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.
I use Garmin Connect more than any other app as it is synced via bluetooth to the Garmin Fenix3 HR watch I have and wear on every hike I do to track stats and help me navigate if needed. (If you’re interested in the watch, you can buy it here on Amazon.ca or direct through the Garmin website here).
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 steps, weight, calories, sleep 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.
Similar to Garmin Connect, but usable on its own (doesn’t have to be paired with another device), Strava is a great app for tracking activity. It’s much more simplified than Garmin Connect with way less information tracked, but it provides just enough detail for seeing your progress and help you train better. 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.
AllTrails is my favourite easy-to-use app for finding trail maps and stats, and it’s free! They have a paid pro version for $30/yr also. If you’re going to download only one app, this is it. It has every feature you could want. 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, and you can even download the map for offline navigation (in the pro version only).
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). It is not as user-friendly as AllTrails 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.
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.
The compass stock app for iOS (on iPhones) is awesome. Not only can it help you navigate, but it’s a great app to tell you your location’s GPS coordinates. This is the most important information that Search and Rescue will want to know should you ever find yourself in need of rescue. Simply open up the app and on the bottom of the screen it will tell you your latitude and longitude (ie 35°44’51” N 86°53’45 W as shown below on the app).
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.
Parkopedia Parking is an awesome app to help you find parking. If you’re going to an area where there are designated parking lots or meters, this app can help. It will show you where there is parking, and lots of aspects about the parking too. The map overlays show you parking areas by price and availability. You can also set filters to tell you things like if the spaces are covered, if they have EV charging, etc.
Two other hiking apps I’ve heard about people using but I haven’t tried them myself are: Map My Hike and Maps.me
Lastly, don’t forget to bring The 10 Essentials every time you go out for a hike!
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