The Best Hiking Apps and Tools for Hikers and Backpackers

Hiking Apps
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From finding new trails and tracking your performance to navigating and staying safe, technology today helps hikers and backpackers with many different aspects of their planning, preparation, and time on the trail. But with so many hiking apps, websites, and tools to choose from, it can be challenging to figure out which ones will be the most useful for you.

We’ve selected the best apps for hiking and backpacking, broken down into the following categories:

  1. Trail Finding, Trip Planning, and Navigation Apps
  2. Trail Safety Apps
  3. Health and Fitness Hiking Apps
  4. On-trail Education Apps
  5. Websites and Apps for Gear Lists

Before we dive into our picks for the best hiking apps, let’s go over some of the reasons why it makes sense to use them.

Hike Planning with GPS app and map

Benefits of Using Hiking Apps

While many people enjoy hiking and backpacking as a way to escape the modern world, there’s no denying that technology has many benefits for hikers and backpackers. Here are some of the advantages of hiking apps and reasons you should consider using them on your next hike or backpacking trip.

  • Navigation and Safety: Hiking often involves going to remote areas with spotty cell coverage. Many of the best hiking apps have built-in GPS navigation and compasses and allow you to download maps to use offline, which can help you find your way on poorly marked trails and retrace your steps if you get lost. Many apps also allow you to share your current location with others and send notifications regarding your ETA. These features help keep you safe and make it easier for search and rescue teams to find you in the event of an emergency.
  • Trail Finding and Trip Planning: Proper planning and preparation are crucial for staying safe when recreating outdoors. Using apps to help you find trails suitable for your skill level and interests and plan your route can help you have a more enjoyable hiking trip and discover new exciting hikes.
  • Tracking and Sharing Performance and Training: Some people just hike for fun, but others want to keep a log of their hikes and how they performed – especially if they’re training for a race, a long backpacking trip, or a thru-hike. Apps are an excellent way to monitor your progress and share your performance with others for more accountability and motivation.
  • Education: Hiking is an excellent activity for relaxing in nature, challenging yourself physically and mentally, and enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings, but it’s also a great way to learn more about the natural world and the creatures in it. Apps can help you identify wildlife along the trail, learn about the history of the area you’re visiting, and identify summits and other points of interest along the horizon.

Now that you know more about the benefits of using apps on and off the trail, here are our picks for the best hiking apps, websites, and tools in each of the five categories listed above.

Best Trail Finding, Trip Planning, and Navigation Apps

AllTrails

Cost: Free or $29.99 annually for AllTrails Pro

Available for: Android, iOS

With more than 200,000 trail maps and a community of 25 million people around the world, AllTrails is one of the most commonly used apps and websites for hikers. AllTrails is trusted by a wide range of outdoor adventurers, from new hikers to seasoned backpackers. The free version will allow you to find trails, read trail reviews from fellow hikers, create custom maps, keep a log of your hikes, and navigate when you have cell reception.

If you want to download trail maps to use offline or notify friends and family of your whereabouts using the Lifeline feature, you’ll need to upgrade to AllTrails Pro. Doing so will also allow you to enable notifications to alert you if you get off course and access real-time map overlays showing weather conditions, air quality, pollen, and more.

In addition to hiking trails, AllTrails has information about routes suitable for other outdoor activities, including horseback riding, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing.

Hiking Project

Cost: Free

Available for: Android, iOS

Backed by outdoor retailer REI, Hiking Project is a completely free trail finding and navigation app with over 242,000 miles (389,000 kilometers) of trails. The app works best in the United States and parts of Canada, but it has a small selection of trails from countries around the world. Since the Hiking Project app uses crowdsourced data from the community, more trails are submitted by users, reviewed by staff, and added to the app every day. The app works offline, so you can use it anywhere regardless of cell coverage.

Hiking Project offers users accurate, guidebook-quality information, including detailed route descriptions, elevation profiles, and wildlife found along the trail. As the name suggests, Hiking Project only includes hiking and walking trails. However, there are related websites and apps also backed by REI that are focused on other activities, including Trail Run Project for trail running, Mountain Project for rock climbing, and MTB Project for mountain biking.

Outdooractive

Cost: Free; $3 per month for Pro; $6 per month for Pro+

Available for: Android, iOS

Used by hundreds of outdoor search and rescue teams worldwide, Outdooractive is the largest outdoor platform in Europe. The app is trusted by industry professionals thanks to its precise maps and satellite imagery, easy route planning, and voice navigation.

Since it acquired the ViewRanger hiking app, Outdooractive has worked to integrate ViewRanger’s best features to create a useful tool for hiking, mountaineering, and other outdoor pursuits. With the free version, you can find, save, and download routes and help the community by rating and commenting on them. You can also view current trail conditions, closures, dangers, and avalanche warnings and navigate when you have a cell signal.

Upgrading to Pro will allow you to navigate and access your maps without data coverage and use the Skyline feature to identify landscape features like peaks, waypoints, and other points of interest through your phone’s camera. Outdooractive Pro also gives you discounts with Outdooractive’s industry partners and access to the BuddyBeacon feature to share your real-time GPS position with contacts. Pro+ provides you with all the Pro features, with some additional premium maps, weather data, and 3D interactive route previews.

Outdooractive is a great hiking app for multisport athletes since it has route planning and navigation capabilities for 30 different activities. While the app is useful everywhere except the polar regions, it’s especially beneficial for hikers and backpackers in Europe.

Gaia GPS

Cost: Free or $39.99 per year for Gaia GPS Premium

Available for: Android, iOS

The user-friendly interface, live hiking data, and high-quality maps make Gaia GPS a top choice among those seeking a hiking app to support them on and off the trail. From finding campsites in the backcountry to tracking wildfires, Gaia GPS is an excellent tool for hikers, backpackers, campers, backcountry skiers, hunters, land managers, and mountain bikers.

The free version allows users to plan routes, mark waypoints, record trips, use GPS navigation (cell signal required), access Gaia Topo maps, take photos, and share their tracks with friends. With the premium version, you’ll be able to customize and print your maps, download maps to use offline, view NOAA weather forecasts, and access the complete Gaia GPS maps catalog. This catalog includes more than 250 maps and overlays, such as National Geographic’s illustrated trail maps, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Topo maps, detailed maps for France and Switzerland, and public and private land overlays.

Spyglass

Cost: $5.99 for iOS, Free for Android with in-app purchases

Available for: Android, iOS

Spyglass is a high-tech compass app that allows users to navigate using augmented reality. Hikers, backpackers, hunters, off-roaders, and other outdoor enthusiasts love this app thanks to its ability to convert your phone into an altimeter, speedometer, GPS receiver, star finder, gyrocompass, mil-spec compass, binoculars, waypoint tracker, and more.

If you’re just trying to get to the summit and enjoy the view, you probably won’t need a sophisticated, multipurpose compass app like Spyglass. But if you’re interested in orienteering, this app will take your outdoor adventures to the next level.

Spyglass’s features go beyond the navigation tools available in many other apps on this list. With Spyglass, you can measure the dimensions of and distances to objects using the built-in sextant, angular calculator, inclinometer, and optical range finder. The app also allows you to navigate using offline maps, take photos overlaid with GPS and directional data, and share your location with other Spyglass users and GPS systems like Google Maps, Waze, and TomTom.

There is a learning curve with this app, but most users find that Spyglass is a fun and valuable tool to have in their pockets in the wilderness once they get the hang of it.

Guthook Guides

Cost: Free to use the app, guides vary in cost

Available for: Android, iOS

Guthook Guides is the go-to app for thru-hikers. The app includes many of the world’s best and most popular long-distance trails, including the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail in the US, some of the great walks of New Zealand, and the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Since the Guthook Guides app works entirely offline, you can plan your trip, navigate, and share your location with friends and family no matter where you are. The app’s hiking guides are easy to use and allow you to view resupply points, water sources, and campsites so you can strategically plan your route. There are also town guides that include information about laundry, post offices, accommodation, restaurants, shops, and other services and points of interest relevant for long-distance hikers. Users also love the comment feature, which allows you to see real-time updates from others on the trail.

The Guthook Guides app itself is free to use, but you’ll need to purchase most trail guides. Prices range from a few dollars for shorter regional trails to $59.99 for the full Appalachian Trail. There are currently a few trail guides available for free.

Maps 3D PRO

Cost: $3.99

Available for: iOS

If you’re new to hiking and haven’t mastered the skill of reading topographic maps yet, Maps 3D PRO is an excellent tool to help you view the terrain and navigate through it. As of May 2021, this app is only available for iOS devices, but there may be an Android version released in the future.

The searchable 3D maps show the topography along your route and allow for easy route planning and GPS navigation. The app also allows you to record and share your trips, making it simple to keep track of your hikes and share them with friends. The app works offline, but you’ll need to pre-load and store the maps you wish to use when you don’t have cell service.

National Park Service App

Cost: Free

Available for: Android, iOS

If you’re planning to go hiking or backpacking in one or more of the United States national parks, the official app from the National Park Service will help you plan your adventures with the help of experts. Whether you’re headed to hike the High Sierra in Yosemite National Park or the high desert in the Grand Canyon, the NPS app will help simplify your trip planning.

Since the NPS app’s content is sourced from park rangers, you can trust that you’re getting accurate, reliable information. The app includes more than 420 US national parks and monuments, with interactive maps and self-guided tours. You can also access practical details needed to plan your visit, including park hours, entry fees, transportation, bathroom locations, food, lodging, and more.

Many of the parks also include a Popular Hikes section, making it simple for visitors to find great trails and get to the trailhead using the provided directions. The app includes an option to download content for entire parks, allowing users to continue to use it offline.

Best Trail Safety App

Cairn

Cost: Free, $4.99 per month or $26.99 per year for Premium

Available for: Android, iOS

Cairn is a hiking safety app that allows hikers to easily find cell reception, make emergency calls, and keep friends and family informed about their trip plans and current status. The app’s features include real-time location tracking, GPS navigation, and live trail stats, such as distance and elevation gain. Using your speed, elevation change, and trail distance, Cairn’s algorithm can calculate your ETA on thousands of trails around the world.

One of the app’s unique features is a cell coverage map, which uses crowdsourced information from other users showing where they found cell service with specific carriers along the trail. According to Cairn, it is the only app offering this kind of crowdsourced data. Cairn also allows you to share your plans with contacts before you head out, and it will automatically notify them if you don’t return within your expected timeframe.

The app is designed to work offline, but you’ll get the best experience if you download maps for the area you’re planning to visit while you still have reception. The safety notification feature also must be configured before you lose signal.

Cairn’s unique safety features make it a great fit for solo hikers and backpackers who will be venturing into the wilderness on their own. Some users complained that the trip recording feature quickly drained their battery, although this is true with many GPS recording apps. There is a free 30-day trial, so you can test the app before deciding whether it’s a good addition to your outdoor tech toolkit.

Best Health and Fitness Hiking Apps

Map My Tracks

Cost: Free; $3.99 per month or $39.99 per year for PLUS

Available for: Android, iOS

This outdoor fitness app uses GPS tracking to measure and analyze your performance on the trail. Map My Tracks’ free version allows users to track metrics like elevation gain and loss, distance, speed, pace, and calories burned, view real-time stats on the trail, find new routes, participate in community challenges, and share their workouts with friends. iPhone users can also use the augmented reality feature to identify nearby peaks and points of interest with their phone’s camera.

Upgrading to Map My Tracks PLUS allows you to share live progress with friends and family, connect heart rate monitors and other sensors, set goals to stay on track with your training, and access detailed charts analyzing your activity zones.

The app is easy to use and syncs with the Map My Tracks website, where you’ll find more data about your performance. In addition to hiking, Map My Tracks records data for activities like trail running, cycling, and rowing.

Although Map My Tracks is an excellent tool for tracking and sharing your performance, it is not intended to replace a trail guide or navigation app.

Walk the Distance

Cost: Free, in-app purchases range from $0.99 to $2.99 for specific areas and trails

Available for: Android, iOS

If you’re looking to get in shape for an upcoming hiking trip, Walk the Distance is a fun training tool to add to your arsenal. The app tracks your daily step count and walking/running distance through your phone’s Health app or Google Fit and measures it against routes like the Appalachian Trail and areas like Yellowstone National Park or the city of Paris.

The app also includes virtual checkpoints that provide informative fun facts and photos about the area you’re exploring. You can share your data with others and “compete” against them by getting notified when someone passes you. Whether you’re prepping for a long-distance hike or a trail running race, Walk the Distance is a great way to stay motivated and add a social element to your training.

Best On-trail Educational Apps

Seek by iNaturalist

Cost: Free

Available for: Android, iOS

Seek by iNaturalist is perfect for hikers and backpackers interested in learning more about wildlife along the trail. The app was born out of a joint initiative from the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. The Seek app is a fun tool for all nature lovers and is especially nice for families since a scavenger hunt is a great way to keep kids engaged on the trail.

Using your phone’s camera, you can identify plants, animals, and fungi you spot while hiking and earn badges by participating in challenges and finding different species. When you see a tree, plant, bird, or another organism on the trail and want to know what it is, simply open the camera within the app and hold it up to the object. Using image recognition technology and your GPS location to narrow down the possible species, the app will identify the object in question based on iNaturalist’s database containing millions of wildlife observations.

PeakFinder

Cost: One-time payment of $4.99

Available for: Android, iOS

With PeakFinder, you can use your phone’s camera to see the names of more than 850,000 peaks worldwide. The app includes a built-in compass, a digital telescope to select peaks that are farther away, and a 3D flyover option giving you a bird’s-eye view of the topography.

In addition to summits, PeakFinder also shows the paths of the sun and moon and allows you to take photos of your view with the peak names overlaid, then edit the pictures and share them with friends. The app works completely offline, allowing you to use it anywhere on the globe.

PeakVisor

Cost: Free, $3.49 per month or $29.99 per year for PRO in the App Store, $4.99 on Google Play

Available for: Android, iOS

Like PeakFinder, PeakVisor uses your phone’s camera and 3D augmented reality technology to show the names and elevations of nearby peaks. With a database of more than one million summits, castles, mountain huts, viewpoints, and waterfalls around the world, PeakVisor allows users to easily identify prominent features and points of interest along the trail. You can even retroactively identify peaks you’ve spotted on previous hikes by importing old photos into the app.

The app also includes a GPS tracker, accurate 3D maps depicting the topography and terrain, a compass, and an altimeter. All of the information is available to download, so you can use PeakVisor anywhere in the world.

While there is a free version of the app, it significantly limits usage. Upgrading to PRO allows you to use all of PeakVisor’s features offline and without any limitations.

Best Websites and Apps for Gear Lists

LighterPack

Cost: Free

Minimizing your pack weight is an essential part of prepping for any multi-day hike or backpacking trip, but especially for ultralight backpackers. LighterPack is an online tool that makes it simple to compile a gear list and keep track of your pack weight. The website is free to use, and you can create an account to save and share your gear lists.

To use LighterPack, you can create categories such as “consumables,” “clothing,” and “electronics,” then add specific items to each category along with their respective weights. You can start from scratch on the LighterPack website or import a CSV file for an existing gear list if you have one.

The tool will then give you a pie chart showing how much weight is in each category and a breakdown of the items by weight. Visualizing your gear in this way makes it simpler to find areas where you can reduce weight.

Packfire

Cost: Free

Packfire is a newer online packing tool that offers many of the same functions as LighterPack, with some additional features. The site is free to use, but you’ll need to create an account.

The website has social features that allow you to publicly post your pack contents, follow other hikers’ and their packs, and add items to your gear lists from other users’ lists. There is also a search function and an extensive gear database with thousands of items that you can easily add to your saved gear and virtual packs.

Trailpost

Trailpost, like Packfire and Lighterpack, is a pack planning tool that makes it simple and straightforward to plan your gear lists and calculate and manage pack weight. The interface has similar features to Packfire, including a search function, a gear locker to save your gear items, and an option to plan and save multiple packs. Trailpost is free but requires an account to use the planning tools and save packs and gear lists.

PackLight App for Backpackers

Cost: Free

Available for: iOS

Like the websites above, PackLight allows users to easily keep track of their gear lists and monitor their pack weight. You can add custom categories and visualize your gear weight in each category using the bar graph. Once your gear list is complete, you can save and share it by exporting to a CSV file. The app works offline, allowing you to use it on or off the trail.

As of May 2021, this app is only available for iOS devices. However, some similar apps such as Carryless and Packrat are available on Google Play.

Conclusion

Modern technology has made it simple to carry an impressive variety of outdoor navigation, safety, education, and fitness tools in our pockets thanks to GPS-enabled smartphones and watches. The apps in this article can go a long way in making your hiking outing safer, more enriching, and more enjoyable. Whether it’s keeping your loved ones informed about your plans and current whereabouts or identifying intriguing plants and animals you spot along the trail, we hope you find the perfect app for your needs on your upcoming outdoor adventures.

Outdoor Navigation with Smartphone Map

 


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