It is often said that if you walk more than 20 feet on the GR20 without seeing one of the famous red and white paint flashes that you’ve gone off the trail. In reality, navigating on the GR20 is a bit more complicated than that, especially given the multiple variants, difficult terrain, and exposed nature of the route. The last thing you want while tackling this famously difficult trail is to have to think too hard about navigating. That’s why we recommend all trekkers think about how they’ll find their way on the trail before arriving in Corsica.
We think that with the proper tools and preparation you’ll have no difficultly navigating on this incredible trail. In this post we’ll walk you step-by-step through exactly how we navigated on the GR20 utilizing offline GPS maps on our smartphones. We’ve even got some great resources for those who would like to do the same. Let’s get started!
In this post
- Do I need a paper map for the GR20?
- Offline GPS maps for the GR20
- GR20 Maps – How we can help
- Which app should I use on the GR20?
- Gaia GPS for the GR20
- Maps.me for the GR20
- A note on battery life
Do I need a paper map for the GR20?
The GR20 presents some unique challenges when it comes to bringing physical maps. The route is so long that in order to cover it in its entirety you would need to bring no less than seven IGN maps. All this for a hike that you should be packing as light as possible! We did not rely on paper maps during our GR20 hike, instead choosing to utilize the GPS maps described in this article. That being said, we always recommend that trekkers carry some form of paper maps with them. There are just too many opportunities for you to run out of battery, break your phone, or have some other technological malfunction that renders your GPS map useless.
To cover the entire GR20 at a good scale (1:25,000) we recommend bringing the following IGN maps:
If you’re like us and don’t want to carry SEVEN IGN maps we would recommend picking up the 1:100,000 scale maps that IGN publishes for Corsica:
While these maps won’t provide great detail on the trail, they will at least help you orient and understand your surroundings.
A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.
Read more: Be sure to familiarize yourself with the route, elevation profile, and more by checking out our GR20 Map Resource.
Offline GPS maps for the GR20
Offline GPS maps for your smartphone are one of our favorite insider tips for those trekking the GR20. These maps make navigating the route a breeze by showing you exactly where you are on the trail as well as the surrounding terrain, next stopping point, and other important data. We utilized these features frequently on our own GR20 hike to know how far we had hiked at any given time, check that we were still on the trail, and know how close we were to the next refuge on the trail.
Setting up these apps takes little effort on your part, but will make your GR20 much less stressful! Once you’ve selected your app of choice (more on that below) you simply download the necessary GPS files onto your phone, download some background maps, and you’ll be navigating like a pro in no time!
We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the GR20 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.
Turn your phone into a GPS
Did you know your phone can do much more than just send email, take great photos, and video chat with someone halfway around the world? Our favorite feature that is often overlooked is the modern smartphone’s ability to act as a GPS device. This is especially useful for long distance treks with limited cell phone service like the GR20! You regularly use this feature when navigating with Google Maps, Apple Maps, or other mapping software that comes standard on most phones these days.
The problem you run into while hiking is that your phone relies on having an internet connection in order to download the background mapping data that needs to be displayed for you to know where you are. You see, the GPS in your phone only provides a location point, but the really valuable data is the background map that shows the various streets, businesses and even traffic conditions around you. Without an internet connection to show the background map, your Google Maps app will look something like this:
Solving the background map problem
Given the excellent cell phone and internet coverage in cities and town, this typically isn’t an issue. However, this can be very problematic when you’re nearing the top of Monte Cinto on the GR20 without cell service! So what’s the solution?
GPS Navigation apps that allow for downloadable background maps. These apps allow you to select a predefined area, in our case the entirety of the GR20, and download the background map to your phone.
This allows you to access the map data without a cell phone connection and still know exactly where you are! Even though your phone is not connected to cell service or internet, the GPS will still work and give you accurate location information. Pretty cool, huh? I’ll show you exactly how we did this for the GR20 below.
GR20 maps – How we can help
For those looking for GR20 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 GR20 route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional itinerary.
These custom maps can be used on Android and Apple devices and works with both paid and free GPS navigation apps.
Which app should I use on the GR20?
There are countless GPS app options available for you to choose from. Of those we’ve used and recommend two options for GR20 hikers: 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 GR20 displays in each of the apps. Instructions for downloading and accessing the GPS data for the GR20 for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.
As shown above, both apps do a fine job of displaying the route and location points along the way. The major difference is that Gaia GPS provides much more in depth information such as adjacent trails, topographic data, and elevation shading. It is for this reason that we highly recommend you spend the $20 to use Gaia GPS. However, we definitely understand those who prefer to use the free option. If you decide to go that route it is even more important for you to carry paper maps as you may need more detailed information than what Maps.me provides.
Gaia GPS for the GR20
The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom GR20 GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.
Step One – Download the GR20 GPS file
When you purchase our GR20 GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to open the email and download the .KML (or . GPX) file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. If you do happen to download the file to your computer you’ll need to transfer it to your phone. The easiest option for this would be to simply email it to yourself.
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 GR20 route and waypoints for your specific itinerary displayed on the map.
Step Two – Choose your map source
Next, you’ll want to select your base map for the GR20. 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 GR20. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.
Step Three – Navigate to the GR20 and download your base map
Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the GR20 – which is almost the entire island of Corsica! 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:
- Navigate to Corsica and then the area of the GR20 in Gaia GPS
- Select the ‘Create’ button (circle with a plus sign in the upper right hand corner)
- Select ‘Download Map’
- Draw a rectangle with your finger that encompasses the entire GR20
- Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
- Name your map ‘GR20’ and select ‘Save’
- 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 GR20 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 refuges along the route!
Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail
The final step for navigating like a pro on the GR20 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!
Maps.me for the GR20
The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom GR20 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 GR20. The primary shortcoming of using Maps.me for navigation while trekking is the limited base map data.
You won’t find any 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 GR20 GPS data with Maps.me:
Step One – Download the GR20 GPS file
When you purchase our GR20 GPS download, 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 GPS file directly onto your phone to simplify the process. Be sure to download 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’ll want to go ahead and 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 GR20 and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.
Step Two – Download the GR20 base maps
Once you have successfully loaded the GR20 GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the GR20 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:
- Navigate to Corsica and then the area of the GR20 in Maps.me
- Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
- You’ll need to download the Corsica map in Maps.me to cover the entire GR20.
- Verify that you’ve downloaded the required base map by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
- Once you’ve checked that the Corsica map has been successfully downloaded you’re all done!
To verify that you’ve successfully downloaded all of the Corsica base map in Maps.me follow these steps:
- Select the ‘Menu’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen
- Select ‘Download Maps’
- Select ‘France’
- Verify that the ‘Corsica’ map is downloaded
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.
Want more GR20 content? Keep reading!
Be sure to check out all of our GR20 posts below:
- The Ultimate Guide to the GR20: The quintessential resource!
- GR20 Packing List: Make sure you’ve got everything you need!
- How Much it Cost Us to Hike the GR20: A helpful and detailed budgeting resource.
- GR20 Maps: Custom maps and elevation profiles to ensure you’re prepared for your trek.
- Trip Report: The GR20 Nord-An honest account of our experiences on the notorious northern half of the GR20.
- Trip Report: The GR20 Sud-Know what to expect on the southern section of your trek.
- GR20 Logistics: Don’t forget the small details!