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The first time I used Gaia GPS’ premium service, I wasn’t even riding, even though I was in one of mountain biking’s foremost meccas, literally steps away from its most famous destination trail, the Whole Enchilada. Instead, I was in Moab for a backcountry skiing trip to the Talking Mountain Yurts to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. It was just a few weeks after Beta’s publisher announced its acquisition of Outside. That massive news overshadowed the equally exciting acquisition made on the same day of Gaia GPS. It instantly seemed like a natural fit alongside Beta; an aid in backcountry exploration that we would be able to offer to our members in the future. I knew Gaia as a subscription, app-based GPS service with a solid reputation for high-quality maps, but one I’d never ponied up to purchase. Now here I was in a place with spotty-at-best cell service, armed with a new employment perk freshly downloaded onto my phone, so I decided to see how it worked. Since I knew there’d be no little, if any, cell-phone service at the winter trailhead and along the groomed road to the yurt, I created the route beforehand, marking our starting point and ending point on Gaia’s main topo map, which etched a red line connecting the two. It showed basics like elevation, distance and how much altitude would be gained and lost along the way. Once we started sliding toward our destination, even with my phone offline, I could clearly see my current elevation, where I was along my pre-established route, and the direction I was headed, thanks to the app’s integrated compass. In other words, getting lost would’ve been nearly impossible. I checked the route multiple times throughout our hour-and-a-half ski in, and it was always reassuring to see our locator dot plodding along the red line, right on track.
Since that first use, I’ve explored a bit deeper, recorded a few rides and downloaded a handful of the dozens of map overlays. A premium membership—which all Outside+ members now get—gains you access to scores of maps, like those that show you if you’re on public or private land and OpenCycle, which shows designated bike routes, satellite maps and U.S. Forest Service maps. There are also weather overlays, maps for hunting, nautical and aviation and dozens more maps categorized by continent. It’ll take me years to dig into the full depth of what Gaia offers.
For riders, Gaia won’t necessarily take the place of an app like TrailForks or MTB Project for trail-finding purposes in a well-known area with plenty of marked trails. And it may not replace a ride tracker like Strava, though recording a ride gives you similar stats if you don’t care about the leaderboard. Where Gaia really stands out is is off-the-grid, in the backcountry, exploring areas that may not have established trail networks.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Gaia is capable of, but it’s already risen to the top as one of the best perks of Outside+, which replaces Active Pass as the new premium membership package released this week by Beta’s parent company, Outside. If you already signed up for Active Pass, your membership is now Outside+. When you’re logged into your account, head over to My Perks to get access to your premium Gaia membership, as well as check out the other new additions, like a subscription to Outside magazine, (in addition to your Beta subscription) and access to the Warren Miller Ski Film Archive . Those are on top of existing benefits, like books from VeloPress—check out Joe Parkin’s “A Dog in a Hat”—training plans, meal plans and discounts, like our current offer from Club Ride for $25 any purchase of at least $50, all for the cost of the Outside+ membership of $99/year. And there’s more being added to the membership all the time—keep a particular eye out access to premium Outside TV videos, which is coming soon. Head over to Beta’s membership page to check it all out.