The Best Hiking Apps

One of the things we love most about hiking is the opportunity to unplug from the daily grind and get away from our screens. That said, technology can be harnessed in the wild to enrich your hiking expedition. We’ve tested a gamut of navigation, map, and plant life identification apps—here are our favorites and why. Don’t leave home without them.

Gaia GPS

Gaia GPS is one of the most popular and fully-featured, professional-grade GPS apps available. The app offers OpenStreetMap & MapBox-based topographic and satellite maps for free. Signing up for a $19.99 yearly “Member” subscription gets you USGS CalTopo and hiking trail maps. There is also a $39.99 yearly “Premium” subscription that includes many more types of maps, including hunting maps, private land ownership maps, NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps, as well as more international map options.

The app also includes trip planning, trip recording, offline maps, and a few other features. The free maps are sufficient for a short day hike. For a long backpacking trip, hunting, or backcountry skiing, you might want to opt for the paid features.

Download Gaia GPS for iOS

Download Gaia GPS for Android

All Trails

AllTrails is one of the most popular hiking (running, biking, etc.) apps available. It features over 100,000 hand-curated trails which makes it a great resource for finding new and interesting hikes in the area. While AllTrails has good trip recording features, we’ve found the user-generated reviews and trail conditions to be very useful. It’s always a bummer to find out that the trail you’re planning to hike is flooded out!

AllTrails offers more types of maps for free than some other hiking apps, including USGS Topo maps—though offline maps requires a $30 yearly subscription.

Download AllTrails for iOS

Download AllTrails for Android

Seek by iNaturalist

iNaturalist, and it’s companion app Seek, are some of our favorites. These apps connect you to a community of thousands of scientists and naturalists who can help you identify plants and animals. By snapping and identifying photos of flora and fauna, you help create research data that enables biologists and researchers to better understand our natural environments.

iNaturalist is research-oriented, and relies on a more manual identification and classification process. You post photos and request identification, or you can help identify species. One of our favorite features of the app is the ability to search for certain species and find the precise locations where other people have identified them in your area. For example, John recently learned about serviceberries and really wanted to try some. So we used the app to locate these specific trees in the neighborhood. Beyond this feature, we really don’t use iNaturalist that much compared to it’s companion app, Seek.

Seek is like a more user-friendly version of iNaturalist. It uses machine learning and computer vision techniques to automatically identify plants and animals—and it is surprisingly good at it! We’ve found it pretty difficult to stump the app, and as long as you’re providing high quality photos for identification, it usually finds an answer. The app is great for identifying insects, mushrooms, birds, plants, trees, amphibians, and just about anything else you might find in the wild. We were suitably impressed when it even identified a type of parasitic fungal infection on a tree, rather than the tree itself! Seek also has an achievement system, which adds a fun gamification aspect—we’re always excited when we identify a new species with the app.

Download Seek for iOS or Android

Download iNaturalist for iOS or Android

Hiking Project

Founded in 2005, Hiking Project is one of the oldest digital information sources for hiking trails, and was acquired by REI in 2015. The app is part of a suite of outdoor adventure apps, including MTB Project (mountain biking trails), Mountain Project (climbing routes), Powder Project (ski trails), as well as trail running and National Park Guide apps. The trails are user-curated, similar to AllTrails, though we’ve found the data to be a bit more clean and well-curated compared some of the other hiking apps. The curation process is well-moderated, as we discovered when we submitted some of the first recorded GPS routes for hikes in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico. Our only complaint with Hiking Project is that the app received a significant update a few years ago, and the new trip tracking/planning features are unfortunately far inferior to the old version. Classic app mistake! But, we still use it all the time—primarily for finding the best hikes when traveling to new areas.

Download Hiking Project for iOS

Download Hiking Project for Android

What’s the app you depend on when you’re in nature? Let us know in the comments.

But for real, put your phone away, be present while you’re hiking, and enjoy nature!
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