Gaia is already my favorite GPS app, one so good I haven’t owned a standalone GPS device in years. I’ve got a phone with me anyway for photos, the app works beautifully and reliably when tracking my location and plotting routes and the phone’s screen is so superior to that of a typical GPS unit that there’s no reason to buy a GPS. Well, and Gaia costs only 10 bucks per year for the regular version and 40 bucks for premium. So, there’s the massive cost savings too.

So it’s a good app, is what I’m saying.

And they’ve just unveiled a pretty cool new feature that I will absolutely use when it comes to planning my next backcountry adventure—a map that shows light pollution.


Gaia gathered NASA data from 2012 through 2016 through the Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) and turned this info into an overlay that drops right over whatever topo you have loaded into your phone. There is a slider that lets you darken the screen to simulate night conditions, but which still lets you read the map data under the overlay. Obviously, the bright areas represent light pollution and, presumably, areas you’ll want to avoid when picking a campsite.

It’s a smart tool for backcountry exploration. Topo maps will show roads and developed areas, but it’s impossible to tell how much light those areas can give off, a potential buzzkill when planning some serious stargazing. Maybe there’s a little town you hadn’t noticed on the map just over a rise you were going to camp next to. A regular map wouldn’t show it, but drop this overlay into your Gaia map, and voilá.

You do need a premium Gaia subscription to access the light pollution map, but that already comes with so much extra data and maps, including hunting maps that show public land boundaries, European maps, Nat Geo illustrated maps, etc., and for the $40 per year it costs, it’s a wealth of data.

If you’re already a Gaia premium member, you can access the light pollution map in the weather/features overlay tab. Android phones hide it in the Premium Overlay tab in the map section.

If you don’t have Gaia yet, give it a spin. It’s one of the most useful outdoor apps you can find.

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