Free GPS apps

Free maps with GPS marks and some marine park boundaries - no app installation required.

Test these apps out before relying on them.

For Android phones (big brother is watching)

Android device manager

This is an app for finding lost or stolen phones. It comes pre-installed and should be active by default. It requires a google/gmail account associated with the device, GPS, location services and data on (mobile or wifi). You can access this from any other computer or device.

Google maps:

In google maps on your device, tap and hold any location on screen to view GPS mark. This does not appear to work when viewing saved route.

Google maps timeline:

Search for "google maps timeline" and click on the appropriate result rather than entering the URL above, otherwise you get a different (less useful) interface.

This only works on your device, however you can donwload the data from anywhere (see below). Requires GPS, location and location history on. Select the calendar icon at the top and choose a day. The map will display where you went on that day.

There is no simple way to retrieve GPS coordinates. The hard way is to download the data via google takeout. This can be done from your computer rather than your phone. Sign in with the google/gmail accunt linked to the phone. Go to:

  • select none to disable everything else
  • select location history and change the format to kml via the two dropdown menus
  • next
  • keep defaults (zip, email link)
  • create archive
  • a download button will appear once the archive is ready

Download the data, unzip it and find the kml file. You can inspect the file directly if you know how.

My Maps:

KML files can be imported into google mymaps, which is like a personalised version of google maps that you can add your own GPS data to. Use your computer to go to google's "my maps" app:

  • sign in (any account will do)
  • create new map (red button up top)
  • import
  • select file
  • wait for upload
  • zoom in to area of interest
  • add a marker (upside down water droplet icon)
  • click a location on the map
  • save

The GPS coordinates appear at the bottom of the information box.

To view contour lines in mymaps, click on Legend -> Base map (last item) and then select the third icon. You have to zoom in a bit before the contours become visible.


Navionics have a free navigator app. It is similar to a commerical 'in boat' GPS navigator. The maps you get with the free version are very coarse. You can get deailed maps for what looks like a reasonable price. A lot of the features prompt you to buy something.

Install the free navionics app from google store or the navionics website.

Start the app. To get a GPS coordinate:

  • tap and hold any location to put a cross-hair on the centre of the screen
  • drag map so location of interest is under cursor
  • hit question mark to show coordinates and bring up more options
  • select add to favourites and add either selected point on map or current GPS position as a marker

Navionics will also track your movements in a similar way to google maps history (see above) but with much finer resolution. To start the tracking, hit the start button at the bottom of the screen, then hit stop and save when you are done. Note that this may drain your battery rapidly. To view your history:

  • menu
  • tracks
  • select track

Use the method above to show a particular GPS coordinate. To export data to google maps:

  • menu
  • tracks
  • select white/blue arrow to right of track
  • share
  • email (tick box)
  • share (scroll down)
  • select gmail
  • send to self

You will get a kmz file. This is a zipped kml file. There is no need to unzip it. Use the second half of the instructions above (for google maps timeline) to upload the kmz file into google's "my maps".

Hiking apps:

The most important features of a hiking app considered here are that it:

  • works offline
  • can be used to 'navigate' (ie show your current position on a map, does not need route planning)
  • allows you to upload trail information (eg kml files)
  • is free
  • has topographic overlays (contour lines)

The ability to upload data is important because there is a lot of free gps trail data available online. People use an app to track their movements while hiking a trail, and post this information online. If you are hiking a trail that you are unfamiliar with, you can use this to navigate.

Google's "mymaps" (discussed above) fits all of these criteria except that it does not work offline, because you have to browse to the website to access it. Google earth supposedly overcomes this, but I could not get it to load kml files.

I have installed an android app called Locus Map. It has a free version, with ads. The free version allows you to upload kml files. I have tested this with a kml file exported from Google's mymaps. Make sure your phone is connected over wifi rather than mobile data to install apps, unless you have a lot of money or a generous data plan.

An imported trail map will mark a route as a blue line. This may not be necessary as a lot of trails are already marked on the maps, however it does make it more convenient to zoom in to an area of interest. A sample kml file for a round trip to Mount Barney east peak is available here. Others should be available online from various sources, if the trails you are after are not marked well enough on Locus. To import a kml file, go to menu (top left) -> [more functions ->] import, then navigate to the kml file - either on your google drive or in your downloads folder, for example. Check that the options that come up make sense. The default ones should work and should save it for offline navigation.

The maps include contour lines and remain available when you go offline, provided you have recently viewed the map. I am not sure how long they remain available for, but restarting the app or rebooting your device does not delete them. There is also an offline navigation (route planning) app called BRouter that plugs into Locus. To make sure you have the maps available, turn off wifi and data, reboot your device, restart Locus and make sure the maps are there, as well as your kml data. In particular, zoom out, and then view the entire region of interest at various zoom levels to make sure you have all the detail.

To record a trail, go to menu -> Track recording and hit the green circle. It logs your location in the background, allowing you to continue using the app as usual. This appears to work if your phone goes to 'sleep', however it stopped logging data at one point while I was in a shopping centre and only restarted when I was nearly home. Hit stop (red circle) to stop logging your location. To export the kml file, go to menu -> Tracks -> My tracks -> settings (spanner symbol in bottom right) -> export (3rd from left at the bottom). Then untick all the tracks you have recorded except the one(s) you want to export. You can export to your google drive.

You can import your track into google mymaps (for example). Download the kml file to your computer first, then follow the instructions above to open mymaps and import it. Note that if you attempt to import it directly from your google drive, it does not work for some reason. But if you download it to your computer then upload back to google drive, you can then import from google drive to mymaps.

Here is a good comparison of hiking apps: