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Avenza Maps can guide your outdoor trek when you don’t have network access

Kraig Becker
avenza maps app hiker using mobile device

Modern maps apps on our mobile devices are incredibly useful, helping us to navigate from one place to the next, keeping us informed on shifting traffic patterns, and recommending places to eat, drink, and shop too. But, take away our device’s Internet connection and suddenly those same apps aren’t quite so handy. Without their ability to download information about our current surroundings they become all but useless. That is not the case with Avenza Maps which was built to function offline, offering high-quality maps even when traveling off the grid.

Available as a free download for iOS, Android, and Windows, Avenza Maps serves as a portal to the Avenza Map Store, which is filled with hundreds of different maps that are available to purchase for a nominal fee. Those maps were created by professional cartographers, surveyors, and organizations like National Geographic and the U.S. Forest Service. Many are even specialized for use in national parks, hiking trails, and other recreational areas around the world.

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The Avenza app uses your mobile device’s built-in GPS capabilities to find your current location and suggest maps that are applicable to that specific place. You can also search the store to find maps for a future destination and have them downloaded and stored on your phone before you arrive. Most of the files are priced at 99 cents.

The maps are stored on your device and have the ability to interact with all the features of the app, even while offline. Those features include being able to use the device’s GPS capabilities to find your current location, track your movement in real time across the map, and drop waypoints — complete with custom names and notes. The app can also provide the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of any location on the map and can accurately measure distances and area too.

In day-to-day use, it’s tough to beat Google Maps or even Apple Maps at this point. But, if you’re going to be backpacking in a remote area, or visiting a foreign city where a data connection can be a costly option, Avenza Maps can be a viable alternative, provided you are adept at reading maps. The software won’t provide turn-by-turn directions, for instance, so you will have to navigate your own course to and from your destination. Still, when you consider that most other mapping apps can’t do much of anything once they stray from an Internet connection, this is a handy option to have installed as a backup.