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Points in the Right Direction: Backcountry Travel with the Gaia GPS Navigation App

Words from Mike St. Pierre

Mike St. Pierre here, founder and CEO of Hyperlite Mountain Gear and avid adventurer. I’ve traveled extensively both on and off trail. And while I’m familiar with the old tried and true compass and map, the digital and GPS-based route-finding tools I’ve employed in my trips for the last ten years have impacted how I travel in multiple ways.

With this technology, it makes on and off-trail route planning much easier to do in advance. It allows you to draw in and label your route, build and organize multiple contingencies plans/routes, mark water sources, hazards, and or points of interest.

The way GPS is used in backcountry adventuring continues to evolve, and one platform that is always adapting to keep pace is Gaia GPS. After trying a couple of different programs, Gaia GPS has become the easiest to use and is by far the most robust GPS tracking software available. It’s never let me down while used in the field, especially on trips that are longer in duration.

If I’ve got a trip in the works in an area that I haven’t fully explored or in an area that’s completely new to me, I’ll lean on Gaia GPS before I even set foot out the door. To get things going, I start understanding the trip idea from a 30,000 ft. view, meaning I literally might start with a satellite view of a country, then a state or province, and where within that region the place we’re planning to go is located. I find what National Parks are nearby–if we’re not going directly to one. Then, what mountain ranges or big rivers are close.

From here, I start to zero in more precisely on the route or suggested direction of travel. I find the trailheads or starting and endpoints. Following the terrain, I’ll start drawing in the proposed line to connect them, and once I’m happy with it, I’ll begin to explore contingencies. In the case of off-trail travel, alternate routes are identified. I look at possible places to exit early if a problem were to arise or if someone were to get hurt. I look at and confirm water sources, find what I think will be the hardest part of the trip or the crux move or moves, and I’ll drop pins on water sources, hazards, points of interest, and tricky trail intersections, etc.

Before my pack is loaded, I’ve already provided myself with details to research, and I’ve got a theoretical vision of what lies ahead. Going into an adventure blind is only fun until it’s not. Gaia GPS eliminates a lot of guesswork and potential unwanted surprises.

If you’re just getting started using Gaia GPS as a travel tool, HERE’S a tutorial from my friend and ambassador Luc Mehl that I recommend for a deeper dive into how the app works and what’s possible with it. Get out there!