia”s default resolution can be illegible for contour lines. Sometimes Gaia’s maps are not current so it’s good to check beforehand.

  5. More and more I’ve been finding that the Gaia Topo (ft) map is a better choice because it includes more trails and is easier to read. Not always, but more frequently.

  6. I really like the GAIA app also and use it with my paper maps. I also use the Maps3D app which is really handy.

    One great feature of the GAIA app is the customer service. I was having trouble locating a map set for Isle Royale last year and they were very prompt to respond and get me a great trail map for my GAIA app.

  7. Thx Phil. Always wondered how this stuff works but was too embarrassed to ask. Don’t get me wrong. I have a state of the art flip phone with rotary dial. 1.8 ounces baby,,,,Oh yea !

  8. Can anyone speak to the ongoing costs of Gaia GPS? In iTunes it says the app costs $19.99, but then elsewhere it mentions in-app purchases and subscriptions with no further information. Thanks.

    • I believe its 19.99, one time. More if you get pro access which is a web site tool, but lets you download extra maps which you may or may not use (and easy to do without).

      • Yep, I just went through this with them.

        I thought I owed them money…not so, it’s a one time charge unless you want the Pro access. Pro access is called a subscription by them.

        Bill

    • Thanks for the clarification.

  9. Also, be sure to check your zoom level before you download if you want higher resolution maps. Higher resolution = more map tiles = more storage, though.

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