The Best Hiking Apps to Keep from Getting Lost


Ah, the great outdoors. The flora, the fauna, the welcome mystery of the open trail stretched before you. You’ve left it all behind, until … Wait. Where’s the map? Did you mean to turn left back at that fork? What direction is the campsite anyway? Is it starting to get dark? Don’t lose yourself out there. Download one of these trail-mapping hiking apps to make sure you can always find your way, whether you have cell service or not.

Photograph: AllTrails

Every outdoor explorer needs AllTrails on their phone. The app catalogs over 200,000 trails around the world—including in Antarctica. Its handy filters let you search trails by elevation, activity type, dog-friendliness, and much more. If you’re trekking beyond cell range, pony up for the pro membership ($30 for a year, or $60 for a prepaid three-year plan, iOS and Android), which lets you download maps ahead of time, track your exact location using GPS, and view map overlays of your chosen route that show everything from the weather to the air quality to light pollution levels. And if you get really lost, the app’s Lifeline feature sends a status update to your designated safety contact either with your location either with a tap, or if you’re not at your destination by a specified time. Pro memberships are also ad-free, and AllTrails donates 1 percent of the proceeds to environment-focused nonprofits.

Designed for backpackers, Gaia offers topographical and satellite maps for any kind of outdoor adventure. Whether you’re on a day hike, a mountain biking trip, a hunting excursion, or deep in the backcountry, the app is built to get you where you’re going safely and with as much information as possible. There is a free version, but for more advanced hikers it’s well worth it to get the premium membership ($40 for a year, iOS and Android), which lets you download maps for offline use. You also get NOAA weather forecasts and layers to designate private land, public land, air quality, snow, and recent wildfires. Gaia GPS supports more than 30 languages, from Hindi to Hebrew.

If you’re a long-distance hiker, Guthook Guides offers some of the extras you might be looking for. In addition to the seven different map types—several of which work offline—GPS tracking, water sources, and more, each guide provides an incredibly thorough listing of waypoints, of including images to help ensure you’re in the right spot and comments left by other Guthook users. You can update family and friends on the progress of your hike, and find detailed information on everything from trailheads to liquor stores along the way. Most appealing for thru-hikers, the guides range widely in price depending on the route; the map for California’s Lost Cost Trail will set you back five bucks, while the full Appalachian Trail guide costs $60.

The offline mapping data on Google Maps won’t work for the serious backpacker, but a cheapskate on a leisurely hike, there are worse options. Enable the topographic map layer to see more detail in the areas between landmarks, then download the map of your hiking area for offline viewing. Drop a few pins along the way and you should be able to find your way around using the offline GPS functionality. You can also share your route with others. It’s not perfect—but it’s free!

Some Extras

Hey, is that poison oak? Identify every leaf and vine along the way with Seek (free, iOS and Android), the Shazam for plants. What’s that mountain in the distance? Use PeakVisor ($5, iOS and Android) to display the name, elevation, and distance of any peak in augmented reality. How’s the weather on the trails today? Check on Weather Live (free, iOS and Android) for detailed information on temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, UV and visibility; it also tells you when you’ll find “golden hour” for those perfect outdoor selfies.

Navigating by the stars? Find your way with Spyglass ($6, iOS and Android), which puts measuring instruments on your smartphone’s display—including a speedometer, altimeter, inclinometer, optical rangefinder, sextant, angular calculator, and a tool to track the position of the stars, sun, and moon. 

For a little extra peace of mind, Cairn (iOS and Android) crowdsources where people have found cell coverage on the trail, so you always know how far you are from your nearest reliable signal. Lastly, accidents happen. It’s free to download, but premium features like offline maps and real-time location sharing cost $5 a month or $27 for a fully year. Download the Red Cross’s First Aid app (free, iOS and Android) for quick advice on everything from dealing with an earthquake to a broken bone.


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