Does GPS Work Without Data?

You can always use GPS on your mobile device regardless of an internet or cellular connection. As long as you have a charged smartphone with you, you can find your way around remote areas and foreign landscapes. GPS tracking on your phone works just as well without internet connectivity or cellular service.

We are constantly surrounded by Global Positioning System signals from satellites orbiting the planet. Your phone is continuously tracking these signals to get an estimate of your location even when you are offline. Phones can connect to GPS signals without depending on cellular companies or data plans. Even older, retired models perform very well as GPS navigators. 

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GPS navigation usually works independently from needing a data connection. Although some apps require a data connection to allow their GPS functionality to work, there are GPS tracking apps that offer a robust offline navigation experience without that connection. Read on to learn more about how you can orient yourself in the great outdoors using only phone GPS without service.

How Does Your Phone GPS Work Without Data or Internet?

GPS is a Global Positioning System that utilizes satellites, processors, and algorithms to generate accurate information about a device’s location. The three major components of the navigation system are a GPS receiver, maps, and the navigation platform. Your phone contains a built-in GPS receiver that allows it to track your location without cellular service. Maps stored on your mobile device do not need internet connectivity as the routes don’t change often. This information comes together to give you the location of your device and the routes around you. When your phone is not connected to signals from local cell towers, it might take a little longer than usual to identify your location. GPS accuracy could also vary according to terrain conditions, depending on your app, platform, and device.

Since you will not be able to stream maps onto your device without data, you need to save maps for offline use ahead of time. Offline maps allow you to search for specific locations and can give you walking, biking, or driving directions at any time. By default, maps are saved directly to your phone’s internal storage. Combining navigation information from saved maps and GPS location on your smartphone, you can navigate unfamiliar terrain with confidence.

Offline Map on onX Maps

How to Use GPS Offline While Hunting

Over the past decade, cell phones have become almost an essential piece of gear for most hunters. As phones increasingly offer better battery life and map detail, they have emerged as the better alternative to dedicated GPS units.

Cell reception in the backcountry is spotty at best and non-existent at worst. To help you find your way in the woods, there is a broad selection of apps for both Android and iOS that allow you to download maps in advance. With the maps already loaded on your device, you only need a clear view of the sky to use the GPS signals from satellites. The onX Hunt app offers excellent offline GPS functionality to help you keep track of your location at all times. All Offline Maps include aerial, topo, and hybrid imagery along with onX layers automatically. With its new and improved Offline Map experience, sorting and renaming saved maps is a breeze. It’s also easier to download multiple maps at once. Through its advanced tile-saving technology, all individual Layers and Basemaps display on Offline Maps for clear, efficient offline navigation. 

‌In addition to Basemaps and Layers, custom Markups like Waypoints and Tracks can take advantage of GPS functionality far beyond cell service. Tracks recorded with GPS location while offline are saved locally and then synced back to your onX account when you return to service. Likewise, Waypoints placed while e-scouting are included when an Offline Map is saved, which you can then navigate to far from coverage thanks to GPS.

Hunters navigating in the backcountry

How to Navigate in the Backcountry Without a Cell Signal

While some backcountry enthusiasts swear by a paper map and compass for navigation, smartphone apps offer a better way to track your location in the wilderness. You can use your phone’s GPS combined with offline maps to get full access to detailed maps even without cell service. Whether you are off on a backpacking, hiking, skiing, or off-road adventure, using your phone as a GPS device will help keep you safe and your trip far more stress-free. It’s a lot more convenient and can help you plot a course, identify landmarks and campgrounds, distinguish public and private property, and much more. 

Remember to download maps ahead of time and consider all the map layers you might need. The onX Backcountry app comes equipped with satellite, topographical, and even hybrid maps to help you make safer, more informed decisions on the trail. The satellite map gives you a clear bird’s-eye view of the terrain and the topo map provides much more detail with trails, trailheads, and important waypoints listed. The unique Hybrid Basemap combines satellite imagery with topography to give you a precise idea of the terrain and how to navigate it. You can also upload, save, and share your photos from landmarks on the trail with the app’s unique ‘Photo Waypoints’ feature.

offline maps for navigation

Related and Frequently Asked Questions

Can you still use a phone as GPS without data?

Yes! With maps saved for offline use, your phone can function as a GPS device even without data.

Can I use Google Maps offline with GPS?

You can download maps to your device or SD card using the offline features from Google Maps. Keep in mind that Google Maps allows for the download of maps that are a maximum of 50km x 50km square, and cached maps are removed from memory after 30 days.

Does iPhone GPS work without data? 

Yes, the GPS receiver in iPhones remains active even if no data is available. But you might want to consider getting an app built specifically for offline GPS navigation as Apple Maps provides limited offline support.

Will my phone receive GPS signals in other countries?

Yes, GPS works all over the world. However, your phone may not work with data networks in other countries and country-specific apps may not offer complete offline maps in other places. For instance, onX Hunt Features and Basemaps all work in Canada, but map layers do not have coverage outside the U.S.

Is there a GPS app that doesn’t need internet?

There is an extensive range of apps designed particularly for GPS navigation without internet connectivity. If you want more capabilities and customization options than those offered by Google Maps or Apple Maps, consider downloading Sygic GPS Navigation, Maps.me, or Here WeGo Maps.

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