You're venturing out into the backcountry, you're unsure if there will be cellular/cell coverage and you have no clue how to read a paper map. What do you do? Your answer: Offline Maps.
What is an 'Offline Map'? Why Do I Need 'Offline Maps'?
An Offline Map is essentially the necessary map (and information) downloaded to your phone and stored locally so you can access the map without cellular/cell coverage. Most mapping software renders the maps in real-time, meaning the map is downloaded as you use it.
When you download the map using the 'Offline Map,' you'll have access to this map when you are out of coverage. This is essential in many cases when you are venturing to rural areas for hiking and most national parks.
There are two important components to 'Offline Maps':
Instructions: When downloading the map. most of the apps that are used have published methods for downloading the map and following the instructions as documented are important in making sure that the map is actually downloaded and usable
Using 'Offline Maps' When Needed: Most phones or apps will not automatically switch to the offline map when you lose coverage and you'll need to tell your device to start using the downloaded map when you lose coverage
Size of the File to Download Offline: Many of the applications will limit the size of your download. Depending on if you are trying to access satellite imagery, the file size can be large. When we're downloading offline maps on GAIA GPS, we select the GAIA Topo only, which is a relatively small file size for a high definition map
Mapping Tools We Use
There are a number of different apps that can be used for mapping in the backcountry. Every platform has its benefits and drawbacks. At the moment, we are heavy users of GAIA GPS in addition to the Garmin Explore in combination with the Garmin Alpha 200i InReach Device, however, we frequently have used OnX Hunt and AllTrails.
1 | GAIA GPS
GAIA GPS allows you to download any map layer along with the Topo. When we download offline maps for this app, we turn off all the other map layers and just download the Topo.
How-To Download 'Offline Maps': Download Maps for Offline Use – Gaia GPS
2 | Garmin Explore
The Garmin Explore is typically connected to your Garmin Handheld device and does not require a download every time. You can download the map itself to the device for the state and it should be accessible.
How-To Download 'Offline Maps': Downloading Maps With the Garmin Explore App | Garmin Customer Support
3 | OnX Hunt
OnX is similar to the other applications where you can download the map and store it accordingly. This is by far one of the easier apps to download offline maps because it binds you to size and limits the upper end of the download.
How-To Download 'Offline Maps': Introduction to Offline Maps | onX Hunt (onxmaps.com)
4 | AllTrails
The easiest app to download from -- you can select the trail that you are hiking on and download the map. As a reminder, AllTrails is user-generated content, so just because the trail is not searchable, does not mean it doesn't exist (BLOG: HELP! AllTrails Doesn’t Show Any Trails Where I Want to Hike...).
How-To Download 'Offline Maps': How do I download maps to my phone for offline use? – AllTrails Help
5 | Google (for the Trip to the Trail)
Don't forget to download the map to get you to and from the hiking trail. This is often times a step that is forgotten, even by us. Not the end of the world, but helpful in a pinch if you happen to remember.
How-To Download 'Offline Maps': Download areas & navigate offline - iPhone & iPad - Google Maps Help
We hope this helps with your next backcountry adventure. This an easy way to make sure that you have access to the maps on your phone. Get outside and happy hiking!