Gaia GPS for smartphones

Questions about equipment and supplies to bring on a trip (including reviews).

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Tightlines01
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Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Tightlines01 » Fri Jan 20, 2017 7:05 am

Hey all,

Does anyone have any experience with Gaia GPS app? I know some people swear by it, but I've been hesitant to use/buy it. I've always used a dedicated GPS (Gamin 60 CSX) which has served me very well.

What are your thoughts on its performance versus a dedicated GPS unit?

What kind of battery drain does it cause on your phone?


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Tom
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Tom » Sat Jan 21, 2017 7:29 am

I personally think apps like Gaia or Backcountry Navigator are just fine for day hikers, but still hold limitations for backpackers. I'll use my smartphone when out exploring a local trail or a new half-day hike in an area, but stick to my Delorme GPS when it comes to off-the-grid multi-day travel.
"Performance" wise, the GPS chips (provided the phone uses them, but most do these days, as opposed to cell triangulation) are going to provide just as good of accuracy as a typical handheld unit in terms of keeping you on a hiking path or in the direction of your travel. So, "good enough" for hikers.
One issue to explore with those apps is how they can pre-load and cache data for a destination before you arrive... Like if you're going to Isle Royale, land of limited cell signal, and it hasn't grabbed the maps for the area yet. The big Achilles heel, though, tends to be battery life. Cell phones just aren't optimized to run the GPS radios (along with the App) for hours upon hours. That's often why in many "get more battery life out of your phone" guides, all of them recommend turning off the location services if you're not needing them. They tend to drain down battery power faster than you would like. That means you're in a place where now you need to bring additional power for the phone.
For me, I'll stick with my dedicated GPS. which also can take a fall on the rocks and uses the same batteries as my flashlight, so I have and share my redundant spares.
If I DID want to try something like Gaia, I'd probably do it if I was on a three-night trip or something, and then judiciously use the toggle button for location services on the phone to occasionally spot check my position, rather than having it track me along the way...


Ron E
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Ron E » Sat Jan 21, 2017 8:47 am

I have used Gaia on an iPhone 6S Plus. I've never carried a GPS other than I also carry an InReach SE which is a GPS/Satellite Text Messenger. I can give you a bit of info.
Gaia will work when your phone is in airplane mode to shut off all the other stuff that could drain power.
As to power usage, I have some data from when I use the app to record a track while I'm hiking. A track will not only record data on where you are at the moment but will include info on how fast you're traveling, but will record all of the altitude changes and save a history of the trip on your phone and you can go back and look at it later. In addition, you can use your phone to take a photo and it will drop a waypoint on the track which you can look at later. The photo is saved in the camera's camera roll.
On Isle Royale I have recorded some tracks and will try to show you what they look like with some screen captures. As this is only my second post, I haven't learned about including jpeg's with a post yet.
Gaia has a setting that will allow you to set the app to only access the GPS when the program is active. I haven't tested the use of the app when you only use the app to double check your position. This shouldn't use any more power than when your phone is on standby but I haven't tested this yet.
As to power usage when recording a track, now Gaia us running all the time and will continue to work when you turn off the screen. In the background it will continue to receive GPS and then calculate where you are, altitude, etc. as well as calculate how fast you are moving. I suspect that battery usage may vary dramatically from phone to phone. Since the screen is off, the usage will depend upon the processor in your phone that's doing these background calculations. With an iPhone 6S Plus, I have found that recording a track is taking ca. 2% of the battery per hour of hiking. When I stop to take a rest, I always seem to forget to pause the recording. This likely would save some battery. I always quit the program when I arrive at my destination. Since I rarely have the program running more than 10 h per day, how much of the phone's battery is used also depends upon whether I'm using it to record photos & videos.
You do need to download the maps in advance and they will take some space on your phone. I like some of the maps a lot. I pay for an additional service (GaiaPro) each year. It allows access to additional maps than the ones that you can get when you buy the program. I can't remember what ones you have access to without paying extra but I have found the following to be useful: OpenHikingMap HD and Gaia Topo. I also have downloaded the USGS Topo maps but it should be noted that The USGS are sometimes decades old and the trails may not have been updated. (This is not always bad. 3 years ago I was hiking with a friend in CO and I began to get severe cramps in the calf muscles and was reaching the point where I was having trouble walking. I found a trail on Gaia that led ca. 1/2 mile uphill to a housing development. The trail was no longer used and didn't appear on his map. It was probably easier than bushwhacking even though the trail was heavily overgrown and vanished in a couple of places.) In addition you can now download National Park Service Maps like the one handed out when you visit the Ranger Stations. It's exactly like them except it's GPS active.
I'll try to get back to you with some screenshots.


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Tightlines01
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Tightlines01 » Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:58 am

Thanks for some of the replies. All good info and I've shared many of your concerns Tom.

Out of curiosity, what middle Delorme GPS do you have? I've been debating one of the satellite messengers, which is making me reconsider my electronics. I know you can pair them with a phone for easy texting compared to the typical roll/click interface. I've been very happy so far with my garmin 60 CSX, not sure about just getting the messenger and still using my tried and true GPSr, getting the new combo unit from Garmin (who bought Delorme) using my phone for GPS and with the messenger, lots of possibilities


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Tom
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Tom » Sun Jan 22, 2017 2:46 pm

I have the original PN-20, and then added the PN-40 when I wanted something faster on the screen redraws. Since I used the Topo software and loaded all the maps/imagery from Isle Royale on them a while back, I haven't found any need to upgrade..


Midwest Ed
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Midwest Ed » Sun Jan 22, 2017 3:02 pm

Last year I bought a DeLorme (now Garmin) InReach. I really like it despite it being a bit pricey. I bought it for my family's peace of mind that they could track me and communicate via text while I roamed off road in the UP of Michigan. It's the full blown unit with navigation capabilities (not the SE model) but due to the very small screen size and cursor control it's very difficult to use for navigation. The small screen size is part of what gives this unit extremely long battery life. I had it turned on for over 12 hours each day and the battery indicator barely went under 90%. I've never tested their 100 hour claim but I wouldn't doubt 72 hours or more. The GPS receiver is not bad but my Samsung Galaxy S5 is more sensitive. Were I to repeat, I would get the SE model as I was using the inReach only for constant logging and the phone for occasional navigation.

Phone pairing is via Bluetooth and there is a wide variety of Delorme/Garmin maps available for download to the phone (you need a LOT of storage space on the phone.) Navigation via phone is quite good but phone battery life of course is probably the weak link. Your track record can be uploaded to DeLorme's cloud but at a lesser time interval than they are recorded. This interval is typically every 10 minutes. Two minutes costs more and it also drops to 30 minutes after it senses that you've stopped. Your tracks can then be accessed by family and friends, as well as send and receive texts. My unit is out of date now having been replaced with a newer model. I can't speak to any of its features or capabilities.

For those interested in what the DeLorme share point looks like, here's a link to my recent tracks recorded last summer. PW = MidwestYooper
8 trips, 1975 x 2, 1976 x 2, 1978, 1985, 2000, 2013


Ron E
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Ron E » Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:21 pm

I also carry an InReach in addition to using Gaia on my phone for the last 3 years. I have the InReach SE version. I use the Earthmate App on my phone (iPhone 6S Plus) and bluetooth to connect. I have found battery life to be what Ed describes above. One new feature added to InReach in the last ca. year sometime is the ability to get weather data downloaded by satellite for the location you're at. With older devices like mine I have to run a firmware update before I can give any info on it.

I connect with the phone as it's way easier to type and you have a larger screen to view the maps. The maps compare favorably to the maps on Gaia; however, some of the Gaia maps do have a bit more data. Example, I've been studying the route for a 7 day circuit in the Gallatin Mountains of Yellowstone that I plan to be on in Aug. The Gaia maps appear to show the names of the trails and also show some/all? of the backcountry campsites. The maps I have for the InReach don't show this info but I haven't checked to see if there are updated ones available.

Although the maps do take space I think they are smaller that those of Gaia. Can't give an exact comparison. The Gaia maps used to be much larger but they have done a good job shrinking them. Space isn't a problem for me as I have the 128GB version of the phone. Currently I have InReach maps for most/all? of the states west of the Mississippi along with some of Canada. Have much less of the Gaia as they take longer to download.

If you do use a phone with an InReach, be careful of battery use. When I left the phone connected to the InReach while hiking, I burned through the phone's battery in a day. You can get almost no battery use if you do this: Leave bluetooth off on the phone while hiking. If you want to see where you are on the map, turn bluetooth on and the InReach will connect automatically and then after 30-60 sec the InReach will do a data dump of your hike and the map will update with your location and also show all tracking points that were sent since the last data dump. Then turn bluetooth off.

I also carry the InReach for emergency use. You can either send a msg by satellite to anyone in the address book on your phone or if it's real bad, you can press the SOS button for a center manned 24/7. Messages cost a small amount of money; however, you can set up messages in advance on their website (Things like "I've arrived at camp all is well.") and these can be sent for free.

One final thing about the InReach. Make sure you go online and find the instructions on how to do a reboot of the device. I had a lot of trouble doing the initial set-up of the device and it was a weekend and no support was available. (This was when DeLorme owned it. Garmin owns it now.) I did a reboot and the set-up went flawlessly. A year or so later it got flakey on a hike and I did a reboot of it and of the phone so I don't know which fixed it.

I have a small preference for Gaia but I don't know why as it uses more battery if I do tracking.


Topic author
Tightlines01
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Re: Gaia GPS for smartphones

Post by Tightlines01 » Mon Jan 23, 2017 5:52 am

Great info all. Thanks so much. Any and all feedback welcomed while I decide. This year may just be a heavy pack year with GPSr, phone, battery charger, and Delorme till I try everything out on the island to determine what works for me. I just don't know I have the confidence to go without something (even with test hikes as the island is just so different than the main land)


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