No one needs to tell you the benefits of getting outside—you can feel them for yourself when filling your lungs with a gulp of crisp mountain air and breaking a sweat scrambling over rocks and tree limbs. Studies show that just walking outside can lower your risk of mental health issues, and that getting even a little bit of sun can lead to a surge in endorphins (those feel-good hormones).
But for most people, just being outdoors isn’t enough to get their heart rate up. They crave escape and adventure, too. Maybe that’s why the percentage of people hiking has jumped from 10 percent to over 15 percent in the past decade, according to the 2018 Outdoor Participation Report. And while taking your fitness endeavors outside is typically about unplugging and disconnecting—even for just a few hours—these apps can help you make the most of your hike.
With over 75,000 hand-curated trail guides all over the world, AllTrails is a no-brainer for even the most casual hiker. You can filter options by length, rating, and difficulty level, as well as scope trail reviews and photos from the 10 million hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners using the app. And that’s just the free version. For $2.99 a month, you can create custom trail maps, access your exact GPS location even when you’re offline; share status updates with safety contacts; and view real-time map overlays with info on things like air quality, satellite weather, and fire history. Available on iOS and Android.
Price: basic, free; premium, $29.99/year
Ever get to a viewpoint and wonder what exactly you’re looking at? PeakFinder can identify more than 650,000 peaks: The app uses your camera to capture a panoramic view, then the embedded elevation program brings up the names of all the visible mountains and peaks. You can touch any of the names for more info, use the “telescope” function to zoom in and find smaller mountains, or touch the arrows to “fly” over the mountain range and see what’s behind it. The app works entirely offline, so you can learn more about where you are even in the more remote spots. Available on iOS and Android.
3. Hiking Project
It makes sense that Hiking Project—an app that shares full GPS route info, topographical maps, and elevation profiles for more than 74,000 trails covering 204,000-plus miles across the world—is backed by REI. What two audiences go better together? Especially considering that the majority of the info on the app (including routes, reviews, and photos) is crowd-sourced, then vetted by the experts at Hiking Project. The result is a living guidebook that’s constantly updated as more and more people take advantage of its community-based expertise (as well as offline navigation technology) and add their own. Available on iOS or Android.
4. Gaia GPS
You could use the free version of this app, but if you really want to get the lay of the land before going off the grid, it’s worth springing for a premium subscription. Then, you get access to topographical, road, and satellite maps across the world, including the NatGeo Trails Illustrated map series. This kind of info is crucial for the kind of backcountry navigation the app champions (search and rescue personnel, firefighters, and wilderness guides are known to use it). Of course, it still does basic GPS tracking while measuring pace, distance, and elevation, too. Available on iOS and Android.
Price: basic, free; member, $19.99, premium, $39.99
No matter how experienced you are, safety should be at the forefront of every hiker’s mind. Cairn crowdsources data from its users to help provide that safety net for you: Within the app’s maps (which are available offline), you can see where people who’ve hiked before you have found cell coverage on a trail, just in case you need to make an emergency call or need to check in. Even better, you can set an emergency contact pre-hike and the app will automatically notify them when you start and finish your trek, or if you don’t check in by a certain time—a super helpful tool for solo explorers. Available on iOS.
Price: basic, free; premium, $26.99/year
Just like its sister apps, MapMyHike is a workout-based program that tracks your route, average pace, distance covered, calories burned, and more while you’re on the trail. And because the app is owned by Under Armour, you can even sync it to the brand’s shoes (like the UA HOVR Phantom and Sonic) to get more detailed data like stride length and cadence. You can also use it to find popular local routes or DIY your own path. With the premium version, you can track fellow hikers in real time or take advantage of audio coaching on the go. Available on iOS and Android.
Price: basic, free; premium, $29.99/year
In addition to providing the standard GPS tracking toolkit, Spyglass offers an augmented reality view of your hike. By overlaying images or maps with real-time data, The app turns your phone into a hi-tech compass, speedometer, altimeter, sniper’s rangefinder, coordinate converter, sextant, inclinometer, angular calculator, zoom camera, and even an astronomical object finder. It also makes storing locations—from where you left your car to that awesome viewpoint to the star cluster you spotted at night—as easy as tapping the screen. Available on iOS and Android.
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