Navigation with Gaia GPS

Smartphones as GPS units

  • Smartphones contain GPS chips that do not rely on cell or wifi signals
  • Using your smartphone provides a larger and higher quality screen, faster processors, and a full line of accessories like waterproof cases
  • Baselayers can be downloaded, providing high-resolution topo, satellite and other options
  • The major disadvantage is battery life, especially in cold weather. I’ll list some battery-saving tips at the bottom of this page.

Gaia GPS

I’ve tried a few navigation apps, but after working with Gaia GPS, I haven’t felt the need to try anything else. This is an incredible app. There are two components, the Gaia GPS app, and gaiagps.com, and two levels of subscription, Basic and Premier. Premier includes a few base layers that are really nice to have (ESRI Worldview and Slope-Angle Shading), as well as making multiple layer downloads easier. But that’s about it, in my opinion.

Promo/Discount Codes

Video Tutorials

These videos provide a summary of all the app features. Equivalent text directions are below the videos.

Top Four Features
All Features
Integration with Google Earth

Text Tutorial: GaiaGPS.com

Uploading tracks and points

GaiaGPS.com, the website, is a good option for basic route drawing. If you draw a route in gaiagps.com, it will automatically sync to your phone. If you draw a route in Google Earth, CalTopo, etc., you will need to upload your route to Gaia as a .kml or .gpx file.

  • From gaiagps.com, click on your username/account, then Upload
  • Name the upload and select the .kml/.gpx file
  • If the uploaded features don’t show up on the app within minutes, you can force sync by going to settings → AccountSync/Backup
  • I sometimes see the route but not the associated waypoints. From the app, go to SavedFolders, then toggle visibility on your folder

Custom load Google Earth imagery

Gaia stopped serving google earth imagery, presumably due to “terms of service” conflicts. I prefer the Google imagery because it is what I am familiar with from the route-planning stages. You can still get the imagery, it just takes a few more steps.

  • From gaiagps.com, click on your username/account, then Map Sources+ Import an External Map Source
  • Label the Map, something like “Google Earth” seems appropriate.
  • In the Copy and Edit Link to Map Tile field, paste the following link:
http://mt0.google.com/vt/lyrs=s&hl=en&x={x}&y={y}&z={z}&s=Ga
  • If you pasted a correctly formatted link, you will see thumbnails of the imagery at the bottom of the page.
  • Note that you can adjust the min/max zoom levels. 16 is a good default max zoom, and bumping it up any higher will create tiles that will swamp your phone’s memory. However, for some applications (small aerial extent), you might want to bump the resolution up to 19.
  • Click Add this map source
  • The Google Earth layer should now be visible in the map view on the website.
  • Once you phone, click on Map Sources (upper right icon) → EditCustom Imports → select your new map source.

Follow the same steps for these other layers, if interested.

Google Road: http://mt0.google.com/vt/lyrs=m&hl=en&x={x}&y={y}&z={z}&s=Ga
Google Terrain: http://mt0.google.com/vt/lyrs=t&hl=en&x={x}&y={y}&z={z}&s=Ga
Google Hybrid: http://mt0.google.com/vt/lyrs=y&hl=en&x={x}&y={y}&z={z}&s=Ga
ESRI World View: http://server.arcgisonline.com/ArcGIS/rest/services/World_Imagery/MapServer/tile/{z}/{y}/{x}
Stava Heatmap:https://heatmap-external-b.strava.com/tiles/all/hot/{z}/{x}/{y}.png

Text Tutorial: Gaia GPS App.

Downloading basemaps

Download basemaps before leaving wifi coverage. There are two options:

  1. From the ⊕ icon, select Download Maps. Adjust the bounding box and Max Zoom settings accordingly. For the Basic subscription, what you see is what you get… only the visible layer will be downloaded. For Premium, all of your Visible Layers will be downloaded.
  2. If you already have a route on the map, click on the route → ⓘ → three circle icon in upper right → Download Maps for Track. This option gives you control over which layers and resolution level to download.

Navigation

Line of Sight

Press the location cross hair twice to enter line-of-sight mode. Approximate bearing can be read from the compass window.

Bearing and Distance

You can read the bearing and distance off a point by going through the motions of creating a route. There are two options:

  1. Long press the area of the screen that you want to drop a point.
  2. From the ⊕ icon, select Create Route

You can move the blue dot by dragging it to a new location. If the blue dot doesn’t show bearing and distance, either your phone doesn’t know your current location (wait until location is found), or you just need to tap on the blue dot again.

Note that you can add more points to your route by long pressing on the screen, and each leg will appear with a distance label.

Recording Tracks

From the ⊕ icon, selectRecord a Track

Exporting Points, Tracks, Routes

There are several ways to share tracks, routes, and points.

Folder method: Place everything in a folder, Select SavedFolders. Then:

Select the share icon in upper right, and invite by email or send a link via text/email. If you send a link, the recipient will have to open the link in gaiagps.com (the website) and then add the folder to their account.

OR

Select the three dot icon in the upper right → Export, and send kml or gpx via text, email or Air Drop. The Air Drop function is particularly valuable because it can be used without WiFi or cell. This is of relevance to Search and Rescue teams that want to record search effort and identify zones with less effort.

Managing Battery Life

Gaia settings

Gaia includes a few battery saving options in SettingsPower Saving

Phone settings

A not-too-outdated reference

  • Airplane mode → on (major factor)
  • Leave phone on unless it won’t be used for ~16 hours (major factor). Powering my phone on/off is a major draw.
  • Cellular, Wifi, BlueTooth → off
  • Battery → Low Power Mode
  • Background App Refresh → off
  • Brightness → down
  • Touch ID → off
  • Enable Lock screen (after 30 sec?)

External power

Solar panels (with built-in battery) and external batteries or cases work very well.

Other Tools

It would be careless to rely entirely on a phone for navigation. We carry paper maps, compasses, and a stand-alone GPS unit (my preference is the inReach Explorer+) on each trip.

Stand-alone GPS units

You can transfer kml or gpx files between GPS units, route planning software, Gaia, etc., using:

  • Garmin Basecamp: save the folder as a .kmz or .kml, open it in Basecamp, right-click the ‘list’ and select ‘Send to your device.’ Be sure to select the ‘tracks’ box.
  • GPS Babel: an incredibly powerful (though not as intuitive) tool for managing various geospatial data

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