One of the very cool things I can do with the iPhone 5 is eliminate carrying a separate GPS receiver when I’m hiking or biking.

I downloaded an app called Gaia GPS.  It turns the iPhone into a full featured GPS.

The big improvement this has over my old Garmin eTrex Legend is the ability to display the underlying USGS topo maps for no additional cost.  In the past, access to USGS maps for my computer was hundreds of dollars (keep in mind these maps are created by the government at taxpayer expense).


Screenshot of main map display

Screenshot of main map display


So in effect, this app also replaced the combination of using my laptop with the Garmin.  All for $20.

Normally the app pulls the maps from the internet as needed for an area, but it also has the ability to pre-download maps for an area for use where there is no cell signal.

Another plus, I was able to transfer all of the routes and waypoints stored in my Garmin to the app.  That’s about 7 years worth of stuff, most of it “off the beaten path”.

On a lot of the local trails, I like to mark trail junctions because in the winter you can’t see the trail under the snow.

I won’t go into everything the app can do, but it does everything my Garmin could do.


Here, the app is guiding me to a waypoint that I created on the map.

Here, the app is guiding me to a waypoint that I created on the map.


The big downside is the battery usage.  This is not the fault of the app.  It’s because the phone is not optimized for GPS only usage.  Recording a track is the biggest battery drain.  On a full charge, I estimate 4-6 hours of track recording.  Definitely not for backpacking use, where I’d be without power for days.

However, the app does have a variety of power saving features that will stretch out the battery life for a full day of hiking, but nothing compared to weeks of constant use my old Garmin can do.  But for 95% of what I do, it will be an improvement over the Garmin.

Coupled with an Otterbox Defender case, I’ve got a fairly durable GPS for outdoor use.