Hiking apps can not only help you get closer to nature, but they can also increase your knowledge and safety when hiking in the mountains, especially GPS hiking apps.
As an avid hiker, I’ll be the first to admit that one of the things I love most about hiking in the German Alps is getting away from technology. That’s why I don’t recommend being glued to your phone, tracking every step.
Instead, put your phone away Bring it out occasionally when there’s a peak you want to identify, know whether a certain berry is safe to eat, or need to check your GPS hiking app to see which way to go at a crossroads.
By using sparingly, hiking apps can enhance rather than detract from your hike.
Below you’ll see what I think are the best hiking apps. I’ve only included a few from different categories. You don’t need to know all the GPS hiking apps out there, just the best ones :).
The Best GPS Hiking Apps
Gaia GPS Hiking App
Gaia GPS is my favourite GPS hiking app because of its detailed topographic and satellite maps allowing you to easily assess the steepness of the next part of your route.
While you can use it to find hiking trails, I usually import GPS tracks into the app, then use them to follow my intended hiking route.
Gaia GPS App is best for:
GPS. If you only use one GPS hiking App, use this one.
If you’re just looking to import GPS tracks and track your position, the free version works great.
Price: Free, or $19.99 a year for the Basic membership which provides you with more maps, ability to download maps for offline use and print them or $39.99 for the Premium membership which offers more features.
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Not sure where to hike? The AllTrails Hiking App has over 100,000 trails that you can choose from.
It also includes hiking maps so you can choose a linear or loop trail.
When hiking, it provides you with the route information and tracks your hiking progress via GPS.
AllTrails App is best for:
finding new trails and then recording them with GPS
Cost: This hiking app is free. The premium version is $30 and lets you print and edit maps.
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Best App for Identifying Mountain Peaks
Have you ever been hiking just to realize that the only mountain peak you can name is the one that you’re on?
The PeakFinder App solves that. Just hold your camera up and you’ll find all the peak names in a 360° panoramic view, along with their elevations.
With a database of 650,000 peaks worldwide, you’re sure to find the name of the peak that you’re looking for.
I use the PeakFinder App on almost every hike to learn the names of nearby peaks and to identify new hiking routes on mountains that look interesting.
You can also use it to take pictures with the names and elevations of peaks to send to your friends.
PeakFinder App is best for:
learning the names of nearby peaks so that you can look them up later and add them to your hiking bucket list.
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Hiking Safety Apps
While not specifically a hiking app, I highlight recommend installing a flashlight app on our phone for added safety.
You may be planning to go for a day hike, but if you get lost or injured it may turn into an evening hike.
Panic can start to set in when it gets dark and you can’t see where you’re going.
Enter a flashlight app to save the day. You can find many of these for both iPhones and Android devices. I don’t have a favourite.
Note: Also bring a physical flashlight with you as well in case your phone battery dies.
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First Aid App
This app isn’t specifically for hiking but I think it’s useful to have on our phone.
This First Aid App by the American Red Cross provides you with instructions on how to treat the most common first aid emergencies.
If your hiking partner is bleeding or has a broken bone, you’ll be able to come to the rescue. Be sure to also carry a First Aid Kit with you.
First Aid App is best for:
learning how to treat injuries both on and off the trail.
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Ultimate SAS Survival App
The Ultimate SAS Survival App is considered to be the most definitive survival guide around! It was created by former SAS soldier and instructor, John “Lofty” Wiseman.
It comes with the text of his best-selling book, videos, photos, and checklists. There’s even an Extreme Climate Survival section.
Although not exclusively a hiking app, and one that you hope you never need to use, it could save your life if you find yourself in an extreme situation.
The Ultimate SAS Survival App is best for:
backpackers who are hiking in the backcountry. If you’re doing easy day hikes you don’t need this app.
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Best Bird Identification App
Audubon Bird Guide App
One of the ways to really immerse yourself in nature while hiking is to be able to identify birds. They are providing you with a free symphony while hiking after all.
And on most hikes you’ll usually hear The Audubon Bird Guide App helps you to identify over 800 bird species in North America, including their habitat and behaviou.
While not a specific hiking app, the Audubon Bird Guide App can really enhance your hike and you may even find yourself becoming immersed in bird identification. You’ll never be able say that you didn’t see any wildlife while hiking again.
The Audubon Bird Guide App is best for:
identifying birds in Canada and the U.S. If you’re hiking elsewhere, find a similar app for your location.
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Best Tree Identification App
You may or may not see wildlife while hiking, but you’re almost certain to see plants, trees, and maybe even wildflowers and mushrooms.
PlantSnap uses visual recognition software and can recognize 90% of all plant and tree species on the planet with over 600,000 species in their database. All you need to do is take a photograph of the leaf.
It’s a cool way to learn more about flora while hiking – and which berries and mushrooms are safe to eat!
PlantSnap is best for:
identifying flora and helping you see your hike with fresh eyes.
Cost: Free and premium versions available.
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5 Tips When Using Hiking Apps:
- Download the recommended hiking apps when connected to a power source and wifi. You don’t want to waste data and risk running out (if you’re on a limited plan) of data while hiking,
- Check in advance if the hiking apps require wifi or can be used offline. It depends on the individual app. Note, the Gaia GPS app doesn’t require wifi for the GPS to work, but you’ll want to upload your GPS tracks while you still have wifi.
- Bring an external charger. If you’re using a GPS hiking app, they can quickly wear down your battery. You don’t want your phone to die halfway through a hike.
- Put your phone in Airplane mode and dim the brightness to help save your battery.
- If you’re using a hiking app for route info, bring a map or a paper copy as a backup. You could drop your phone and it won’t work anymore, or the battery could die. It’s important to have a backup plan.
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I don’t believe in having a ton of hiking apps on my phone, but having a few that work really well.
Let me know your favourite hiking apps in the comments below.
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This post on hiking apps was originally published in August, 2020 and updated in April, 2021.