Whether gathering supplies for a day hike or setting up camp for a while, these days savvy hikers are sure to pack their digital backpacks with apps to bring out the best in their treks.
Don’t forget your gorp, and steer clear of fat bears. Happy trails!
Pro tip: these apps are tailor-made for hiking and the outdoors, but even the tech you rely on every day can be useful out in nature. Google Maps often shows hiking trails, Instagram has some pretty inspiring accounts to follow like @wildernessculture, @theclymb, and @unlikelyhikers, and many smartwatches and fitness trackers measure elevation.
Trails and Navigation
With 12 million downloads, AllTrails is one of the most popular apps out there for planning your next hike. It boasts over 200,000 trail maps that include photos and reviews. AllTrails’ UI makes it easy to explore and search trails, and there’s a multitude of filter options such as difficulty level and dog-friendliness. Plus, with your GPS on, you can record your route – including pace, distance, elevation and save it or share with friends. For backcountry hikers there’s also a pro version that lets you use routes offline.
Price: Free or $29.99/year for AllTrails Pro
Explore AllTrails massive collection of crowdsourced trails.
Like AllTrails, Hiking Project is a crowdsourced database of trails and hiking information. It too has trail reviews, photos and general info about the hikes like distance, difficulty, dog/family friendliness etc. Hiking Project doesn’t have as many trails as AllTrails mapped out (76,000) but perhaps it makes up for that with its detailed descriptions of each trail that makes the app feel like a guidebook. Plus, unlike AllTrails, the Hiking Project’s offline functionality is a free part of the app
Hiking Project is like a digital guidebook.
Credit: hiking project
For all-around use, Gaia is a good map to have on hand. Use it to research trails, navigate with GPS, find a campsite, and even check the weather forecast. The app also features a variety of different map options including topographical, satellite, and NatGeo illustrations. With the premium membership you can download maps and trail info for offline use.
Price: Free or $36/year for the premium plan
Search, navigate, and camp all with the help of one app.
Credit: gaia Gps
National Park Service app
Created by the National Park Service, this is the quintessential app for visiting any of the 400+ national park sites. Features include interactive maps, self-guided park tours, and general info about amenities and accessibility. There is also a way to download maps and info for offline use.
A must-have for your National Park trips.
Credit: national park service
Guthook has all of the usual trappings of a navigation app: GPS tracking, detailed maps, offline capabilities, etc. But its features were designed specifically for thru-hikers, bringing long-distance hiking into the digital age. Hikers can send updates and share locations with family and friends, look up necessities like water sources and campsites, and access “town guides” which have info that all thru-hikers need to resupply and get back on the trail.
Price: Free to download, but specific trail guides must be purchased
A thru-hiker’s new best friend.
Credit: Guthook guides
What sets Spyglass apart from other navigation apps out there is its augmented reality technology. The app overlays a military grade compass that is fine-tuned by your phone’s GPS, gyroscopic sensors and accelerometer. Spyglass also features a rangefinder to measure distance, a sextant, and an inclinometer for measuring steepness. And when you’re done pretending to be Rambo, Spyglass can also store the location of where you parked your car.
A sophisticated compass you won’t want to leave at home.
Credit: happy magenta
Sharing your whereabouts in the wilderness can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why Cairn is a hit for hikers. It shares realtime location and progress with your designated contacts and automatically messages them if you’re overdue. Cairn also compiles crowdsourced information about cell phone coverage, so you can know where to check in or get help in an emergency.
Price: Free or $4.99/month or $26.99/year for Cairn Premium
For staying safe and giving your loved ones peace of mind.
This app is pretty new to the scene, but has received great reviews so far. As anyone who has been in the outdoors before knows, things can go wrong, and sometimes professional help is far away. This app helps you assess the emergency with a series of questions and then helps you treat and stabilize with wilderness first aid techniques. The app is also loaded with more general survival and first aid information, so you can be well-prepped for your next big adventure.
Be prepared for even the worst case scenario.
Credit: Outsmart wilderness
Seek by iNaturalist
While hiking is all about enjoying nature, this app actually helps you identify it. Point your phone’s camera at whatever plant, fungi, or animal you’re curious about, and the app’s image recognition technology will identify it. A joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, Seek is designed for kids and families. But really, it’s for anyone who wants to learn more about flora and fauna.
A high-tech way to learn about your surroundings.
Credit: seek by inaturalist
So you’ve made it to the peak, and now you’re being rewarded with breathtaking views. But what are you looking at exactly? That’s where PeakVisor comes in. Hold your phone camera up to the peak you’re looking at and PeakVisor’s augmented reality feature will identify it for you, and provide details about elevation, distance, and also photos and relevant info from Wikipedia. PeakVisor also has a 3D mapping feature and offline capabilities.
Price: Free or $29.99/year for PeakVisor PRO
Identify the view while enjoying it.
There are lots of great stargazing apps out there, but this one wins out for its beautiful augmented reality design. Point your device at the sky, and the app identifies planets and superimposes beautiful constellations. Sky Guide will also send you notifications of satellite sightings, astronomy news, and alert you to upcoming astronomical events. And since the best backcountry stargazing often coincides with bad cell service, the app works offline too.
Price: Free or $39.99/year for Sky Guide PRO
Make the most out backcountry stargazing.
Credit: fifth star labs llc