It's officially hiking season for many people and with the first warm rays of the sun beaming down, so starts the annual dusting off of those hiking boots and trekking poles. Hiking in today's world is vastly different than it was 50 years ago and with all the technology that we have access to, hiking can be safer, more efficient, and easier, to a certain extent. Part of the reason for this is the smartphone which already has the capability to tell us where to go, how, and when. And while we shouldn't always grow used to relying on a cell phone alone for direction and know-how - as hiking does require a decent amount of intuition - it is a valuable resource on the trails.
Many of the apps available to those with android and iOS systems can be downloaded and used offline in the event that there's no cell phone signal. This alone can give us access to maps, data, and directions, as well as a whole slew of other things. Apps can also be used to find and map out new trails, connecting us with others who have hiked them already or might have helpful tips or advice. For 2021, these are the best apps worth a download for the hiking season.
AllTrails is one of the most popular hiking apps on the market and has been for some time now, and for good reasons. This app offers a free version that includes all the basics for beginning hikers as well as expert hikers, with the option to make a personal account that will save all of your hiking data. That data includes the saved hikes, completed hikes and the time, distance, elevation levels, and map of a hiker's route, as well as suggestions for hikes nearby or according to the hiker's previous history.
Additionally, each hike listed includes ratings from other AllTrails users, reviews, and even photos that users can upload of their own hikes. A brief description and a difficulty rating tell hikers what to expect, and they have access to maps of the hikes that other users have taken if they opt to make their hiking data public.
Gaia GPS offers a similar experience to that of AllTrails with a bit of a simpler interface. This app is much more map-based, with topographical overlays (along with in-depth overlays that come with a paid membership) and access to offline information.
This app also has a built-in compass which is useful for those who have low phone batteries or just need a little boost in navigation, and the ability to use the GPS while offline. Each hike includes a brief description as well which tells hikers about the distance, elevation gain, difficulty level, and rating based on other user's hikes.
Offline Survival Manual
The Offline Survival Manual is an incredibly valuable resource to those who go on multi-day hikes or use expert trails. While it doesn't include information about hikes, it does cover 29 topics regarding survival techniques from how to start a (safe) fire to foraging for food and setting up a temporary shelter. The app guide is so in-depth that it even tells hikers how to 'read' the incoming clouds and what type of weather to prepare for based on what they observe.
Even if you a hiker doesn't think they'll need something like this, it's an excellent app to have on-hand, especially since the information can be accessed while offline. The only catch is that this app is only available to android users and is not yet available on iOS.
Guthook Guides is specifically for use offline which already makes it a great option for those who hike in remote or signal-less areas. The app was also created by PCT thru-hikers, according to Greenbelly, which means that plenty of experience and know-how went into making this app efficient for hikers everywhere.
The app is GPS-based and includes area maps, waypoints, elevation points, campsites, and even information about nearby accommodations. The app allows users to bounce between topography maps to satellite-based maps, all while providing information about the surrounding area so that hikers can see exactly where they are. For thru-hikers, this is one of the most valuable apps on the market right now.
No hiker ever wants to be caught off-guard or without a safety plan in the event of something unpredictable. The Cairn app helps to provide a little bit of relief and reassurance for those starting out on the trail, as the point is to get information from a hiker to their 'safety circle.' The app will share a hiker's route with the people of their choosing prior to setting off on the trail, and if a hiker doesn't return by the time they've specified on the app, Cairn will automatically send the hiker's GPS signal to the same people.
Cairn will also work regardless of whether or not a phone is on or off or if it's in working order or not, and hikers can also use the app to determine where there might be cell service nearby.