Summer is here and the time for hiking is upon us. Lush greenery, open air, and enough exercise to kick our butts into shape? Sign me up! Though hiking provides an opportunity for us to “get in tune with nature,” it’s also an activity that benefits from mobile tech.
How can your Android device improve your next hiking trip? It can help you find new trails to explore, present you with new challenges to test your mettle, aid you when you get lost, or even provide life-saving information in case of injury. It’s an all-in-one guide that you can carry around in your pocket.
Load up your phone with these apps and enjoy your hiking trips that much more.
We covered AllTrails in our roundup of the best cycling apps, but it’s useful for so much more than that. It’s great for running, exploring, and yes, hiking. If you have trouble finding trails in your area, do yourself a favor and install this one right away.
In short, AllTrails is an online database (partnered with National Geographic, no less) that contains over 50,000 different trails from around the United States. Unfortunately, if you live outside of the country, AllTrails won’t be of much use. For a global solution, you may want to check out EveryTrail instead.
Not only is each trail rated by users, you can view a map of what the trail looks like as well as its estimated difficulty, length, and elevation. Trails can even be saved to device for offline usage. Absolutely useful for the regular outdoorsman.
Backcountry Navigator ($12, Free Trial)
Don’t let the price tag scare you away because this app is worth every penny. It’s one thing to find a trail to hike, but it’s another thing to navigate that trail in a way that’s safe and still exciting. Backcountry Navigator is the perfect app for that and once you start using it, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
At the most basic, this app provides free topological maps, which are crucial for navigating terrains that haven’t yet been blazed. These topo maps are sourced from numerous databases and are available for regions all around the world. The other important feature is the ability to use GPS without cell service so you’ll never be truly lost (unless your device battery dies).
Backcountry Navigator comes with a free 21-day trial so you can test it out and see if you like the maps for your region. It’s a powerful app — a must-have for any serious hiker — and there are no free alternatives that match its strength. However, if you’d really prefer a no-cost app, you might like Trimble Outdoors Navigator.
Map My Hike (Free) [No Longer Available]
What if you could record each of your hiking sessions and use that data to track your progress over time? Say hello to Map My Hike, an awesome free app that does that and more.
Using the GPS sensor, Map My Hike will log data from your hikes, such as pacing, elevation, distance, and route. It will also calculate calories burned based on an estimate of the hike’s difficulty. All of this data can be viewed in graph format and it can even be uploaded onto a leaderboard per trail.
For casual hikers, it’s a fun way to visualize your hike from start to finish. For hardcore hikers, it provides a way to compete with yourself and push yourself beyond your limits. If you like the concept of Map My Hike but don’t like the app itself, you could also try out the My Tracks app, which we’ve previously reviewed.
SAS Survival Guide ($6, Limited Free) [No Longer Available]
One mistake is all it takes for a hiking trip to turn into a nightmare. What happens if you snap an ankle? What will you do if you get lost and have no reception, no contact with civilization? Do you know the proper precautions to take in a forest, in a desert, in the arctic, or wherever else you’re hiking?
No survival guide can ever take the place of proper survival training, but training can take years and it’s always better to have a guide than no guide at all. The SAS Survival Guide is jam-packed full of helpful information that could prove life-saving if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation.
The free version is functional but limited in features and supported by ads.
c:geo Geocaching (Free)
Imagine the fun you could have if you combined hiking with a treasure map. Ever heard of geocaching? It’s a crowdsourced scavenger hunt where people all over the world can set up their own “geocaches” for others to locate and find. It’s all done by GPS and it makes for good fun.
The official Geocaching app costs $10 with a limited trial version that does not satisfy. Fortunately, there’s the c:geo app, which is an open source client that interfaces with the official geocaching database. It provides everything you’ll need, so if you don’t want to spend any money, it’s the way to go.
Star Chart (Free)
For those of you who go on night hikes or multi-day hiking trips, you’ll love this app. If you’re a big fan of astronomy, even better! Star Chart takes the vast expanse of star-filled space and brings it right to your phone for exploration. It’s simple to use and absolutely mind-blowing.
All you have to do is hold your phone up to the sky and the app will calculate where you’re pointing based on your device’s location and orientation. You can zoom in on planets, identify the numerous constellations, and learn more about the final frontier. Star Chart is one of our favorite astronomy apps and it’s a nice way to relax after a long hike.
Don’t settle for the mundane and average. Hiking is more than just walking through trails. Which trail is right for you? How can you make it more fun? What happens when you get lost or injured? These apps will be there to answer those questions for you.
Are you an avid hiker? Do you bring your phone with you or do you prefer to disconnect completely? Which apps have you found to be the most useful or interesting while hiking? Share with us in the comments below!