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Some of the most asked questions we receive are “What do you use for navigation?” “How do you know where to find public land?” and “How did you find that epic view or campsite?”.
The answer is that there are several methods and resources we use to determine where we can legally travel and camp. Of these, the number one most relied upon resource is the Gaia GPS App combined with the Gaia Premium Subscription Plan.
Let’s give you a quick introduction to the Gaia App, then we will walk you through some of the benefits found in their different levels of membership. You can also click the link in the video description or go to GaiaGPS.com/lifestyleoverland for some huge (up to 50%) membership discounts once you’re ready to sign up.
So first of off; what is Gaia GPS?
Gaia GPS is an app and web based navigation software that you can run from your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. It offers route planning, track recording, custom waypoint creation, track sharing, trip telemetry and more with up to 251 different map layers plus additional custom map importing opportunities.
All of your information can be synced to your Gaia account and accessed across multiple devices.
The Gaia GPS App is available on both the iOS and Android platforms. You can use your account login information on either platform so there’s no need to pay for two subscriptions if you want to run the app on multiple devices or operating systems. As of the release of this video, the app seems to run just a bit better on the iOS mobile devices, though they are currently revamping the Android software to bring it up to the same standards.
We run this app primarily on our 10 inch iPad, but also have it installed on our Samsung S2, 10 inch tablet and both of our Google Pixel 2 phones in case we need a more portable navigation option when hiking. Whatever device you choose, ensure it has built-in GPS or can link to a Bluetooth device that provides GPS location to the app. We use a Garmin InReach device for satellite text messaging which we link to our wifi only iPad for positioning. While this method isn’t as reliable as a built-in device GPS, it seems to work fine for our purposes.
The other use option is via the web-browser based interface which is perfect for route planning and exploring the map layers in detail on a large desktop or laptop screen. Oh by the way, all of your previously recorded tracks, saved routes, and marked waypoints from any other devices running your Gaia GPS account are synced here as well. That’s just handy!
There are currently 3 tiers of user levels for the app. You can download and use the Gaia GPS app for free with the Basic user level which will grant you a single map layer to play with and let you explore some of the more technical aspects with route tracking, route importation, route planning, etc.
The Member level unlocks 56 map layers, map downloading, and map printing capabilities.
The Premium Member level grants you a massive catalog of 251 layers, and the crown-jewels… the NatGeo Trails maps. These are the same as the print maps you see in outfitter stores for $14.95+ and they’re included in the yearly Premium Member subscription.
Let’s talk a bit about the primary features offered in the app and online interface.
Map Downloading and Printing – When your destination is in a remote area without cell service, you can download multiple map layers at a level of detail that best fits your needs. You can also choose to print a single map layer, or develop a custom mix of layers featuring details of multiple map sources on a single page.
Route Planning – One of our favorite features is the route planning option found on both the mobile and online platforms. Using the online platform makes it easy to develop detailed routes with a few clicks of the mouse. As an added bonus, some of the map sources even support smart routing where it will recognize roads and overlay your route accordingly without the hundreds of manual clicks required by other programs. Routing can be performed on the mobile devices as well, but you may find it more cumbersome without the precision of a mouse and larger screen.
Track Recording – The best laid plans sometimes change and the real adventure begins. With track recording, you’ll be able to bring that data home and share those epic side trips or detours from trouble with your friends and outdoor community.
Custom Waypoints – Did you spot an epic campsite you just have to come back to on your next adventure? You can drop waypoints straight from your mobile device and even assign it a custom icon for faster identification. These waypoints can be given detailed descriptions, grouped into folders and have informative notes attached to them. You can even take a picture right from the app that will stay attached to the waypoint. This is handy for determining camping area size, epic views, tree cover, etc. when you come back through an area months or years later.
Data Syncing – With the Gaia “cloud” data syncing, you won’t have to worry about downloading, or importing your travels. Simply connect your device to the internet, open the app, and the information is synced automatically and becomes available across any other device that is synced to the system as well.
Importing and Exporting – Did you find an epic track online you just have to try out yourself? GPS data files can be imported directly into Gaia straight from your mobile device or the Gaia GPS online interface. You can also export data from your account for sharing with others as well.
Search Feature – You can search map layers as well. This is handy for jumping to those tiny towns without scrolling and zooming.
Custom Map Sources – One really interesting feature, and often overlooked, is the ability to import a custom map source. We will cover this and other advanced features in an upcoming tutorial.
Now that we have covered the basic features. Let’s go a bit deeper and show you some of the map layers that are available through the app subscriptions so you can see some of the practical applications of the service.
Now obviously I won’t go through all 251 available layers, but instead show you some our favorite layers we use for route planning and travels. If you want to see an exhaustive list of layers included with the subscription service then check out the link in the video description.
Our most frequently used layer is the Mapbox Streets HD and is usually set as our base map for travel along paved roads and primary trails. It’s an informative, high-contrast map that makes it easy to see and read while traveling. It’s also very content rich with points of interests marked with icons and titles.
The next layer in our list is the Gaia Topo which we keep in the mix for general terrain information.
The 3rd layer is the the public land overlay which is our go-to layer for determining legal routes of travel and potentially free camping areas.
There are also several satellite imagery layers that are very useful for getting a birds eye perspective on terrain and have helped us determine if trails are actually in place or completely overgrown before attempting to travel them. It’s also handy for determining locations of sheltered camping areas or open fields. We generally keep one of these in the downloaded map sets for that very reason.
Next is the MVUM layer, or Motor Vehicle Usage Map for overlaying United States National Forests approved travel routes. We generally use this in conjuction with our next layer; the USFS 2016 topo map to enhance the geographical information when passing through national forest lands.
The next set of layers we like to keep on our devices are the Historic Topo 1900 and 1930 layers. These layers are a treasure trove of historical information and lend hints to historical ruins or sites not found on modern maps. Please use this information responsibly and treat all historic sites and ruins appropriately by taking only pictures and leaving only footprints.
A couple bonus layers we grab from time to time are the NPS Visitor layer which is handy for finding bathrooms and campgrounds while in national parks. The US Wildfires layer which is great for determining what might be burn areas which can effect your campsite decision. The US Shaded Relief layer is also useful for keeping an eye on terrain type if you’re looking for a sheltered canyon for camp or a mountaintop for photos.
Not to forget our Canadian travels… we found the Backroad Mapbooks Canada to be one of the best map layers we have ever used since it not only incorporates points of interest, but was very accurate in depicting public lands and campgrounds during our travels through BC, Alberta, YT, and the NWT.
We used this in conjuction with the Canada Topo West layer for several weeks of travel with great success for both wild camping and organized camping.
The final layer and we think one of the biggest reasons for subscribing to the Premium Membership is the NatGeo Trails Illustrated map layers. When you’re traveling through areas covered by these highly detailed maps they are truly game-changing in that they provide a massive amount of information on a single layer. You’ll be able to see roads, hiking trails, trail heads, campgrounds, park boundries, public and private land, POI’s and more on an easy to read topographical map. To buy all these hard copy maps would cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. This feature alone is worth the Premium Subscription service in our books.
The Gaia GPS platform is truly a well-designed, intuitive, feature-rich navigation platform that’s great for overlanders, campers, hikers, hunters, fishermen or any outdoor enthusiast. Just between us, are quite frankly stunned that it doesn’t cost 4 times as much as they charge for the service. But don’t tell them that… it will be our little secret!
Well, that just about wraps our general overview of the Gaia GPS features and their subscription service levels. Stay tuned for more navigation videos like this including detailed tutorials on how to utilize this powerful software for your travel and outdoor use.
Oh and if you’re interested in signing up for either of their subscription levels then go to www.gaiagps.com/lifestyleoverland for up to 50% off! Not only will you be getting an impressive navigation platform, you’ll also be supporting us since a small portion of the purchase goes directly to Lifestyle Overland which helps keeps us exploring and creating more videos like these.
Thanks so much for watching I hope this video helped give you a better insight to the features found within the Gaia GPS navigation system. If you have any questions on what you saw here, feel free to post them in the comments below.
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Until next time, Safe Travels and please remember to invest the future of our public lands by leaving it better than you found it!
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FULL LIST OF MAP LAYERS: