What Is Maps.me and Why Should You Be Using It?

What Is Maps.me and Why Should You Be Using It?

Nearly everyone today knows about the effectiveness of Google Maps for finding locations anywhere in the world and even perhaps saving them for reference later. There have been countless articles, written even here on Fstoppers, which exhibit its usefulness. However, many fundamental deficiencies arise upon using Google Maps when you take away the one thing it needs to be functional: an internet connection.

Photographers need marking and saving locations for a variety of use cases. And if an internet connection isn't available, Google Maps is essentially useless. There is a way to download a portion of the map for offline use, but this feature isn't intended for large portions of the map, like a whole country. So, if you are a power user and have created multiple lists of hundreds of saved places that span many countries, the offline maps feature becomes woefully inadequate. So, what's the solution?

I have been using a cool little smartphone app called Maps.me since my first trip to Iceland in 2013. I knew I wasn’t going to have a cellular data service for my entire time in the country, so using Google Maps was not an option. I needed something where I could use WiFi to do my initial download and then be able to mark places and keep track of them for later use, all while hiking, driving, or just sitting around waiting. I just randomly happened to find Maps.me in the app store and downloaded it. The more I used it and got more familiar with it, the more I was impressed with its functions and ease of use. Every time I opened it up, there was a new feature I found, and I had a hard time believing that it was a free product, a sentiment I still share today. Downloadable chunks of maps, turn-by-turn navigation, labeling favorite locations, searching for public restrooms, and following trails were just a few of the tools I used at the time and continue to use when I travel today.

But what I wanted to share with you was the ability to combine the power of Maps.me while in the field with Google Maps at home. As a landscape photographer, I do a lot of research on my desktop computer. Part of that research is finding new (to me) and exciting places to potentially go shoot. I use a Google product called My Maps for this. If you are unfamiliar, it's Google Maps, but you can customize your map with layers, colored labels and icons, driving directions, pictures, and even text with hyperlinks. 

So, if I were going to plan a photo-scouting trip somewhere, I would start by researching all the locations that looked interesting and make a personalized scouting map. To create a new map, I have to log into my Google account, navigate to Google Maps, and through the menu in the top left corner, select “Your Places,” then the “MAPS” tab, and finally click “CREATE MAP” at the bottom. After a new tab opens up, the Google My Maps interface is displayed, and I can begin adding my points of interest anywhere on the map, along with customizing them to my liking. All I have to do is click on the “add marker” pin from the top toolbar and start placing these markers anywhere I want. I can also click on any marker that already exists on Google Maps and elect to have it added to my map. After this, the possibilities are endless. You can have up to 10 layers, with 2,000 points on each. It's a very powerful tool that is also very customizable. 

Finding and creating a new Google My Maps personalized map

That's the at-home Google Maps portion. On your phone, the maps you made in My Maps are available to look at by tapping the “Saved” icon at the bottom of the Google Maps app and after swiping to the bottom of that page, by clicking on “Maps.” You can then choose which map to overlay on the mobile interface, but you can only view, not edit (if you are running Android, you can download Google My Maps separately and personalize them just like you would on the desktop interface).

The only downside with this is that once you have no internet or cellular data connection, Google Maps loses its functionality. This is where Maps.me steps in. But before we get there, we need to do one last thing in the Google My Maps interface on the desktop. With any of your My Maps open, we need to click on the topmost set of three vertical dots, select “Export to KML/KMZ,” and click “Download.” This .KMZ file contains all the information from that map you personalized in a small, self-contained data file. The next objective is to get this file on your mobile device. 

Downloading you Google My Maps data to a .KMZ file

There are many ways to do this: messages, Airdrop, Dropbox/Google Drive, but the easiest way is to send yourself an email with the .KMZ file attached. Once you open the email on your smartphone, you can then tap on the .KMZ attachment in the email and then tap the share icon in the top right corner. The Maps.me icon should be an option in the results section, if it's not visible, just swipe right and tap “More,” and it should be there. Once you tap the Maps.me icon, it will automatically open (assuming it’s installed on your phone) and create a separate list with all the information included in the .KMZ file. 

Importing your Google My Maps data to Maps.me on iOS

That's it! You can now view all your points of interest in the Maps.me interface. If you added titles, descriptions, photos, or driving routes, those will show up as well! And now, you are free from the bonds of needing an internet connection.

The best part is that this all works in reverse. If you started off using Maps.me and created lists that contained points of interest, you can export those lists to .KMZ files and upload them to Google My Maps. 

In the Maps.me interface, tap the star icon in the bottom toolbar, then tap the three horizontal dots corresponding to the list you want to export. Tap “Export file” and choose your preferred delivery method. Once the file is on your computer, open up any one of your Google My Maps, and click “Add a layer,” then click “Import” under the layer name. Find your .KMZ file and let it upload, then you’re done.

Exporting your Maps.me data to a .KMZ file

Like I said at the start, Maps.me is a free mobile application with a ton of features. It does not require an account to do any of the things mentioned above, and it also doesn't display ads. If you are thinking about traveling abroad, have a cap on your cellular data plan, or have any reason why Google Maps won’t work for you, I insist that you give Maps.me a try. 

Is there another maps application that you think is better? Let me know in the comments below.

If you're passionate about taking your photography to the next level but aren't sure where to dive in, check out the Well-Rounded Photographer tutorial where you can learn eight different genres of photography in one place. If you purchase it now, or any of our other tutorials, you can save a 15% by using "ARTICLE" at checkout. 

Scott Donschikowski's picture

Scott Donschikowski is a professional photographer and educator with over 11 years of experience leading a variety of photo workshops around the world. He specializes mainly in landscape, wildlife, and astrophotography. He is also active on YouTube where he makes tutorials sharing his photographic knowledge.

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Why would you just not use Google Maps Offline? It does everything Google Maps does... But offline? It's a simple download and you don't need an extra app. Maybe I'm missing something?
Google Maps > menu > offline maps> done

From the second paragraph -
"There is a way to download a portion of the map for offline use, but this feature isn't intended for large portions of the map, like a whole country."

Scott I'm glad you found something you enjoy. That's what's most important.

But I guess I don't see how all the extra steps of Maps.me is more difficult then just using the few clicks of Google offline.
The example you used in the article was Iceland. It took 50mb and 5 clicks to download the enitre country of Iceland.

Yes there maybe a few offline maps that need to be created, but being able to search business names and roads or any location published on Google maps, it has been very useful in foreign countries. Especially if your plans change. Plus all the other features you listed are also offered.

Seems like maps.me is a long way around to just download a few extra areas in Google Maps Offline.

I'm not sure what you're getting at. It took me 1 "click" to download ALL of Iceland using Maps.me totaling 72 mb. Whereas with Google maps, I have 7 downloads totaling 230 mb.

Seems Google Maps isn't smart enough to know already downloaded areas so it doesn't download that section again. Maps.me on the other hand, only downloads once.

And, I like how with Maps.me, when zoomed in a little, there's a prompt to download that area. This can be set optional. I like the auto mode so I don't forget.

Thanks for the comment Bry! I wish I could say I was having the same experience with offline Google Maps as you are. In theory, it does seem to be just that easy. But on iOS, the window the give you to select where you want to download isnt customizable and grabbing a large area would need three or more individual maps, and its even worse when trying it in landscape mode.
As for the complexity and extra steps in the rest of the article, all of that is purely so you when you do your research (I use My Maps) you can put those precise locations in Maps.me. If you want to just download an offline map in Maps.me its WAY more simple.
Are you using an Android phone perhaps? Maybe the interface and usability of Googles offline maps is better served to those customers?
Anyway I absolutely appreciate you feedback!

Totally agree with you, mobile data is becoming more and more prolific throughout the world. In one specific use case, travelling to say, Iceland, with a provider locked phone, and mobile data is out of ones budget.

Very common for me to be places where there's no data service -- back country roads and mountainous areas all over the country are problematic for cell signals. Urban areas or major highways not so much.

This country especially, what about anywhere else? Might be worse.

Before going on your excursion you can offline your destination through Google maps whilst you are on Wi-Fi or gave data

Pretty nifty. I probably could have used this when I was in Vancouver, Canada; and remote part of Utah where there was no cell service.

Thanks for reading Eddie!

I used maps.me a lot before google maps offline, but nowadays i just download the areas I'm going to. Even if the whole country isn't available you can always get the next chunk when you find Wifi.

Maps.me uses information from OpenStreetMap, a crowd sourced collaborative project, so the information may not be as up to date as commercial sources. On the other hand it may have some information like hiking trails that are not on Google Maps. .

The two most used, and most surprising elements for me, hiking trails, and public restrooms!

Everything listed in Google maps is also listed in offline. So those two items are also listed in offline Google maps

Yeah but as many have stated, google maps does not list as many hiking trails as the openstreetmap API.

So the app is free and there's no ads. Are there in-apps purchases?
It doesn't looks like it is an open source project. I see that at least the Android version wants access to Contacts, Microphone, Run-at-startup and lots of other things. Are these permissions needed by functionality?

If I wanted some app like this, I would look deeper into company behind first, especially what there business model seems to be. One much assume they expect to make money from people installing the app.

It used to have in-app purchases, travel guides, and subscriptions. Although it seems these features have been removed from the iOS app. They might possibly persist on the Android version. Probably not going to make you feel better that its owned by a Russian company.

--- "I see that at least the Android version wants access to Contacts, Microphone, Run-at-startup and lots of other things. Are these permissions needed by functionality?"

On my iPhone, it didn't ask for all that access. It only asked for location services, which is normal, and notifications.

Can confirm, location services seems to be the only real permission to allow on iOS
Very curious as to why on Android these permissions are needed. I believe the app does have more features there.

Maps.me has a lot of hiking tracks and trails that are not shows on Google Maps. I discovered that during my last trip to Brunei, Maps.me shows all the little rabbit trails where Google Maps just shows green.

Yes, I found this out whilst hiking in Iceland, and later when I used it in the US. Fantastic accuracy for an open sourced map

If you're a pro, and really depend on mapping software as part of your photography endeavours, wouldn't you use something like Gaia GPS and a GPS receiver or In Reach type device?
I do, and such a package has taken me all over North America, including some of the most remote parts of Canada and the United States.
Kluging together something involving a Russian app developer seems short sighted to say the least ... and I would take an alternate view to the statement that Google Maps offline isn't intended for downloading "large" map sections ... it can quite easily download large sections, and it would be a stretch to imply that most folks can't do (for example) an entire download of any given travel area in any given State, and then access wi-fi to download the "next" State they're going to visit if required.

Very good points.
As a couple of the other commenters have pointed out, Google Maps doesn't have as robust of a trail network as Maps.me (or openstreetmap which is what they use), which is very useful for the hiker. And something I neglected to mention in the article, is that Maps.me also can do tracks, so if you're hiking, you can retrace your steps. Something that Gaia does for free, but downloading maps for offline use costs $40 a year. Maps.me included both of these features for free.
Its a nice little perhaps entry level app that might be useful for the beginner, until they need more specialized tools like Gaia and the like.

Actually for me, the trails aspect is the only reason I'd consider Maps.me.

I used to download maps for the areas I'd be visiting and research any trails beforehand. Nice to have an option that includes trails.

I just checked one area that I was going to visit pre-covid and was really happy to see all the trails were covered - Google Maps didn't show any.

OSM also (surprisingly) seems to have quite a lot of coverage for China, too. Pity there's no satellite view though (unless I'm holding it wrong).

Pretty cool! I didnt realize just how extensive the Openstreetmaps hiking trails were!

I'd recommend giving OSMand a look as well. Very full featured implementation of OpenStreetMap on Android at least.

Thanks for the suggestion! This is only on Android?

Nope, here you go: https://osmand.net/

Thanks for the suggestion Matt! Definitely gonna compare them all now

There is a very good list that compares apps and what they are able to do: https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Comparison_of_iOS_applications
Personally I like Komoot (on Android, I don't know if the iOS version is as good), as you can not only display maps but also plan your route offline.

Thanks for the suggestion Leopold!

When I know I'm going to a place without service, I just buy a cheap paper map at a store in the area. I know this might be too high-tech for some of you but if you dig in and buy a highlighter you can do some amazing things. Best of all when you are at places that are remote, paper maps don't have to be recharged. My favorite part is at the end of the trip you have something for the scrapbook of your adventure.

This is my new favorite comment. Thanks Capt. Jack! I have definitely done this, although not to recently.