When you search for hiking apps, the top results always seem to be GPS trackers. Sometimes that’s what you’re after, but there are mountains of ingenious apps available to hikers that do a lot more than count your steps.
The apps on this list each bring something to the table that can enhance your adventure — maybe in ways that you hadn’t realized was possible. If you’ve ever stood on a summit and wondered what “the third peak from the left, two rows back,” was called or raced a thunderstorm to shelter, there’s something here for you.
Just remember to use them in moderation: Nothing quashes away-from-it-all vibes like excessive screen time.
The Outbound [Collective]
The Outbound Collective is dedicated to making the outdoors more accessible. The app functions like a geo-tagged, interactive guidebook with gorgeous photos and entries written by local experts. It allows you to discover new adventures (in any location) and share your own experiences with a like-minded community.
US Public Lands
Want to know whether that picturesque, brook-side patch of remarkably level grass is fair game for tent pitching? This app uses maps with color-coded overlays to show you all 650 million acres of publicly held land in the U.S. and which government agencies oversee them.
Maps 3D Pro
Three-dimensional maps sound gimmicky, we know, but when it comes to backcountry adventures, they’re actually very helpful.
Maps 3D Pro is one of the most visually pleasing and intuitive GPS trackers we’ve seen. It allows you to evaluate routes using 3D topographic maps, which you can store offline. It tracks your activity, lets you set waypoints (with photos in the latest version), and records all of the essential data, like elevation and speed.
The best part? Reviewers say that it works “flawlessly.”
This app boasts a wealth of crazy, 007-style features, but our favorites are the optical rangefinder and star tracker. Spyglass uses your phone’s camera to layer real-time information about distance and direction on top of what you’re actually seeing.
It also allows you to track the positions of the sun, moon and stars to calibrate your compass for celestial navigation.
PeakFinder’s database includes more than 250,000 peaks worldwide. You can choose your viewpoint by using GPS, plugging in coordinates, or selecting your spot on a map, and the app will draw a 360-degree view (with labels) of the surrounding landscape.
National Parks by Chimani
Everyone who’s anyone is celebrating the National Park Service‘s 100th birthday this summer.
Chimani offers an environmentally conscious FourSquare-esque national parks app that’s packed with info to help you plan your visits to the parks — and monuments, memorials, preserves, seashores, scenic trails and more.
While a lot of outdoor apps are taking an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to features, Altimeter+ adheres to the “KISS” principle. In its case, though, “simple” is also beautiful and incredibly accurate. Altimeter+ uses GPS, ASTER satellite data and barometric pressure (thanks to iPhone 6’s amazing sensors) to calibrate and calculate elevation. That means it can function without cell reception if calibrated properly.
Users say the latest version is sleeker, faster and easier on your battery.
Fans of Dark Sky say that its hyperlocal meteorology can tell you — to the minute — when it’s going to rain or snow. The app shows current conditions, comprehensive forecasts, animated precipitation and temperature maps, and sunrise/sunset times. It even notifies you of impending rain and severe weather.
This one is a bit of a splurge, but Gaia GPS’s government quality downloadable topographic, street and aerial maps of locations all over the globe and vectorized worldwide topographic map are indispensable to hardcore trekkers. The app records your tracks, lets you set waypoints and geotag images, displays radar and is completely customizable.
If you’re chained to your desk five days a week, take a few minutes to spend time in Wildfulness, an app that simulates spending time in nature. Its combination of soothing, hand-drawn animations and “3D” sounds (think birds chirping and rain falling) helps relieve stress and boost morale.
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