Digital Maps & Apps

Digital Maps & Apps

Digital Maps & Apps

What is the optimal combination of maps and resources? We believe there are four types of resources for planning and safe travel in the backcountry: small and large scale paper maps along with online and offline digital maps. As a backup and supplement to paper maps, digital maps provide the ability to collect tracks and way-points, or measure distance hiked, time hiked, and cumulative elevation gain which are all functions that complement the map and compass. Below are examples of each of the four types of resources that all hikers should consider when heading out on the trail. For this article we will focus on two outdoor online/offline GPS mapping applications (GAIA GPS & Avenza Maps).

Reference a combination of smaller and larger scale paper maps along with online and offline digital maps. Research and plan before setting out the trail


GAIA GPS is a long-standing mobile navigation platform for backcountry travelers. Loaded with map layers and other features, GAIA is yet another great option for those traveling outside of cell service. Download maps for offline use and create custom routes. GAIA GPS premium plan also includes maps from the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series on iOS, Android, and Use our affiliate link below to save 20% off the premium membership.


natgeo gaia digital maps

Go Premium and tap into the world’s best collection of maps. Download the complete set of seamless Trails Illustrated maps and Topograpic Map Guides to your mobile deice with Gaia GPS, the leading outdoor navigation app. Use Gaia GPS to download maps when you don’t have cell service, plan trips, and navigate out in the back country.

Join hundreds of thousands of backpackers, hunters, offroaders, mountain bikers, backcountry skiers, firefighters, guides, and other serious outdoor adventurers and professionals that use Gaia GPS for work and play. Premium Membership includes National Geographic Illustrated Trail Maps.


GAIA GPS Membership Plans

All GPS Features (plan, navigate, and record)YYY
Search for hikesYYY
Organize, backup and share dataYYY
Download offline mapsYY
Print mapsYY
Layer multiple maps togetherY
NatGeo Trails IllustratedY
Weather & ConditionsY
Land Ownership, Hunting Units (Learn More)Y
Backpacking Maps (Learn More)Y
Offroad/Overland Maps (Learn More)Y
Backcountry Ski Maps (Learn More)Y
Mountain Biking Maps (Learn More)Y
Canadian Specific Maps (Learn More)Y
Specialty Maps for Europe/Australia/AsiaY

First and foremost, we recommend to carry both large and small scale maps (paper) in addition to smartphone applications. Below you can review options for paper and digital applications for the White Mountains National Forest. Links are provided for National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps (1:75,000), Custom Trail Maps (1:24,000-1:48,800), and smartphone platforms.

Avenza Maps

Avenza Maps is geared toward compiling your own library of maps. For example, GAIA GPS provides the National Geographic Map Collection as part of the yearly subscription where as Avenza you would purchase each map individually. Maps purchased from the Avenza Store can only be viewed in the Avenza Maps app on iOS or Android. This platform is geared toward a user who prefers to purchase their own map library with the ability to create custom maps (Geo-refernced GeoPDF’s).

Avenza Maps uses your devices built-in GPS to locate your position referencing the custom map of your choice that is created by various vendors within the platform. This allows the ability to purchase a hard-copy National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map and purchase the same map digitally to reference your position using the same cartographic design, points of interest, and map notes referenced on the paper copy. The ability to acquire maps at different scales and designs, with access to over 1 million high quality maps created by professional map publishers around the world. Below is an overview of the subscription tiers (free and plus).  Avenza also offers subscription plans geared toward the professional, academic, and government agencies.

Below are two images illustrating how custom GeoPDF maps are viewed and displayed within the Avenza Platform. Have a custom map you would like to see available within the Avenza Map Store? Contact and let us know.

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avenza cannon
Mount Cannon Trail Map
avenza lafayette
Mount Lafayette, Lincoln Trail Map

Recreational Plans


  • View Maps, record activities and GPS Tracks
  • Plot placemarks and photos
  • Get notifications when entering or leaving a specific area
  • Search and download maps from the Avenza Map Store*
  • Import up to 3 of your own maps at a time
  • *Additional Charges may apply for maps purchased in the Avenza Map Store


  • View maps, record activities and GPS Tracks
  • Plot placemarks and photos
  • Additional options for creating and managing geofences
  • Search and download maps from the Avenza Map Store*
  • Import and activate an unlimited number of your own maps
  • *Additional charges may apply for maps purchased in the Avenza Map Store
How Avenza Map Works; Version Comparison; Subscription Tiers

Avenza video covering beginner tools using your map store account, searching in the map store, dropping placemarks, importing maps, exporting data and recording tracks for Android Devices. There a plenty of tutorials available via there YouTube Channel.

If you have any questions on GAIA GPS or Avenza applications and how they can reference the same large and small scale paper maps in the backcountry, please let us know.

Note: Dedicated GPS receivers and cellphones are amazing tools, but should never be soley relied upon to find your way out of the wilderness. Never trust your life to a battery! Learn how to navigate with map and compass and remember “Hikes don’t start at the trailhead parking lot, they begin at home through proper preparation”.

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