Never Get Lost – With Google Offline Maps

So long as you have a smart phone (with GPS and Compass – be sure it does before you buy it!) you don’t need a Garmin or any other GPS device, and you don’t need to pay for any maps or Apps. You can organise your phone so that you need never get lost.

However you do need to download the particular area you want to explore onto your phone as an offline map before you venture out into the wilderness. You should try this with your home area first so that you are sure you know how it works, then with a different area you are also familiar with. You need to be sure of yourself and your phone.

You need the Google Maps App from the Play Store installed on your phone and when you are downloading the ‘map’ you need to be connected to the internet. When you open the Maps App you will see three parallel lines on the top left hand corner. Click on them. A menu will open. Scroll down to ‘Offline Maps’ and select that. At the top of the page you will see ‘Select Your Own Map’. Tap on that. A map of the world will open. (probably it will already be centred on the area you are in now). You can navigate to any area of the world you want to download. Google will tell you how much space  on your phone the download will take up. Obviously you need to have the available storage. Click ‘Download’ to transfer the map selected to your phone. It will stay on your phone for a year. You have to refresh or ‘Update’ it before it expires. You have to be careful at this point that you are getting the map in the detail you need.

Now you can go offline. So you can turn off your Wifi and/or data and be in flight mode and still view the downloaded map. You just open the App, go to Offline Maps (as you did before) and select the appropriate map you want the phone to display. It will open. With ‘location’ selected, by pulling down the menu at the top of the phone, the phone’s GPS will locate your position on the offline map (by tapping on the round ‘location question mark’ icon below right, so you should never be lost again. You can view the Map as ‘Default, Satellite, Terrain’ etc by selecting from the menu icon on the top right hand corner of the map. BTW: You can tell your phone to default its ‘Location’ service to the phone’s GPS (rather than towers etc) if you are in a remote locale. This will save some battery usage.

I use this App all the time to navigate my way around the bush both in Victoria and in distant countries. We used an offline copy of all of Northern Scotland, for example. It works brilliantly when you have the map open (in offline mode).

It will even speak and tell you how to get ‘Home’ or to any described point just like Google online maps which you probably use in your car, but this still works when you don’t have any internet. It’s great for driving around in foreign countries where internet services are patchy or expensive.

Enjoy your journey.

PS: Be sure to close the App and turn off ‘Location’ and put your phone in ‘Flight Mode’ when you are not navigating as it will eat through your battery.

Please tell your friends.

TIP: You need to be sure that you have opened all the bits (they are technically called ’tiles) of the map you want before you download it, then after you have downloaded it you need to check (offline) that it is all there in the detail you want and need before you head off into the wilds. It takes a bit of practice to get all the bits you need downloaded in satellite view for example, but it is possible. I will update this post with more detail when I have time. I am busy preparing for a long trip at present.

PS: In satellite view you can see the topography. I have tried lots of other methods (See comments below) but this is the only method I know of which is free, accurate and up-to-date  and which works everywhere in the world. Also, at least having to update your map each year ensures you have a current copy. Things change.

NB. Note the comment below from Scott. Hey Steve, I thought these downloadable maps might be of interest to you. A bloke on an Aussie hunting forum set it up for himself and then made it publicly available for free. This bloke is certainly taking a big risk but it really does look as if he has posted eg all the Vicmaps to be downloaded for free. I haven’t yet checked whether they are Georeferenced and will work with your phone’s GPS but I suspect they are. My advice to anyone watching is ‘Get them while they are available!’ NBB: Be sure to switch on your VPN before you download them!

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12 thoughts on “Never Get Lost – With Google Offline Maps”

  1. Google Maps is a good option and I have most areas that I want downloaded but also have other another app (Locus Map, I was going to use Gaia but wasn’t sure that it had the projection that I wanted to load for Aus).

    You can download free topo maps from Shonkymaps to use in your apps at which is worth a look.

    1. Thanks Dean, Shonkymaps is an interesting site and is the sort of thing I was alluding to when I talked about pirated maps. I can see that you can eg get all the Garmin maps off Pirate Bay, and also obtain copies of all the old Vicmaps (not georeferenced) and then georeference them yourself. I have had a go at this using Adobe 9 I think but did not (quite) succeed. I will have another go as it would save people a lot of money. It seems to me that state governments would be wise to follow Qld’s and NZ’s lead and make them free for all the revenue they get from them doesn’t compare with the cost of expensive rescues and search parties which might be avoided if people had affordable reliable maps. Not to mention deaths. For the moment you can save yourself with your phone using Google and one of the ‘Take Me Home’ type of GPS App. I wish people would prepare themselves before they disappear ‘Into the Wild’ so to speak as it distresses me to learn about people dying quite unnecessarily for the lack of quite simple expedients. Knowing how to light a fire in the rain, for example (which is when you really need to be able to, and how to find or create shelter. Cheers, Steve. PS: I will have a look at Locus Maps when I get a chance.

      1. Should have mentioned it but the Shonky Maps are based on the Geoscience 1:250k scale set and so are freely available and are not a pirated copy.

        Also I suspect that the VicMaps will be freely available soon as the data used to build them is now able to be downloaded free.

        1. So many helpful comments today. Thanks you guys. You have helped so many people to find their way. Things are moving fast Dean. I have already posted a link to where you can download all the Vicmaps for free right now. Be sure to use your VPN just in case! Great work fellas. Cheers, Steve.

    1. Thanks Ernie. It will take a bit of practice before you have unerringly downloaded the piece of Google you want in the clarity you want, but it is possible and free – and works anywhere in the world. I do need to update the post with more detailed instructions. Cheers, Steve.

      1. Thanks Steve! Always fond of your posts.
        Am a green horn in hunting and soon will be combing the VIC bushes with me are all the knowledge and morality of hunting learnt from you.

        Thanks heaps!


        – a young father to a 3yo girl

        1. Thanks Ernie. I really appreciate your comment this morning. The PDF Maps and Vicmaps will give you a more detailed picture of your chosen hunting area and will be worth the investment in the long term but Google Maps is a great free safety device, and the satellite picture can give you perspective you can’t get off a paper map. Cliffs are hard to spot on either. I hope my hunting advice pays off for you (as it has for many others). Patience is a virtue. Mostly remember that the time spent enjoying yourself in the bush does not come off your allotted span of years! Cheers, Steve. PS: Try to get at least a day away from your vehicle. The deer are more biddable. There is less competition, and the experience of solitude more profound.PPS. That little girl will be going with you pretty soon – which reminds me: I must do a post about hiking with children!

  2. Google Maps offline seems like a far inferior (and risky – the downloaded maps expire!) compared to a dedicated topo mapping app like Gaia, View Ranger, Caltopo, etc.

    1. But most if not all of the others are very geographically limited and don’t apply at all to many quite large parts of he world – like Australia, for example. Fine if you are limited to North America, no doubt. Cheers, Steve.

        1. Thanks for that. But clearly, like Avenza/Pdf Maps (and lots of others) it is not free – and nor are most maps. I have already posted how to still run Pdf maps for free so that it will continue to open any number of maps. Qld and NZ both have free Topo maps which is great, but here in Vic you have to pay A$8 for a very small piece of country. I use Backcountry (which is not free) in NZ with their free Topo maps (and have already posted about it) and Pdf in Qld. I also run Pdf maps here in Vic with a heap of purchased maps of favorite places. Google is something everyone has on their phones and the ‘maps’ are free, so it is a good way of quickly getting a picture of the area you are about to visit. As such it should prevent people from getting lost. There are a couple of free Apps I know about (Memory Map) which you can download a free 1:250,00 Topo map of the whole of Australia. You should be able to do this with PDF Maps – I will investigate. If you already have it on your phone, this could be a life saver, but again (like Google) you need to have already opened the area you are going to need. Everything else which is free other than Google doesn’t provide free coverage of every area in the world. Another good strategy might be to explore the ‘Track Back’ type of GPS Apps (like ‘Handy GPS’ for example) which tell you how to get back to your point of origin (if you remembered to input it before starting out). It is also possible to get hold of ‘pirated’ Topo maps (sharing bought Vicmaps with friends on Pdf Maps for example) or the many maps available on ‘Pirate Bay’. If you can convert them to Pdf and add georeferencing they are an option. My point in this post is to explain to people a free (and relatively easy) way of getting a ‘map’ of an area they are about to visit so that they are unlikely to get lost in it. Having grown up in the wilderness I personally never need a map and can easily find my way to and from anywhere I might want to go even if it is a journey of many days. I also have such a good memory that if I drop something I can backtrack through the trackless bush to find it -as I once did with a hearing aid I had lost hours before. Now I use a simple hearing aid ‘safety belt’ so that I don’t lose them in the firswt place (better). Most people do not have this skill. Personally I think my post is quite useful for most people, and I do not see the sense of your niggling (and largely irrelevant or untrue) criticisms. This is not a social media or chat page. It is my personal blog. I welcome helpful suggestions, but I don’t have all the time in the world to chat about things which are largely red herrings. A quick PS: I have just had a look at ‘Viewranger’. I checked out the ‘map’ it has of the South Coast Track it has. It is very dangerously wrong. I have walked this awful track (see my posts). It took 7 gruelling days (not 27 hours) and it is twice as long an much harder than View Ranger thinks. Start your own blog. I do not need dangerous or false hiking/hunting etc advice here!

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