As someone who loves to hike and explore the outdoors, I am always looking for new ways to plan, discover, navigate, and learn about the places I visit. For me, the smartphone has proven to be an invaluable tool for doing these things.
Still, one of the greatest benefits of spending time in nature is that you get to unplug. These days, our devices vie for our attention without pause. It seems the more that technology evolves, the more we are distracted by the constant alerts, notifications, and social media chatter.
Unless you find a way to minimize the noise, you will get sucked in and lose the ability to stay focused on what matters. I have found that periodic disconnects can provide a welcomed sense of relief and bring balance and tranquility back to your life.
Best Hiking Apps
With that in mind, I have curated a list of the five best hiking apps to help you find your next adventure, plan for it, and not get lost while you are away. I took special care to keep the list small and purposeful, so that you use your smartphone as an outdoor tool, like a sleeping bag or tent, instead of a diversion from your outing.
Hope you enjoy and without further ado, here are my picks for the five best hiking apps:
1. Gaia GPS
In my opinion, Gaia is the best GPS app available right now. It has a huge inventory of topographic, road, and satellite maps built in and allows you to import from other sources also, like CalTopo – a popular online backcountry mapping tool.
Gaia has an intuitive interface that makes it easy to save and download maps for offline use and syncs your data with gaiagps.com, where you can plot routes, store/share tracks, and upload photos. The ability to see your location on a detailed map without service is a game changer.
The price tag may seem high, but $20 is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from knowing you won’t get lost in the backcountry.
iPhone and Android, Free*
*$9.99/yr in-app purchase for Member Level
*$29.99/yr in-app purchase for Premium Level
Gaia GPS Pricing
AllTrails is the main app I use to find and plan new hikes. It has a simple interface that allows you to explore by location or show trails near you. It also has filters, so you can make sure it shows you trails that are suitable for dogs and/or kids.
The information on AllTrails is crowdsourced and its community has a whopping 4 million users, so your searches are bound to return a lot of results. For most trails, you will find maps, waypoints, reviews, geotagged photos, and links to driving directions.
If you create an AllTrails account, you can “favorite” trails and save them for later. I use this feature to create lists of hikes I want to do, then I go when I have the time.
Although the app is free, to use maps offline you have to upgrade to AllTrails Pro for $30 per year.
iPhone and Android, Free
3. The Outbound
The Outbound is another app I recommend for discovering hikes and adventures. It tends to have more detailed descriptions and higher quality photos than AllTrails, but has far fewer search results. I like to use both apps in tandem, to learn from different sources and gain comprehensive knowledge before setting out.
Another feature of the Outbound is its “Stories” section, where you’ll find well-written blog posts by fellow adventurers. I like to read these to gain inspiration for trips. You can also contribute your own stories and adventures from the app or theoutbound.com.
I love how simple the Outbound app is and how smooth it runs. It makes it easy to save adventures, add them to lists, and mark them complete once you are done. Oh, and the best part? The Outbound app is free.
4. Sky Guide
A friend of mine once told me the story of his first time seeing the Milky Way. He grew up in the starless skies of Southern California. As a teenager, he went on a spontaneous road trip to Zion National Park, Utah. He was astounded by the peculiar white haze in the night sky. At first, he had no idea what it was.
Not enough people have escaped the light pollution of cities to witness the cosmos in all their glory. If you have been lucky enough to experience the stars from a dark place, you know how awesome it can be.
For amateur and experienced stargazers alike, the Sky Guide app is essential. Using it is simple: Open the app, hold your phone overhead, and start identifying stars, planets, and constellations. Every time I use it I am blown away by how cool it is.
iPhone and Android, $3
Have you ever loaded a hiking guide on your phone’s browser, only to lose access to it when you go offline? I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have done this. It has been the source of immense frustration for me on the hunt for elusive trailheads.
Pocket solves this problem. It provides a safe place for you to save webpages from your browser to your phone. You can rest assured that when you go deep into the backcountry, you will still have access to every article you saved to the app.
iPhone and Android, Free
After writing this post, I received an email from Stephen Johnson, an avid hiker and backpacker based in the Pacific Northwest. Stephen founded Glacier Peak Studios and created a topographic map app called Topo Maps+.
Stephen asked me to consider adding his app to this post, so I took the opportunity to test it out on a recent backpacking trip. I was beyond impressed by its distinctive features, offline map quality, and ease of use.
From my experience, there are three wow factors that set Topo Maps+ apart from other topographic map apps:
- Better Elevation Info
I have yet to encounter another app that shows you elevation information in such a brilliant way. The in-app chart shows you your start point, current location, elevation gain/loss, and distance in a single panel.
- More Trail Data
Plan your own route with trail data from over 500,000 trails. The search bar works great and makes it easy to find them.
- Better Maps
The app gives you access to USGS topographic maps that are the best available, bar none. They are filled with useful information and easy to read.
*$20/yr in-app purchase for Map Pass.
*$60/yr in-app purchase for PRO For iOS.
Topo Maps+ Pricing