We often get questions from readers asking how we navigated during our TMB trip. Did you buy maps? Was the trail hard to find? What about finding all the various campgrounds that you stayed at? This post will explain exactly how we navigated on the TMB, show you how to use some of the awesome tools that we employed on our trip, and even provide some custom resources for those using our Guide to Camping on the Tour of Mont Blanc as well as anyone looking for a custom Tour du Mont Blanc map solution. Let’s get started.
In this Post
- Should I bring a map on the Tour du Mont Blanc?
- Offline GPS maps for the Tour du Mont Blanc
- Tour du Mont Blanc Maps – What we provide
- Which app should I use?
- Gaia GPS for your Tour du Mont Blanc map
- Maps.me for your Tour du Mont Blanc map
- A note on battery life
Should I bring a map on the Tour du Mont Blanc?
As you’ll read below we did not rely heavily on any of the various paper maps that are available for the Tour of Mont Blanc. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t bring them with us. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If that iPhone you brought runs out of battery or you drop it in a puddle, you’ll be glad you had your handy paper maps to rely on.
For those who may not need the 1:25,000 level of detail, IGN also publishes a 1:50,000 scale map of the entire TMB. You can purchase the IGN Tour du Mont Blanc Map here.
Now that you’ve got your maps safely tucked away in case of emergency, let’s get on to the focus of this article, which is to show you how to harness the power of your smartphone to navigate your way to a successful TMB experience. Even better, you can do it all without relying on cell service!
Offline GPS maps for the Tour du Mont Blanc
An offline mobile map of the Tour du Mont Blanc 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 TMB. 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 Tour du Mont Blanc and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your Tour du Mont Blanc 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 phone as a GPS
Modern smartphones are incredible machines. You can send email, video chat with someone halfway around the world, and check your bank account all with a swipe of your finger. Another great feature of smartphones is their ability to act as a GPS device. 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 is 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
While the issue of a background map not displaying isn’t typically a problem in cities or towns where ample cell phone service (and thus internet connectivity) exists, it can be a huge problem when you’re, say, on top of a high mountain pass on the Tour du Mont Blanc without service. 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 Tour of Mont Blanc, 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 without incurring any “roaming” charges. Pretty cool, huh? I’ll show you exactly how we did this for the Tour du Mont Blanc below.
Tour du Mont Blanc Maps – What we provide
For those looking for Tour du Mont Blanc 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 Tour du Mont Blanc route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional, 11-day 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?
There are two main offline GPS navigation apps that we recommend for those hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc: 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 Tour du Mont Blanc displays in each of the apps.
As you can see, Maps.me can easily display the route as well as campground 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 Tour du Mont Blanc for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.
Using Gaia GPS for your Tour du Mont Blanc map
The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom Tour du Mont Blanc GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.
Step One – Download the Tour du Mont Blanc GPS file
When you purchase our Tour du Mont Blanc 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 .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 Tour du Mont Blanc 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. 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 Tour du Mont Blanc. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.
Step Three – Navigate to the Tour of Mont Blanc and download your background map
Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the Tour of Mont Blanc. 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 the area of the Tour du Mont Blanc 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 Tour du Mont Blanc
- Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
- Name your map ‘Tour du Mont Blanc’ 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 Tour du Mont Blanc 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 TMB 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 GPS for your Tour du Mont Blanc map
The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom Tour du Mont Blanc 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 TMB. 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 Tour du Mont Blanc GPS data with Maps.me:
Step One – Download the Tour du Mont Blanc GPS file
When you purchase our Tour du Mont Blanc 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. 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 Tour du Mont Blanc and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.
Step Two – Download the Tour du Mont Blanc background maps
Once you have successfully loaded the Tour du Mont Blanc GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the Tour of Mont Blanc 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 the area of the Tour du Mont Blanc in Maps.me
- Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
- You’ll need to download four distinct regions in Maps.me to cover the entire TMB. They are:
- Aosta Valley
- Lake Geneva Region
- Continue to zoom in on different segments of the trail until you have downloaded all four of these regions
- Verify that you’ve downloaded all of the required base maps by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
- Once you’ve checked that all four regions have been successfully downloaded you’re all done!
To verify that you’ve successfully downloaded all of the four required base map regions in Maps.me follow these steps:
- Select the ‘Menu’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen
- Select ‘Download Maps’
- Verify that you have downloads in France, Italy, and Switzerland
- Select each country and verify that you have the following four maps downloaded:
- Haute-Savoie (France)
- Savoie (France)
- Aosta Valley (Italy)
- Lake Geneva Region (Switzerland)
That’s it! You’re all set to navigate on the Tour du Mont Blanc 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 campgrounds 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.
Be sure to check out all of our Tour du Mont Blanc posts below:
- Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List – Be sure you’ve got everything you need!
- Tour du Mont Blanc Logistics – Don’t forget the small details!
- TMB Trip Report – Know what to expect!
- How to find all of your campgrounds on the TMB – Know where you are and where you’re going!
- How to train for the TMB – Avoid being the last person to the campground!
- 10 Essentials for the Tour du Mont Blanc- The quick and dirty basics
- Guide to Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc – The essential resource!
- Tour du Mont Blanc Photo Galley – Find some inspiration!
- Tour du Mont Blanc Shop – Pick up a souvenir, art print, or T-shirt!
- How to hike the TMB for (nearly) free – save BIG on your TMB costs!
- How Much It Cost Us to Hike the TMB
- Tour du Mont Blanc Map
If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Tour du Mont Blanc, we can help! Learn more about our personalized TMB coaching services.