As a nation stifled by close quarters, people are yearning to stretch their legs and expand their horizons. It’s no wonder outdoor exploration is booming. But, consequently, more and more people are getting lost, straining the resources of search and rescue operations. For instance, Colorado’s Lake County witnessed search and rescue call volumes increased by 300 percent, and similar numbers have been reported across the country. Many of these calls could have been easily avoided if just one simple tool was present: a map.
In today’s high-tech world, staying found is easier than ever thanks to a range of state-of-the-art topographic maps that are available at your fingertips—all thanks to navigation apps. Don’t worry if you’re in desolate wilderness: You can access these with or without cell service.
The Top Navigation Apps to Keep You From Getting Lost in the Outdoors
Commonly used by firefighters, search and rescue teams, and professional mountain guides, Gaia provides trusted offline topographical and satellite maps for any scale of outdoor adventure. Whether you’re embarking on a major mountaineering expedition, tracking your speed and distance stats at the local ski hill, or searching for nearby snowshoeing trails, this app is built to keep you safe and on track to meet your goals.
Gaia GPS does offer offline maps and navigation tools for free, but the premium version—$40 per year—includes several hi-tech features geared toward responsible winter backcountry travel. The app allows users to create custom touring maps, plan routes, and quickly mark newly discovered pillow fields on the fly. Additionally, Gaia GPS uses slope angle shading and satellite imagery to scout potential avalanche terrain and slide paths, and help you find the deepest powder by applying 24-, 48-, and 72-hour NOAA-forecasted snow-depth overlays.
Unique selling points:
- Access slope angles maps and satellite imagery to stay clear of avalanche terrain
- Snow depth overlays help users find the best snow
This app is built for outdoors enthusiasts looking to venture deep into the backcountry; as far away from cell signal as possible. Topo Maps+ combines mapping resources from USGS Topo Maps, National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps, Satellite Map, and more, to create an efficient navigation service that can be used virtually anywhere.
Similar to other mapping apps, Topo Maps+ provides a free subscription that allows users to download maps for offline use, set unlimited waypoints along customizable trails, and record stats. A premium membership—costing just $20 per year—is recommended to be fully prepared for any backcountry travel. Paying members are given the ability to print any custom map. Additionally, Topo Maps+ tracks progress without recording your trek, so questions like: have we toured long enough to justify taking a snack break? Using trail segments along with GPS tracking allows users to easily answer these questions.
Unique selling points
- Access to the gold standard in worldwide topographic maps
- Ability to print maps before you head out
AllTrails+ makes exploration more predictable. This mapping app allows users to plug in their exact location and explore over 100,000 curated trail maps with reviews, photos, and activity recordings logged by an active community of roughly 20 million adventurers. Filter trails by length, rating, and difficulty level to discover great views that are uniquely catered to your preferences.
Aside from adding a social element to backcountry travel, AllTrails+ premium membership—$30 per year—offers a handful of unique features that could come in handy on any winter backcountry outing. For instance, AllTrails+ provides access to off-route notifications to keep users on track in case they deviate from the planned route. The app also comes equipped with a nifty safety feature called “Lifeline.” This feature helps you share trip details with designated safety contacts, including sending status updates, and alerts if you haven’t returned by the set finishing time. In this case, AllTrails+ will send out an alert message with your last known location.
Unique selling points
- Instantly notify designated safety contacts if things don’t go as planned
- Off-route notifications help users stay on track
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