Can you imagine backpacking in the bad old days when all you had to guide you was the North Star and a goat’s left butt bone? Well, adieu to all that. Here in the information age, there’s an app for everything. And if your phone can map your pooping history, it can definitely do useful things like route tracking and wilderness navigation. So before you hit the trail, let’s pimp out your phone with all the best hiking apps. Here are a few to check out.
The following is an excerpt from our newly updated ebook, Lady Dirtbag’s Guide to Freedom, a backpacking manual by women for women. Enjoy!
NOTE: We retrieved these prices June 13, 2019. Price reflects the version with the best value in our humble opinion.
1. Gaia GPS ($20/annually, iOS, Android)
GaiaGPS doesn’t quite replace a handheld GPS unit, but it comes pretty damn close! Use it to map your hikes and view distance and elevation data. Not sure where to hike this weekend? Search Gaia’s library of popular trails and sync them to your phone with a touch. The app also records tracks as you hike without a significant drain on your battery.
Theoretically, you can use the free version of GaiaGPS to navigate as long as you have cell service. However, you’ll need to pony up for a $20 annual subscription if you want to download maps so you can head out of cellular service range. You can also upgrade to the $40 pro subscription to access a wider range of maps, including the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series.
2. Topo Maps+ (FREE, iOS)
This handy iPhone app has a decent free version and is a great alternative to Gaia GPS for the cost-conscious. Topo Maps+ Basic allows you to download “low” resolutions USGS maps, which if you’re used to using paper maps honestly look pretty good! You can also view your location and set waypoints as you go. Tap highlighted trails to view the distance and elevation profile and plot your own routes by drawing on the map with your finger.
Upgrade to the Pass plan ($20/year) for high-resolution and premium maps, including National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps. The Pro version ($40/year) allows you to perform advanced mapping and planning functions, including joining segments and downloading detailed route data.
3. Hiking Project (FREE, iOS, Android)
REI’s trail discovery app makes it easy to find great new hikes and backpacks near you! Select your state, drill down on your region, set preferred distance, and boom! Hiking Project will generate a list of hikes that (somewhat loosely) fit your criteria.
Trails are rated by difficulty in the style of ski hills (greens, blues, and black diamonds). You’ll also see leaderboards of the most popular trails plus user ratings. The app also highlights natural “gems” that you shouldn’t miss if you’re just popping into town for a day or two.
As much as we love Hiking Project, we must warn you that the trail mileage stats sometimes appear to be pulled out of marmot’s butt. So don’t trust them like your life depends on it.
4. MapMyHike (FREE, iOS, Android)
If you’re a hiker in training, MapMyHike is a great way to track your mileage, pace, and elevation. Simply turn it on at the trailhead and get audio updates each mile. When you finish your hike, you’ll be able to view distance, elevation gain, and detailed performance data for each mile. You can also sync MapMyHike to many popular fitness wearables, including Garmin and FitBit.
Not sure where to hike? Browse segments to see user-generated routes from the MapMyHike community. You can also create a segment to repeat yourself or share with others.
5. PeakFinder ($5, iOS, Android)
Peakfinder helps you create a labeled panorama of the mountains in front of you that you can save, edit, and share with friends. It works worldwide and doesn’t require a cell phone signal.
To make it happen, simply hit a button to locate yourself via GPS. Then use our camera to align your vista with computer generated panorama on the screen. The mountain names will appear. Tap on any name to learn more about the mountain.
6. SkyView (FREE, iOS, Android)
Yes, making up your own constellations can be a fun way to pass the time on backpacking trips. (We know someone who made one up named the Kweefer. Don’t ask.)
But wouldn’t it be nice to know the names of all the stars, constellations, nebulas, galaxies, and planets? Seriously, you might be looking at the rings of Saturn and not even realize it. Until you get the SkyView app.
Think of SkyView as assisted stargazing for the cosmically challenged. Just point your viewfinder at the sky, and the app labels everything for you. No need for cell service or GPS. This thing was clearly designed by rocket scientists! You can even set reminders so you never miss a satellite flyby or celestial event.
7. Overcast (FREE, iOS)
Let’s face it. Walking for miles and miles with a pack on gets old. And even if you’re somewhere super scenic, audio makes everything better.
If Podcasts are your brain crack of choice, check out the Overcast app. Why not Apple Podcasts, you ask? Because that thing is buggy AF and prone to crap out when you most want/need entertainment on trail. Also, it’s navigation tree makes about as much sense as the drive system on a Yugo.
Overcast also features Smart Speed, which speeds subtly through pauses for faster (but still completely intelligible) playback. Then there’s Voice Boost. Turn it on when background noise like wind or an annoying conversation is eating at you, and behold the magic.
8. Audible (FREE trial, iOS, Android)
Think Audible is just about books? Think again! As a subscriber, you’ll also be able to access voice guided workouts and meditations. Access daily editions of The New York Times and other national papers. You can even have the entire Mueller Report read aloud to you. (Spoiler alert: there was collusion. Lots of collusion.)
Oh, and if you do want books, you’ll have access to plenty of those too! (Sarah just finished listening to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. She’s still a little traumatized.)
To get started with Audible, sign up for a free 30-day trial. You’ll get two ebooks and two Audible Originals free.
9. Kindle (FREE, iOS, Android)
Man, some of us are old enough to remember when people took actual paperback books backpacking! Usually everyone would finish their book by day 3 and then have nothing to do but sit around and stare at each other. It was weird.
Fortunately, you can now carry thousands of books (and newspapers, trail guides, magazines, and other printed goodies) on your phone thanks to the magic of the Kindle App. You can even download books from your local library to Kindle!
It’s seriously one of the best things ever invented. And it’s great for those long, cold backcountry nights when everyone goes to bed at 4 p.m.
So there you have ’em. All the best hiking apps for your backpacking adventures!
Now if you’ll excuse us, we have some
50 Shades classics to read on the Kindle, so we’re zipping the tent doors. Please respect our private time with Christian Gray Charles Dickens, OK?
Ready to make the jump from day hiker to overnight backpacker? This ebook can help!
In your opinion, what are the best hiking apps? Comment below to share those trail, map, and GPS apps you can’t live without.
Origianlly published July 10, 2019.