Navigation tools – both old school and new tech – are an important part of overland travel. Overlanding is always about the journey, but the journey isn’t much fun if you don’t know where you are going.
Since most folks are in the backcountry at some point in their journey, you can’t always count on a cell signal. Most experienced overlanders carry with them a mix of paper maps and digital devices, including SOS devices — to help them plot their course and keep them safe in the backcountry.
We put together a list of some great overlanding navigation tools for you whether you’re on two wheels, four wheels, or more.
Butler — Motorcycle Maps
Motorcycle riders should find the maps from Butler especially tailored to their needs. The maps are available in regions, points of interest, or in a large bundle covering the entire country. They also have a range of roads to distinguish urban travel or remote roads that are away from developments – depending on what kind of scenery suits the trip.
DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer Maps
DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer Maps are super-reliable and being paper, they will never lose their charge. DeLorme has versions for every U.S. state with detailed information on landmarks, state and national parks, rivers, campgrounds, hunting areas and pretty much every piece of outdoor information. They’re in full color, as well, making them easier to read and distinguish categories.
Paper maps are only good if you know how to use them. A better option is to carry a map and compass. The Suunto A-30L Compass includes a luminous bezel and declination correction scale to cover all recreational uses. The luminous bezel aids in navigation at night and in poor visibility and the declination correction scale makes navigational math a breeze. Buy a compass and learn to use it. It could save your life.
Garmin – Overlander
Garmin has a long reputation for making reliable GPS devices for street travel, but the Overlander takes that a step further by giving directions once you’re off the road. The 7.0-inch display uses similar software to other Garmin devices for easy-to-use driving directions to get to your destination. But once off the road, it features useful tools to help find campsites, roads, weight and size limits for vehicles, and topographic information. An app can also load maps from the USGS. And it all comes encased in a tough package that can withstand weather, dust, and shocks. It’s a durable device that can be used just about anywhere.
If you want to minimize the electronic devices you bring in the outdoors, consider the Offroad App from onX. The service is updated daily with information on trails, campsites, and road changes to prevent as many surprises as possible on your way to your destination. The app includes information covering 985 million acres of public land, as well as more than 54,000 campsites, and 35,000 miles of trails. Better still, it also works when your smartphone loses signal, so you can download maps you need and pre-program your own points of interest.
MSRP: 7-day free trial/ $29.99 per year
Gaia GPS broke into the space as a useful mapping tool for trails and hiking, but Gaia is also a useful tool for vehicular backcountry travel too – with various mapping layers and topographic information built into the app. Users can download maps, create waypoints, and share .gpx files with others in their group. Better still, it works with an Apple CarPlay-compatible vehicle head unit, meaning it’s easier than ever to use before you get on a trail.
MSRP: Free – $36.00 per year
FunTreks offers custom-designed map books and digital GPS maps that feature off-road trails that have been tested by experts. Their books differentiate various trails based on difficulty, which are accompanied by detailed photos and turn-by-turn directions to make sure you don’t tackle more than you can handle. Currently, FunTreks guides are available for Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah.
MSRP: $34.95– $74.90
Part of a successful overland journey is pre-planning from home. Trails Offroad makes that simple by giving you access to maps with tracks color coded by difficulty backed by an advanced trail rating system that expressly indicates a trails difficulty level; detailed route descriptions; all the waypoints Trails Offroad has in its database; GPX files with meaningful waypoints, including obstacles, campsites, and historical POI; and advanced search capabilities. Get your planning dome in no time!
MSRP: Free or $25.00 annually
GPS ENABLED SOS DEVICES:
Bivy — Bivystick
Conventional cellular service can be hard to come by when you’re too far from the main road, so the Bivystick helps get location information and even text messages to others. It can send texts from anywhere in the world using GPS, as well as share your location and track it at 10-minute intervals. Maps can also be downloaded through it, and its battery can also be used to charge a smartphone. It’s a small but useful multi-purpose tool for finding your way outside.
The SPOT Trace can keep track of you or your belongings when you leave them behind. In intervals of minutes or hours, the Trace sends updates to your phone using GPS signals to give a status update on movement with real-time coordinates. It’s a light 3.1 ounces and works in extreme temperatures – as well as being submersible for up to 90 seconds. Service plans run between $10 and $13 per month, so it’s a reasonable fee for making sure your expensive property stays where it’s supposed to be.
MSRP: $99.99 + service plan
Header photo credit: Emmanuel Maceda @bochie | Upsplash