Topo/GPS App for iPhone


Aug 9, 2007
After a long, tortuous 15 months of trying out the Android OS, I am happy to say that I'm back on an iPhone. Phew! Only one problem though: One of the apps I really dug on Android is not available for iOS. It's called Backcountry Navigator Pro and it was awesome for caching topos and loading waypoints, etc. for when I head out and just need some minor GPS assistance finding a turn or something. Does anyone have any favorite iPhone maps that do this? I've heard of Gaia but it's like $20 so I don't want to drop that kind of cash without checking around.
Phil Endecott's TopoMaps app is solid ( I use it exclusively for backcountry GPS navigation. It's not flashy but it's extremely functional. It allows you to download individual USGS quads and store them on the device.

The one thing it doesn't do is track recording. For this, I use the well-tested and low-cost option in MotionX.
I was going to say this:

"I think I've tried most of them. Gaia has its advantages (it has the high resolution CalTopo maps by default), but it doesn't have a lot of features.

I ended up committing to Motion-X GPS. It doesn't have the CalTopo maps by default, but if you pay $5, and can figure out how to do it (I can help), you can add the CalTopo maps and downloadable satellite images.

For me, Motion-X just had a lot more features, so that's what sold me on it"

But I read @ashergrey's post before I posted this and now I want to try that app!
Two things I already like better on TopoMaps is that you can change the coordinate system (WGS84 vs NAD27), and it looks like you can use different waypoint icons.

Is that right, @ashergrey?

And can you navigate to a waypoint with that app?
The TopoMaps looks good with the different waypoint symbols, but I'll probably stick with Motion-X. Motion-X wasn't nearly as good before I figured out how to add the high resolution topo maps, but now that I have those maps, I like having all the functionality (the compass navigation, track recording) in one app.
Two things I already like better on TopoMaps is that you can change the coordinate system (WGS84 vs NAD27), and it looks like you can use different waypoint icons.

Is that right, @ashergrey?

And can you navigate to a waypoint with that app?

TopoMaps chief value to me is that I'm using a well-known data set (USGS quads) without having to worry about cacheing. I download the quad and it's there. The app will tile multiple quads together so you can pan between them.

Waypoints can be set in the app or loaded as files through the built-in server from any web browser on the same wifi network. I'll use this to set all of my place marks in Google Earth, then copy the kml file to the device.

What do you mean by navigate? Will it point you to a waypoint? Not exactly. But it will overlay your position on the map, as well as any waypoints you've set. You can use the device's compass to rotate the map around to your heading. I also really like the distance finder feature. Enable it when centered on a point of interest (or yourself). A series of rings will appear marking distance intervals. Drag and it creates a line measuring distance between the start and end points.
trimble outdoor navigator, it doesn't get any better in my opinion. I've had Gaia and Backcountry Navigator for a while, but trimble blows them away. I pay $3/month for the unlimited features, and it's definitely worth it for me. It's awesome for planning trips, photo-tagging waypoints, and everything else you use a GPS for. I absolutely love trimble.
Gaia for me all the way. I love the ease of storing maps locally and they have a great development team, frequent incremental improvements and great customer service.
It's awesome for planning trips, photo-tagging waypoints, and everything else you use a GPS for.

Just as a counterpoint, smartphones and even some DSLRs (yay Canon 6D) geotag themselves now, so I find this to be a less compelling selling point.

For trip planning, I much prefer to use a full computer. If I'm on network, I'm just going to use an actual web-based map service like Google or Gmap4.

I've been dissatisfied with many smartphone GPS offerings because they're not really suited for backcountry use. Offline map storage (not just cacheing but actual storage) needs to be faultless. Of course, everyone has different needs/use scenarios so there's no such thing as a "right" app for all cases.
Yes, most phones and cameras geotag themselves, but with Trimble, you can geotag it mid-trip, and it adds it as a waypoint to your route.

Here's a trip I did on New Year's. Adding a picture to my tracks is as simple as taking a picture from the app. No need to import, export, etc. It's now part of my route.

Trimble has a web-based, computer version where you can plan your trips, then it syncs them to your phone. I'm not saying it's the holy grail, but I like it 10x better than gaia (always freezing for me) and backcountry navigator (which I loved until I discovered trimble).
One other cool thing about Trimble, then I'll get off my soapbox, is with the elite membership ($3/month) you get free downloads of all the US topo maps @ 24k level for offline use. Download it to your sd card, and you never have to worry about having your maps or not. All of Utah's maps were around 9 Gb.

To get Utah's maps with a Garmin, you're talking $80+. My $3/month gets me the entire US. I'm not sure what happens when I decide not to become an "elite" member. Will my maps dissappoar, or no longer work in the app? Not sure. They have a free 2-week trial of elite, and after 2 days i was hooked. Like I said, may not be for everyone, but give the free app a try at a bare minimum.

If Trible didn't have such a great website, I wouldn't be raving about the app. The website, in conjunction with the free app, is a fantastic resource.
Just another compare/contrast point: downloads of the USGS 7.5-minute quads are free in TopoMaps. Once you buy the app, you have the full feature set.
Are those available offline too? In other words, can I download all of Utah's maps to my sim card at all zoom levels?
Are those available offline too? In other words, can I download all of Utah's maps to my sim card at all zoom levels?

They don't have zoom levels. They're just high resolution image files, so they do persist offline.
I ended up buying that TopoMaps app as well as Gaia. I definitely like Gaia the best.

On a related note - now that I can't just swap out my battery, I need to get a battery pack thingamajig for the new iphone so I can get it another charge or two on long backpacking trips. Any recommendations?
I just linked to a couple.

I have these:

Anker - It's heavy, but, man, it'll charge a lot.

ReVIVE - It'll only give you about a 50% charge, but it's very light. And it has a solar panel.

There are others you can check out...for me, they just seem to work.
I was in a rush to order for the weekend so I already picked one out. I think I might end up with that Anker one down the road though. I ended up buying the Jackery Bar. It's kind of middle of the road on weight and capacity (2-3 charges & 5.4oz) but it has added functionality of a built-in LED flashlight for emergencies. Seems like it might be a good one for 3-5 day backpacking trips. I'll report back on how it is.
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