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We often get asked what is the best way to navigate on the Walker’s Haute Route? Given that the route spans multiple countries, crosses 11 mountain passes, and covers over 207 kilometers it’s no wonder that trekkers aren’t sure what maps to carry or the best way to be sure they are on the correct trail.

In this post we’ll explain exactly how we navigated during our own Walker’s Haute Route adventure utilizing offline GPS maps, and even provide some custom resources for your own trek! Let’s get started.

Overview map of the Walker's Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.
The Walker’s Haute Route winds its way from Chamonix to Zermatt.

In this Post

Should I bring a map on the Walker’s Haute Route?

In order to fully cover the Walker’s Haute Route at a decent scale you’d need to bring no less than five Swiss Topo maps along your trek. For many, this is simply too much weight and hassle to pack. When we hiked the Walker’s Haute Route we did not rely heavily on these maps, instead choosing to utilize offline GPS maps on our phone for navigation. However, we always recommend that you bring some form of paper navigation. If you drop that handy phone in a puddle, you’ll be glad you did. The full list of Swiss Topo maps you’ll need for the route is below:

  • Swiss Topo 282T – Martigny
  • Swiss Topo 283T – Arolla
  • Swiss Topo 273T – Montana
  • Swiss Topo 274T – Visp
  • Swiss Topo 284T – Mischabel

A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

Be sure to check out our Walker’s Haute Route Packing List for a complete guide on what to bring!

Once you’ve got your maps for the Haute Route safely tucked away you can start to focus on our favorite way to navigate on the Walker’s Haute Route: GPS maps on your smartphone. No cell service required!

You’ll be glad you brought your handy maps when you encounter a trail section like this!

 

Offline GPS Maps for the Walker’s Haute Route

Offline GPS maps are quickly becoming the standard for backcountry navigation given their ease of use, accessibility, and the multitude of excellent smartphone apps available. Whether taking advantage of these maps on the Walker’s Haute Route or any other trek, you simply open your chosen GPS app (see our recommended apps below) and you’ll be able to view your location along the trail, see alternate routes, and all the stopping points on your trek.

We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the Walker’s Haute Route and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your hike.

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: 

Blank TMB map

Not a very effective way to navigate.

Solving the background map problem

When you’re using your cell phone is a city, town, or anywhere with cell phone service getting the background map to download is no problem. Your phone simply displays the background map via the internet connection. However, once you’re out of cell phone service and without WiFi, your phone will not be able to display any of the critical background map information. This can be a huge issue when you’re standing on top of a high mountain pass on the Walker’s Haute Route and unsure which way to proceed.

The solution?

GPS navigation apps that allow for downloadable background maps.

These excellent apps allow 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 Walker’s Haute Route below.

 

Walker’s Haute Route Maps – What we provide

For those looking for Walker’s Haute Route GPS resources, we offer a complete GPS digital download for just $4.99. Included you’ll get access to both .gpx and .kml files for the entire Walker’s Haute Route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional, 13-day itinerary.

BUY NOW BUY NOW

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 the Walker’s Haute Route:

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 Walker’s Haute Route displays in each of the apps.

Comparison of Maps.me and Gaia GPS for the Walker's Haute Route

Comparison of Maps.me and Gaia GPS for the Walker’s Haute Route.

As shown above, Maps.me is great for displaying the route as well as the stopping points along the trek. However, when you look at the same section of trail displayed in Gaia GPS you can see much more information including adjacent trails, elevation shading, and a more detailed view of your surroundings. 

For this reason, we highly recommend you invest the $20 to use Gaia GPS. Of course, we certainly understand that many readers will prefer to use the free option of Maps.me instead. Given this, we’ve included instructions for downloading and accessing the Walker’s Haute Route GPS data for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS below. 

Gaia GPS for the Walker’s Haute Route

The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom Walker’s Haute Route GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.

Step One – Download the Walker’s Haute Route GPS file

When you purchase our Walker’s Haute Route 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 .GPX 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 Walker’s Haute Route and waypoints displayed on the map.

Success! You’ve imported the Walker’s Haute Route 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 Walker’s Haute Route. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.

Step Three – Navigate to the Walker’s Haute Route and download your background map

Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the Walker’s Haute Route. 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 background map data, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the Walker’s Haute Route 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 trek
  5. Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
  6. Name your map ‘Walker’s Haute Route’ 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 Walker’s Haute Route 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 stops along the route!

Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail

The final step to successfully navigate on the Walker’s Haute Route 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 feature 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 trail 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 Walker’s Haute Route

The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom Walker’s Haute Route 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 Walker’s Haute Route. 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 Walker’s Haute Route GPS data with Maps.me:

Step One – Download the Walker’s Haute Route GPS file

When you purchase our Walker’s Haute Route GPS data, 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 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 Walker’s Haute Route and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.

 

 

Step Two – Download the Walker’s Haute Route background maps

Once you have successfully loaded the Walker’s Haute Route GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area surrounding the trek 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 Walker’s Haute Route 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 Haute Route. They are:
    1. Haute-Savoie
    2. Lake Geneva Region
  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. Verify that you have downloads in France and Switzerland
  4. Select each country and verify that you have the following maps downloaded:
    1. Haute-Savoie (France)
    2. Lake Geneva Region (Switzerland)

That’s it! You’re all set to navigate on the Walker’s Haute Route 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 stops 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.

Keep Reading

Be sure to check out all of our Walker’s Haute Route posts here.