In this digital age, it's rare to see people using anything but their smartphones for navigation. Technology can be a very helpful tool, but remember that a paper map and traditional compass are part of The 10 Essentials a hiker should always carry with them, with the use of electronic devices recommended only in addition to manual aids.
Below are 11 apps that are awesome for hiking.
Garmin Connect is an all-encompassing app that uses your Garmin tracking device to record all physical activities from hiking and running to cycling, swimming, kayaking, snowboarding and more. The level of detail is incredible. In addition to standard stats like mapping, time, pace, distance, elevation and calories, it also tells you things like VO2 Max, training effect, heart rate, life left in gear, and it analyzes your stats to automatically give you personalize insight such as how you compare to other similar users, your level of effort, how to improve, etc. It also tracks health data like sleep, stress level, steps, weight, calories, and more. Like some other apps, you can connect with other users, set and track challenges, and it can pull and share data from/to other apps like Apple Health and Strava.
The coolest feature I love about it is called LiveTrack. When enabled, it allows you to share your activities as they happen in real-time with anyone you choose. It offers a great sense of security to have my partner see where I am when I'm out hiking or running without him in case there's ever an emergency in which I need assistance. It's also cool to share with friends and family when doing races so they can track my progress.
In my opinion, Gaia GPS is the best hiking app out there, the one I use to help me to research trail details and navigate on trails. There is a small fee to get member level access, which you need so you can download maps for offline use, but it is the best money you'll ever spend on an app as a hiker. If you're an experienced backcountry hiker with route-finding skills, someone who likes to adventure on less well-known trails that often aren't well marked, this is an especially helpful app, but it's really useful for all levels of hikers.
Like Maps.me and Topo Maps Canada (discussed below), it shows a huge range of trails that aren't necessarily the marked route which is really helpful, but use those with caution if you are not experienced.
The maps on Gaia GPS are topographical, and they display peaks and points of interest. There are all the features you'd want in a hiking app such as trip recording, trail discovery with detailed info including elevation profile and recommendations for similar hikes and hikes nearby, and it has the ability to upload a gpx file to follow, or for you to create your own route to follow, for example.
There are layer options you can download for different uses. For example, I have the Backroads Mapbook layer downloaded to use for offroading, navigating FSRs and rougher roads. There are alos trail layers for various parts of the world if you're traveling.
This app is usable on its own on your phone (doesn't have to be paired with another device), Strava is a great app for tracking activity but note that it is quite basic. It's much more simplified than Garmin Connect or Gaia for example, with way less information tracked and way less accuracy. It does provide just enough detail for seeing your progress and help you train better though. A lot more people are on Strava, which I find fun because you can see your friends' activity, learn about new routes, and get motivated to work out more. I tried the pro version but honestly, I don't think it's worth the money. The free version is totally great.
Maps.me is essentially a free, basic version offline trail maps for trail display without any of the added info. It's great because you can download maps for offline use and popular trails are named which you can navigate to, but there is no topographical data or tracking ability, and the trail info is limited to stats and elevation profile.
AllTrails is a great easy-to-use app for finding trail maps and stats. They have a free version as well as a paid pro version for $30/yr, which you need to download maps to be accessible offline (which is virtually anywhere you'd hike). It has lots of features. It's probably the most popular and widely-used app as it's quite basic, simplified and user-friendly. You can find over 50,000 trails in Canada and the USA, you can get all the stats you'll need about the hike including directions to it, you can record your hikes using the app, you can see your progress on the topographical map to help with navigation, you can make lists of faves or hikes to do, read and write trail reviews.
iParks Navigator is an app for finding and navigating trails within Metro Vancouver. The app is designed by the City of Vancouver. As they describe, it "helps you to explore all that's best about Metro Vancouver's regional parks and greenspaces system. It also includes the city-owned parks of City of Coquitlam, City of North Vancouver, City of Richmond, and City of Vancouver."
There are a few added features like finding parks and events happening in parks, but the most useful for hikers is the trails marked on the maps. If you open up the app, it will show you where you are and you're able to follow along with the trail for navigational assistance. Note this is a very basic app that requires you to have cell signal to use.
Topo Maps Canada
Topo Maps Canada by David Crawshay is an excellent free app for navigation that, unlike AllTrails, allows you to download topographical maps for free so you can use them offline (when you don't have any internet connection). Note it's only available on iPhones, and it is not as user-friendly as AllTrails for example but gives you a ton of information. The map has pretty much every single little trail in Canada marked on it, which is awesome, but can seem a bit overwhelming if you're trying to find a marked route for example. You need to be able to routefind to safely use this app.
A super cool feature unique to this app is the distance measuring tool. With a map open, you can use your finger to draw on your screen from one point to another and it will tell you what the distance is along the line you drew.
BRMB Navigator is another great app for navigation by local Coquitlam company British Columbia Backroad Mapbooks. Designed by Canadians for Canadians, it has 10,000+ base scale topographic maps of all Canadian provinces – as well as satellite and street maps. Get active and mark waypoints, plan your trip, capture photos and video, and store all your trip information on the BRMB website for easy access from any iOS or Android device. Get a free trial for 30 days and then it's only $9.99/year. You can download topographical maps so you can use them offline (when you don't have any internet connection). There is a hiking trail overlay which is awesome to find and follow routes, as well as lots of other cool features.
PeakFinder is the coolest app. It's something like $6 as a one-time cost but so worth it. It uses your phone's camera for AR (augmented reality) to name the peaks around you that you can see. It uses an elevation model that is integrated into the App. A database with a peak directory is included as well. As such, you don't need an internet connection; it works completely offline from anywhere in the mountains once you download the regions you're in.
AdventureSmart Trip Plan
The AdventureSmart trip plan app is the most important app you could ever download as a hiker. Part of the Three Ts for hiking safety, leaving a trip plan could mean the difference between life and death out in the mountains should something go wrong. Thanksfully with this free app, leaving a trip plan couldn't be easier. You simply enter the details of your hike, and set it to be texted and/or emailed to a person of your choice. When you return, simply check back in to let them know you've made it back safe. If you don't check in, they'll be notified to call for help.
Relive.cc is a fun, free app that pulls activity data from your tracking app to animate your journey. The app creates a video with your route in action and waypoints marked with photos, as well as showing the elevation profile and stats. You can customize the video, selecting which photos to include and adding text for the title. The paid pro version allows you to add music.
Lastly, don’t forget to bring The 10 Essentials every time you go out for a hike!
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