Advancement in mobile technology has made a huge impact on how everyone lives. Even folks who in the past were keen on using the great outdoors as a means to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life now benefit from this tech.
GPS technology coupled with the ability to give you weather forecasts and a wealth of other bits of information make these mobile applications very useful for many outdoor enthusiasts. Not all of these apps are built the same however, this is why you will want only the best hiking apps that suit your particular needs.
It’s important to remember that these apps will place a huge amount of information at your fingertips but bear in mind that they do have limitations.
When it comes to safety and survival no technology can good replace old-fashioned navigational skills, pre-trip research, survival skills and common sense. So never forget to develop these primary skills first, and don’t allow technology to replace these.
That being said, there is a lot of value that can be derived from the use of these apps. So it would be best to go through your options so that you avoid problems down the road.
What makes apps different from one another?
The hiking apps available for your mobile device may be direct competitors and they will have certain differences. Some specs of these apps might benefit you while others might not. Here are a few differentiating factors and what you should keep in mind when deciding on an app.
Phones, and tablets run on operating systems such as Android, iOS, and Windows. These are the platforms on which applications are run. If you read a stellar review of an app and want to buy it, you should check if it’s available in the OS of your device.
As with most forms of software, these will have minimum specs that your device must conform to. Aside from the operating system, processor speed, RAM, and storage space have to be considered. Don’t worry, though, if you’ve got at least a half-decent phone, you’re probably set.
You will want to know what use you will be able to derive from the app. Since not all apps are built the same, you will get different levels of value for each app. Here are a few samples of use you can get.
Probably the most basic and most widely used among hiking apps. This will help you stay on course as you make progress along your route. It also provides a lot of value in keeping you on track and documenting your pace and progress as well.
This data can be uploaded onto social media for you to share (or brag about) to your friends. It can be a pain to get back on your route if you’ve somehow taken a wrong turn and notice it an hour later.
In terms of quality, they will differ quite a bit. Some apps will overlay points onto a map. Others will allow you to switch to an overlay that covers satellite photos. While others provide a 3D mapping of the trail. See our article reviewing the top hiking GPS that can help you, do read it!
Some will provide an augmented reality experience, wherein you can point your camera at land masses and mountains, then their names and data about them become visible onscreen. Pretty neat, definitely useful. Wearables have definitely come of age. Check out our piece on how to choose the best GPS watch to find out more.
One great way to enjoy the great outdoors is to enjoy a bit of geocaching while you’re on a hike. These waypoints that are laid over on a map are small tidbits that other people want you to find. These can range from interesting rock formations, beautiful sights, old ruins, or a small box filled with interesting trinkets left behind by geocachers.
There is no end to what folks might leave behind at these caches. Geocaching has a large community and can add a great measure of adventure to your hikes. This is definitely a great way to make the experiencemore fun for kids if you’re taking them along for your hike. If that prospect seems interesting to you, consider a mobile app that has Geocaching.
Having a means to predict potential weather changes while on the go is definitely a high-utility option that you will want with you. For one thing, this can help you plan your hike, and whether or not to actually go through with it. You definitely do not want to deal with extreme weather conditions while in remote locations.
It’s also to be taken with a grain of salt that these apps do not provide 100% accurate predictions. (In the same way that weather forecasts aren’t 100% accurate) With that in mind forecasts may change with the passage of time. However, the closer you are to that point in time, the more accurate the reading becomes.
This becomes invariably useful while in the field. This will tell you that you might have to look for shelter soon, instead of pushing through to your destination, in the event that bad weather becomes apparent.
Aside from being able to take pictures, a lot of apps help with the documentation of your trip. We’ve already touched briefly on how GPS apps help monitor and track your progress. Other apps allow you to document the flora and fauna you encounter on your trip.
This is pretty cool, considering that this information can be crowdshared giving you information on whether or not a certain species of bird or lizard has been spotted in the area. This also allows you to help out other folks as well by sharing the information with anyone nearby or folks planning to make that same trip.
One of the last things you’ll have to definitely consider is cost (and in many cases, this is the deal breaker). Some apps are free, with unlockable premium features. Other apps you have to purchase.
While others still, will require subscription fees for continued usage of their services. Whether or not something is worth spending for is something you will have to consider, especially if you aren’t an avid hiker or you’re on a tight budget.
Those are only some of the considerations you’ll want to make prior to acquiring an app for your device. Now, here are a few apps that we feel are worth looking at.
The Hiking Apps
AllTrails – Hiking and Biking
Primary Function: GPS & Route Tracking
OS: Apple and Android
Price: Free (With Premium Features available upon purchase)
The AllTrails Hiking and Biking app is a decent choice if you’re in the market for a GPS and route tracking app. It puts a wealth of information at your fingertips. Prior to going on a hike it gives you over 50,000 trails worth of information and places it in the palm of your hands. You can easily find details of a trail at a location near you, plus driving directions to trailheads.
Trail reviews and information are sourced from users just like you, who share not only their experiences but photos of the routes as well.
You can easily keep track of the trails that pique your interest as well. You can sort through trail by the level of difficulty, wheelchair friendliness, dog friendliness etc.
The App is immensely popular it now has a huge following, this provides you with a great base of user provided information on trails. Most regional trails will have numerous reviews which are well-written, providing you with ample information before making the hike.
While out and about, the app functions as a GPS tracker and allows you to get a handle on where you are at any given time. The app is also able to handle the various activities you might choose to do while outdoors, hiking, biking, or running, it documents a lot of information. Your distance, pace, elevation and top speed are all recorded. All of these bits of information you can upload to show off to your friends or to help out the next group of hikers intending to take on the route.
If you want a bit more from the already feature-filled app, you can opt into an annual service subscription fee which allows you to access National Geographic’s topographical maps, the NatGeo Trails illustrated, verified GPS maps, map editor, map printing, plus GPX export capability which will allow you to transfer route data to other GPS devices.
Despite the huge value that the app proposes to give, it does come with drawbacks. As with many mobile-based apps, its accuracy hinges largely on your cell service provider. In extremely remote areas, where you will have little reception, chances are you will have inaccurate readings on the GPS. This is where a handheld GPS and good old-fashioned navigational skills will trump it.
Overall, AllTrails Hiking and Biking is a good option for someone who is just getting into or is moderately into hiking. Just don’t expect it to perform well in rural environments.
Maps 3D Pro
Primary Function: GPS and Navigation
Maps 3D Pro is another interesting navigational tool that offers quite a bit of value. The first thing, that may be off-putting to those among us who are less willing to spend, is the fact that it’s a paid app.
Setting that aside, however, it does provide more than enough value for its cost.
For one thing, this app provides a 3D navigational option aside from your run-of-the-mill flat map. This is great for folks who aren’t as well-versed at deciphering the contours on a topographical map. Aside from this, it provides utilizes numerous sources of information and compiles this data to provide a great deal of information for users. Its sources include Open Street Maps, NASA scans of the earth as well as data from the United States Geological Service.
It also provides the general functionality you can expect from GPS apps when within cell tower range. You can set your routes ahead, and track your progress as you go with a decent amount of accuracy.
Aside from the 3D Functionality, the factor that sets Maps 3D Pro apart from most of the competition is that it allows you to use offline maps, stored in your device. This is unlike a lot of apps that are fully dependent on an internet connection, and fail miserably when you find yourself outside cell service areas. Though it still limits your GPS capacity, you will have to rely on map reading skills. In this instance, however, the 3D imagery will help you get your bearings faster.
Also, these offline maps can be downloaded for free, and they will tell you just how much disk space the download will consume, which is pretty nice because the data can be pretty hefty.
Overall, the app delivers what it promises. You don’t get promised navigational accuracy when out of cell coverage.
First Aid by Red Cross
OS: iOS & Android
Primary Function: Information and First Aid
The First Aid by Red Cross App is a bit different from the other items on this list, primarily because it isn’t targeted towards the general public and not just hikers or outdoor-inclined folks. It is tailor fit to your country (i.e a British Red Cross App for UK-based folks, US for folks located in the USA, and so on)
The app offers a lot of potentially life-saving first-aid information which caters to folks in various settings. What makes this recommended for people who are hiking is the reality that chances are you won’t be near a hospital, while you’re out in the woods. Heck, you might not even have cellphone reception at all, and that greatly limits your ability to call for help in the event of an emergency.
This allows you to have some semblance of first aid capability while out in the field. This can be very useful if you don’t have anyone with medical or first aid training with you.
If you ask us, whether or not you’re trained in first aid, the app is definitely a good one. IF you’ve already received training, this can serve as a refresher and provide other techniques which you may or may not be familiar with. If you haven’t received training, this app could very well be a life saver while out on a hike, or even when staying at home. It’s free, and it only consumes a small amount of HD space, so why not get it.
OS: iOS & Android
Primary Function: Navigation
Peakfinder is another very useful app which will probably have a pretty big appeal for you if you’re into mountaineering. Like many other GPS apps out there, it makes use of cellular GPS, mobile networks, and an accelerometer to get a good location and view.
You can pick a peak and check out the view and names of surrounding peaks from there within a roughly 200-mile radius. Pretty neat, also considering the fact that you can use these functionalities offline (when downloaded). Though it pretty much goes without saying that you won’t find the name of EVERY peak, but most of the major peaks will have data on them.
It gives you a 2D black and white rendering of the peaks. You can check out the particular view you’re looking for by entering GPS coordinates, using Google Maps, as well as their very own Peak Directory and Nearby peak search options. From every peak, you will be able to access data on elevation, coordinates, plus distances from your viewing point, really neat.
This is great for planning those long distance hikes. Especially, if you really want to get a better feel for your trip prior to making it. In spite of it being a paid app, Peakfinder is definitely, a worthwhile app to have on your mobile.
Primary Function: Navigation aid
If you are looking for a unique experience for your next outdoor trip, Spyglass is probably one of the best apps for hiking. Firstly it offers a number of unique compass modes and calibration modes that make it pretty accurate.
Secondly, the functions via augmented reality. This means that you point your camera towards a location, it will give you real-time object positions overlayed onto the camera. If you aren’t familiar with augmented reality, think Pokemon Go but this time with actual functionality. The app can also be used as a sextant and has a catalog of star maps which you can use alongside the Sun and Moon’s location for a more accurate compass calibration.
You can use it as an optical rangefinder with a reticle, similar to rangefinders that hunters use. It can even track mobile targets you point your camera toward at the same time, you can check for direction, azimuth, distance, elevation, and ETA.
Aside from all of that you can still do the standard tasks, you could expect from a navigational app such as check maps and set waypoints while planning distance.
The only drawback we see with the app is the battery consumption that its heavy use entails. However given its overall unique value proposition, it’s definitely something worth checking out if you’ve got an Apple device on you.
Find your way
These are onlya few of the many possible options on the market today. And again, these apps are no replacement for real world navigation skills, but they can help in a pinch and can make your life easier. So take your pick and try some of these out.
Don’t forget to check out our piece on what gifts to give hikers to help them thrive in the outdoors.