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Why We've Switched to GAIA GPS for Navigation on the Trails. And Why You Should Too.

The number of apps that are available on the interwebs for use to navigate is substantial. All the major players have great apps that work wonderfully. And most of the good ones are paid. So side by side comparison is easy, but a real-world application of testing most of them is how we've come to the conclusion that GAIA GPS is for us.

Before we get started, a few of the helpful links to the App (at the top of the article for ease of reference):

Now let's get at it...

Navigation Apps We've Used

In the process of hiking nearly 150 days this year, we've spent quite a bit of time outdoors and on a number of trails ranging from as far south as North Carolina and all the way up north to New York and everything in between. That being said, it's to validate that we use the apps and conduct significant field tests.

Overall, the following Navigation Apps we feel are great for use outside, but each has its own specific purpose and reason they have a strength. We won't spend time on any of these and rather talk about the reasons that we like GAIA GPS. Other apps that we think are notable:

  • Garmin Explore: Used in parallel with GAIA GPS since we have an Alpha 200i bundle that Addison (the dog) uses while on the trail.

  • OnX Hunt: Previously the primarily used application, but shifted due to the layering capability and folder structure that is available for GAIA GPS.

  • AllTrails: Used as a reference point for potential trails to hike, we use this to look at reviews to see if trails are overgrown, maintained, etc.


There are a number of reasons, but let's start with 4 key components that we feel this application excels at over the other apps. Mind you, we've written many articles on OnX Hunt that included the apps listed above -- but know that we feel this app organizes the treks better.

Why Do We Love the GAIA GPS MAP

The MAP on this app is outstanding and the fact that you can set up an additional layer is not specific to GAIA, but it notably is much better with sorting and layer. The app has the standard items that are necessary functions, like:

  • "Bullseye" (second from left on top): This will use your device's GPS to center it to where you are at the moment

  • "Layers" (last on the right): This is easy to add additional views of data to the map

  • Data available at the top for recording your trek that includes the 'record' button with elevation, time, and distance

  • And of course standard selections at the bottom for Map, Trip, Saved, and Settings

But most importantly, I have found that it's super reliable. My go-to for checking the accuracy of the Map is Morgan Run Environmental Area in Maryland. It is by far the most inconsistently mapped location that we frequent. GAIA GPS has all the trails mapped, which in reality is based on where they are pulling the source from (which is OpenStreetMap).

Links for the official GAIA GPS How-To:


This is where we think the application excels beyond the others. When setting up the application, you have the option to create folders and subfolders on the app to move your routes, waypoints, and tracks if you happen to record your trek.

Why is this important? It's not, per se. But if you have any level of OCD, it does help you organize your items -- in our case, we organize by State Park, National Park, National Forest, WMA, and of course, Shenandoah National Park (it's our go-to)

See below for official links on How-To with Folders.

As you can see, we have inserted our 'Routes' into the 'National Park' folder. If I were to click on the 'triple dots' on the right, I could edit everything about the specific line item including the folder where it is stored.

GAIA GPS: Mobile View of Folder

Similar to the mobile view, you can also access the folders on a computer that will sync with your computer. While this is great, I have noticed that sometimes the sync takes a moment if you happen to be working on both devices at one.

GAIA GPS: Desktop View of Folders

Links for the official GAIA GPS How-To:

Why Do We Love the GAIA GPS LAYERS

The Layers is a whole other ball of wax for GAIA GPS and really why it's significantly better than any of the others that we've used. And here's why:

  • The sheer amount of Layers that are available is outstanding

  • Ability to turn up and down the layer visibility on the map, you can tune how much the overlay will show

  • Ease to move from 'Active' to 'Inactive' which allows you to retain layers that you may not be using (e.g., New York Wildlife Management Areas may not be used frequently if you live in Virginia)

GAIA GPS does call out the most popular and layers that are available on a number of links on their website:

As you can see, the map layers are grouped into two buckets, 'Active' and 'Inactive' with both mobile and desktop interfaces. Each of the layers has a slider that will show how defined that layer is on the map.

GAIA GPS: Mobile Map Layers (Active)
GAIA GPS: Mobile Map Layers (Inactive)

And the desktop version allows the same toggling with the layers with sliders, etc.

GAIA GPS: Desktop Map Layers

Links for the official GAIA GPS How-To:


While this is very similar to the other applications, the GAIA GPS app will allow you to color code and edit each of the WayPoints in addition to allowing you to insert them into folders.

As you can see, when a WayPoint is created, there is the ability to 'Edit,' 'Add Photos,' 'Share,' with additional features. Scrolling down, you will see the ability to put the WayPoint in a folder, for this specific instance, it's in the State Park folder. And I have made a notation that Hosack Run is dog friendly since the other campground at the park is not.

GAIA GPS: Mobile WayPoint Editing

And one of the nicer features is the ability to color code the WayPoints. In this case, the campground is dog-friendly and borders a Wildlife Management Area which means that Fido can run free -- so in this case, I have coded it 'Green' for my personal reference.

GAIA GPS: Mobile WayPoint Icon

And when navigating the GAIA GPS map, when clicking on the map, WayPoints and other items of interest are shown in the 'Marked Location.'

GAIA GPS: Mobile WayPoint Appear When Clicking on the Map

Links for the official GAIA GPS How-To:

All Said and Done

While this is just a brief overview of the GAIA GPS app, whether it's on your mobile device or desktop website, this app consistently is reliable. It's our go-to for hiking and adventures. We encourage you to download this app and try it for yourself.

Now get outside and enjoy your hike!

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