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Gaia GPS: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide

Ahemmm, Get The App

The Gaia GPS app has been my go-to mapping source for three years now. Our first tip is simple: get it. I've been overlanding and exploring in a Jeep since 2005 and I've had just about every type of route-finding device out there. Starting from hand-held and mounted GPS units from Magellan to Garmin and even a Lowrance Chart Plotter for a short while. I have multiple mapping apps on my iPhone for overlanding and mountain biking. These include Gaia, of course, but also Trailforks, LeadNav, Polaris, AllTrails, Geocaching, and MTB Project. The one I always return to is Gaia GPS when the plan is to explore. Wanna know why? Read on to find out ~

Incredible Platform

Gaia is designed to work with your smartphone, in this case my iPhone, and with the GPS hardware and software getting better, it makes little sense for me to invest in a secondary device. Your smartphone is essentially a GPS, without dropping more money on a separate device.

Now, Google Maps serves me well to get to more obvious locations, but once we get off-grid I lean on the Gaia app. I downloaded it onto my iPad Mini and once logged into my account and sync'd, all of my information is right there. The iPad is older and I deleted the majority of apps that were on it. It's now a dedicated platform, mostly for Gaia, and when mounted on to my BulletPoint hardware it's incredibly functional.

Since the iPad is wifi only I bought a Dual Universal GPS Receiver and it integrates with the iPad perfectly even showing on the GPS receiver app how many satellites I'm connected with.


When planning a route or wanting to see something you can manually insert a waypoint and save it. If I want to explore an area I'll open Gaia and Google Earth, both on my laptop and drop waypoints at all of the spots I want to stop at or potential places to camp. Google Earth has more clarity when zooming in and I'll use it to identify existing camping locations or routes, then drop a waypoint. I'll copy the lat/long from Google Earth, paste into Gaia, and then save it.

Say your buddy sends you a lat/long of where he is set up to camp. You simply copy/paste the coordinates into the Gaia search bar and the waypoint icon will show you on the map where it's at. Tap "Route To" and you have turn-by-turn directions. To the left is the end result of a recent excursion I recorded. I had specific routes but we did not use all of them.

No extra chargers

Purchasing a secondary unit requires bringing along that devices charging cord. Since I already keep multiple iPhone charging cables in my vehicle I'm already prep'd the next time I head out.

Laptop integration

A big feature I like; I can plan routes and set waypoints from my laptop by logging into my account. At 55 years old the thought of trying to build a route from my phone or iPad is painful. I know kids today can do everything on their devices. Not me. I like the larger screen, real mouse, and real keyboard! You sync your phone and your plans drop to your device.

Sharing info from secondary devices (Dedicated GPS units)

To sync your trip in Gaia go to your settings, tap on your account, and tap on the sync button, that's it. You can do that with secondary devices but I had trouble then sharing plans with others who didn't have, say, the Garmin app. Maybe that's been remedied, but I'll never know. When the route is planned I download the area and share it with the guys.

Search and Save Routes

You can easily search for individual destinations, tracks, roads, trails, waypoints, etc. and save them. Once you have saved an item you can access it from your saved items. Once you've completed a trip or visited a particular waypoint, toggle the "eye" feature and it is then hidden from the main map. You can avoid having potentially hundreds of waypoints and routes clogging your view as you plan another trip.

Upgrade Options

You can use the app free, or, as I did, upgrade to the Premium version. The best part of this feature is you now have over 20 different maps and layers you can apply while setting their transparency. In other words, how much you want them to "show" on your device. To the bottom, left is a photo of the different overlays you have access to with the Premium version.

A Mildly Challenging Learning Curve

In other words, you have to use it to learn it. It's not Google Maps where you put in an address and your phone tells you where to turn. You have to actively engage the app with planning, dropping waypoints, creating routes, etc and learning the minutia of this platform.

Battery life

Since you will be using your smartphone more, its battery will drain much faster than sending a few texts. You should make sure that your smartphone is weatherproof and shockproof with a good case since you will be using it more.


Let's say your driving along on a remote

forest road. On Gaia you see a "road" and it looks like it takes you to a potentially great camping spot. On your Gaia map you see that the road is approaching and you take it. The Grid feature on the app shows it to be about 1.5 miles to the end. The track hasn't been used in some time and the grass is starting to cover it. But, at the end, you encounter an epic viewpoint with a fine fire ring that is already built, great cover from the elements, and several slightly used camping areas. What the hell? This is exactly what happened to us and we spent two nights there. And with the waypoint/track set to "Private", no one else will find it. That is, unless they really look for it! In the pic to the right you will see the Privacy setting at the bottom.