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The West Highland Way winds through some of the most spectacular and varied scenery that Scotland has to offer. You’ll pass through green pastures, walk along the beautiful Loch Lomond, and take in incredible Highland vistas. While this incredible variety of landscapes undoubtedly has you excited for your adventure, it might also make you wonder how you’ll ever navigate the West Highland Way. Should you bring a map? Is the trail well marked? How will you find all the campgrounds you’re staying at?

This post will explain how we navigated on the West Highland Way, including which maps to bring, the tools we used, and even some custom resources for those using our Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way. Let’s get started.

Map of the West Highland Way

The West Highland Way winds its way north from Milngavie to Fort William

 

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Should I bring a map?

This is one of the questions we get most often from readers who are getting ready to head out on the West Highland Way. They’ve heard that the trail is very well marked, well maintained, and that hikers are rarely far from a road of town (all of which are true). However, our answer is always a resounding YES- you should bring a map with you on the West Highland Way!

As you’ll read below we relied heavily on our smartphone’s GPS features and a handy app that allows you to navigate even without cell phone service. It’s a great system and one we highly recommend, but we would have been out of luck if our battery died or a torrential downpour rendered our phones useless. In some situations, there is nothing more useful than an old fashioned paper map to help you find your way and ensure that you have a great West Highland Way experience. We recommend the Cicerone West Highland Way map booklet, a convenient booklet that includes the entire West Highland Way in a pocket-sized book, or the West Highland Way Footprint Map, a more traditional folding map.

Now that you’ve got your maps safely tucked away in your pack in case of emergency, let’s get started learning how to harness the power of your smartphone to navigate your way to a successful West Highland Way walk!

Offline GPS maps for the West Highland Way

An offline mobile map of the West Highland way is one of the easiest ways to navigate while you’re on the trail. You’ll simply open up your chosen GPS app (more on that below) and be able to view your location as well as the trail, alternate routes, and stopping points along the West Highland Way. We utilized this to find our campgrounds, check that we were still on the route, and know how far we had hiked at any point in the day.

We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the WHW and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your own trek. Keep reading below to learn more about how your phone can work as a GPS and how we can help you feel confident using this navigation method.

Using your smartphone as a GPS

If you’re anything like us, you use your smartphone’s mapping capabilities on a daily basis. Whether it’s checking how bad the traffic is, consulting the bus schedule, or looking up the best bike route, apps like Google Maps provide tremendous value for navigating our world.

These apps work by using the GPS location data that your phone provides, combined with a base map that shows you the surrounding context. You need both of these features (the GPS location + the base map) in order for the mapping app to be useful. Normally, your phone is able to source the base map information by utilizing  an internet connection or cellular data. This works great in most situations, but won’t help you when you’re hiking along the shores of Loch Lomond without cell phone service. In that case, all Google Maps will be able to show you is this:

Blank TMB map

Not a very effective way to navigate

In order to use the incredibly useful GPS functions on our phones to navigate in more remote areas (like the West Highland Way) we have to solve the base map problem.

The solution?

GPS navigation apps that allow us to download base maps ahead of time. These apps allow you to select the area you’ll need to access and download the base map directly to your phone. Then, when you’re without cell phone service, the app will pull up the downloaded base map and be able to show you exactly where you are on the trail!

Even though your phone is not connected to cell service or internet, the GPS will still work without incurring any “roaming” charges. In the next section I’ll show you exactly how to set up your phone to navigate on the West Highland Way.

West Highland Way Maps – What we provide

For those looking for West Highland Way GPS resources, we offer a complete mapping digital download for just $4.99. Included you’ll get access to both .gpx and .kml files for the entire West Highland way route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional, 8-day itinerary.

For those who aren’t following this standard 8-day itinerary, we offer a number of solutions to help you navigate on the West Highland Way. From our detailed Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way to custom itineraries we’re here to help!

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Which app should I use?

There are two main offline GPS navigation apps that we recommend for those hiking the West Highland Way: Maps.me and Gaia GPS. The main difference between the two apps is that Maps.me is free to download and use, but has limited base maps. On the other hand, Gaia GPS requires a $19.99 annual subscription to use but has superior offline base maps and more robust navigational tools. Check out the comparison below to see how a specific section of the West Highland Way displays in each of the apps.

As you can see, Maps.me can easily display the route as well as location markers along the way. However, the same section of trail displayed in Gaia GPS gives the user much more information such as adjacent trails, topographic lines, and elevation shading. For this reason, we highly recommend you invest the $20 to use Gaia GPS, although we certainly understand those who prefer to use a free option. Instructions for downloading and accessing the GPS data for the West Highland Way for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.

Using Gaia GPS for your West Highland Way map

The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom West Highland Way GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.

Step One – Download the West Highland Way GPS file (either .kml or .gpx)

When you purchase our West Highland Way GPS download or one of the premium versions of our Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the .GPX or .KML file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Gaia GPS, which you should do.

Gaia GPS will then import the data and you should see the West Highland Way route and waypoints for your specific itinerary displayed on the map.

West Highland Way - Gaia GPS

Success! You’ve imported the West Highland Way GPS data in Gaia GPS.

 

Step Two – Choose your map source
Next, you’ll want to select your base map. This will be the background map that you will eventually download and use to navigate while hiking, even without cell phone service. There are tons of background maps available for download, but we highly recommend the “Outdoor” layer for those hiking the West Highland Way. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.

 

Step Three – Navigate to the West Highland Way and download your background map
Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the West Highland Way. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know your exact location on the trail when you don’t have cell phone service. To download the map background data, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the West Highland way in Gaia GPS
  2. Select the ‘Create’ button (circle with a plus sign in the upper right hand corner)
  3. Select ‘Download Map’
  4. Draw a rectangle with your finger that encompasses the entire West Highland Way
  5. Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
  6. Name your map ‘West Highland Way’ and select ‘Save’
  7. Allow the download to complete and you’re done! (you’ll want to be connected to WiFi for this)

That’s it! Now you’re all set to navigate on the West Highland Way like a pro with an offline GPS map in Gaia GPS. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the campgrounds along the route!

Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail

The final step for navigating like a pro on the West Highland Way is to know how to utilize the Gaia GPS app when you are out on the trail. To view your current location, simply select the location button on the top menu. At this point your phone will activate its GPS, and (providing you have a fairly clear view of the sky) in a few moments it will show you exactly where you are by displaying a yellow arrow.

Use this whenever you want to see how far you’ve gone, how much further you have left until your next stop, or if a fork in the road has you questioning the correct way.

NOTE: The yellow arrow shows you where you are, but will not necessarily point towards the direction you are actually facing. This is important to remember when you are orienting yourself!

Interested in camping along the West Highland Way? Our Premium Guide includes custom GPX data for your itinerary!

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Maps.me GPS for your West Highland Way map

The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom West Highland Way GPS data we’ve created in Maps.me. Maps.me is an excellent free navigation app that allows you to download offline background data. As we noted above, downloading background data is the the key to successfully utilizing GPS to navigate on the WHW.

The primary shortcoming of  using Maps.me for navigation while trekking is the limited base map data. You won’t find detailed topographic lines, terrain shading, or other helpful features. However, we know that many trekkers will be just fine with Maps.me and you can’t beat the price! Here is your step-by-step guide to utilizing our West Highland Way GPS data with Maps.me:

Step One – Download the West Highland Way GPS file

When you purchase our West Highland Way GPS download or one of the premium versions of our Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the .KML file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. Be sure to select the .KML file as Maps.me cannot read .gpx files. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Maps.me, which you should do.

After opening the GPS file with Maps.me, the app will navigate to your current location and will also display a message stating that your bookmarks have successfully been loaded. You’ll need to move the map from your current location to the West Highland Way and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.

Step Two – Download the West Highland Way background maps

Once you have successfully loaded the West Highland Way GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the route as a base map in Maps.me. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know where exactly you are on the trail. To download the background map data in Maps.me, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the West Highland Way in Maps.me
  2. Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
  3. You’ll need to download two distinct regions in Maps.me to cover the entire route. They are:
    1. Scotland – South
    2. Scotland – North
  4. Continue to zoom in on different segments of the trail until you have downloaded both of these regions
  5. Verify that you’ve downloaded all of the required base maps by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
  6. Once you’ve checked that both regions have been successfully downloaded you’re all done!

To verify that you’ve successfully downloaded both of the required base map regions in Maps.me follow these steps:

  1. Select the ‘Menu’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen
  2. Select ‘Download Maps’
  3. Select ‘United Kingdom”
  4. Select each country and verify that you have both of the following maps downloaded:
    1. Scotland – South
    2. Scotland – North

 

That’s it! You’re all set to navigate on the West Highland Way like a pro with an offline GPS map utilizing Maps.me. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the stopping locations along the route!

A note on battery life

One of the easiest ways for the app-navigation method to go awry is for your phone battery to die. I recommend two strategies to help prevent an unexpected dead battery from sabotaging your trip. The first is to ensure that you always exit the app before locking your phone. This will prevent the app from continually locating you, and thus draining your battery. You can also keep your phone on “airplane mode” to prevent it from wasting battery life while searching for cell service.

The second way to prevent a dead battery from causing problems is to carry a backup battery system. These are relatively inexpensive and are worth their weight in gold when you find yourself with a dying battery. I like the Anker PowerCore 20100, but any decent option should do.

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What’s Next?

Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!