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It’s the worst feeling: being lost in the backcountry with no cell reception. Here’s how to find your way back. (Photo: Stephen Morris/Stocksy)

How to Find Your Location Without Cell Service

We’ve all felt that panic when you wander off trail and can’t find your way back. Gaia GPS solves this problem.

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This article was first published by Gaia GPS. To get more of its exclusive content and entire map catalog, sign up to become a Gaia GPS Premium Member.


You’re on an adventure having the time of your life, until all of a sudden you’re lost. You can’t find the trail, and you don’t have cell service. Whether you’re hiking, offroading, running, or biking, we’ve all experienced that moment of panic. That’s a large reason why Gaia GPS was born.

The mapping app has a feature to save you from hours of frantically trying to retrace your steps in vein. In fact, you can find out where you are in seconds, even when you can’t get a cell signal. All you have to do is pull out your phone, open Gaia GPS, and locate yourself on the map. Here’s how to do it.

Plan Ahead—Download Maps for Offline Use

In order to locate yourself on the map, there is one catch. You must have your maps downloaded for offline use. Thankfully, downloading a map is easy to do. You just need a Gaia GPS Premium Membership. Then you can download maps for the entire region that you’re traveling to, or even an entire state.

Pro tip: Before you leave the trailhead, start recording your tracks so you leave a bread-crumb trail of your steps right on the map. That way you can always retrace your steps and find your way back.

Locate Yourself on the Map

Lost and have no clue where you are? You can find yourself on the map in seconds thanks to the “Locate” icon. Simply open the Gaia GPS app, and tap the circular icon with the four compass points in the very center of the top toolbar in the app. The arrow icon (called the “Map Arrow”) now shows your exact position on the map. Zoom in or out and pan around the map to get a better sense of your bearings.

Pro tip: You can quickly see how far away you are from the trail or the trailhead. Simply tap your desired destination on the map, and a drawer will pop up on the bottom of the screen showing the distance to it.

Navigate Your Way Back

Once you’ve located where you are on the map, you can use Gaia GPS to find your way back to familiar ground. If you are recording your tracks, hold your phone out in front of you and turn your body until the map arrow points in the direction of your breadcrumb trail. Start walking along your recorded track and your arrow should move right along with you.

If you’re not recording your tracks, don’t despair. Examine the map to find the trail, trailhead, or a particular feature on the map you’d like to reach. Once you’ve pinpointed your destination, you can even drop a waypoint onto the map for easy reference. Using the map arrow as a guide, work your way back.

Even when your phone is completely offline and in airplane mode, you can locate yourself on the map, create routes, create and edit waypoints to mark important spots like campsites and water sources, and record tracks and follow them back. You’ll never be lost again.

Gaia GPS is a part of Outside Inc., the same company that owns Outside. For a Gaia GPS premium membership, sign up here.

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