These five free hiking apps are not only useful to have in your pocket, they can also act as a safety net should you run into any trouble on the trail.
Trail Tech Has Come A Long Way
With virtually everyone carrying their smartphone when they hit the trail, it makes it a lot easier to take advantage of the latest advancements in trail technology. Hiking apps offer a range of different uses and features that can make planning and executing hikes much easier and safer. From GPS tracking and trail guides to plant identification, apps are a must-have for hikers of all experience levels.
Here are five free hiking apps that you should consider downloading onto your phone before your next hiking adventure:
The AllTrails app is one of the most well-used hiking apps on the market. Enter your city or hiking area of interest and it will populate a list of trails ready for exploration. Each trail includes a description, images, difficulty, user ratings, and other important factors like dog- and child-friendliness.
One of the best features of AllTrails is your ability to track your hikes. Using your phone's GPS, you are able to "record" your route from start to finish and view your completed hike on a map complete with time and distance.
There is a paid version of this app that includes some pretty handy features like notifications if you deviate from your route, downloadable maps for offline viewing, and "Lifeline" which reports your location to selected contacts during your hike.
The only downside to this app is that the trail database and information are all user-generated. Although the trail listings are updated regularly, maps and the information provided about them might not be the most accurate.
Plus, a common "complaint" from users is that it doesn't actually list all of the available trails in a given area. Again, this is due to the user generation of the app's trail database.
TAKEAWAY: For a free app, AllTrails is extremely useful to hikers and a valuable asset for discovering and planning hikes. For safety, relying solely on the app for navigation should be avoided as some of the data might be outdated.
Like AllTrails, Komoot is a great free hiking app that allows you to view trail maps, and plan and record your route. Komoot also allows you to choose between planned routes or select your own waypoints to create your own route which is handy if you want to specify your hike distance and time.
Komoot also offers turn-by-turn navigation which is great. It helps you focus more on your surroundings than watching your route on your phone.
The Komoot database is again user-generated, but you might find some different trails than other hiking apps, so sometimes it helps to have more than one of this type of app to choose from.
Komoot also offers a paid version with similar upgrades to AllTrails.
The map views are quite basic in the Komoot app. Maps only offer a topographical view and sometimes you aren't able to zoom far enough to see distinct features which can be a bit inconvenient.
With slightly different trail options and a super user-friendly interface, Komoot is a great free hiking app to have on your phone. Maps are only available offline in the paid version, so always be sure you have a backup way to view your trail map just in case.
iNaturalist allows hikers to combine their love of exploring trails with producing useful scientific information used for the greater good. Snap a photo of local flora or fauna and upload it to experts who can identify it for you.
You can help scientists gain a greater understanding of where plants and animals occur which can aid in conservation efforts and planning among other important things. You can even select a project to help with or start your own.
The app can be a bit buggy at times. Not allowing you to upload photos from your camera roll, inability to create an account and internal app errors being a few of the complaints from users.
Being able to contribute to the scientific understanding of our natural world, and all for free is an incredible thing. The app itself is easy to use and is a useful tool for any naturalist!
What3Words is a new and amazing way to provide your location in an emergency within three meters of anywhere in the world. The app divides the earth into 3x3 meter squares and assigns each a unique three-word combination that you can reference and send to a contact in the event of an emergency.
You can also use What3Words to identify meeting points, checkpoints, trailheads, and other locations not easily identifiable on a traditional map.
What3Words is dependant on your phone's data to be able to communicate your location, so if you find yourself without reception it likely won't be of much use. For this reason, you should still ALWAYS tell someone beforehand where you're hiking and what time to expect you back or to check-in.
Being able to pinpoint your exact location down to a few meters anywhere in the world has numerous uses for your average hiker, but What3Words shouldn't be depended upon as your only method of location in an emergency.
The Weather Network App
Although this app isn't exclusively for hiking, you'd be surprised how many hikers just have the pre-loaded weather apps that their phone comes with, which offers only basic weather information at best.
The Weather Network App provides local forecasts and radar maps to help you assess the weather conditions before departing on your hike, and you can receive notifications for weather changes like precipitation or important weather alerts. You can also view the air quality index, the UV report, and the pollen report as well.
This app depends on mobile data or wifi to deliver accurate and up-to-date forecasts, so if you're in a location with limited reception, you might not be able to receive important notifications. Therefore, it's always best to plan hikes with a "be prepared" attitude.
All hikers should have a detailed weather reporting app at their fingertips. The Weather Network provides accurate and detailed forecasting information that can prove invaluable to hikers.
Free Hiking Apps Vs. Paid Apps
The five free hiking apps above can help improve any hiker's journey, but they are definitely only the tip of the app iceberg in terms of what's available. A few paid apps you might like to check out include:
Bruce Trail App (Being released sometime later this year)