Gaia GPS App (Gear of the Year 2013)

Trail Runner Gear of the Year: Best Smartphone App | $20 |


Jumping from 10 to 20 bucks over the past year or so, the Gaia app—available for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android—still offers cheap backcountry insurance. It provides the same features—mark waypoints, record tracks, navigate, etc.—as stand-alone GPS units and a friendlier interface. Indeed, most GPS units employ tiny, low-res screens with non-intuitive key functions. Gaia’s operations are iOS intuitive and the free maps (must be downloaded when you have internet service) display in high resolution, with, of course, easy touch-screen zooming. I also often toggle between topo maps and aerial photos. It’s quick and easy to pull up your trip distance, ascent info, speed and altitude profiles, average moving speed and more.

The Gaia website offers friendly customer support and helpful forums, and questions are often answered directly by the app developers, who are always tweaking the app and adding functionality.

Downside: The app does suck down battery power fairly quickly, which could put you SOL in the middle of nowhere. (With a dedicated GPS, batteries last much longer and you have to ability to change them out in the field.) But you can mitigate the iPhone battery issue by minimizing phone use, employing Airplane Mode and turning off Locations Services whenever possible. Or for a smartphone case that’ll boost your battery life, check out our Mophie review.