There is something exciting about venturing off into the unknown.
However, as much as I love exploring new territory, I always like knowing exactly what to expect – especially when taking on a particularly challenging hike. Planning ahead can make the difference between making it home in time for dinner and having to spend the night in the woods without proper equipment.
That is where tech comes in. These days there are tons of apps and gadgets that you can use to plan and track your hikes. You can have all the data from your hiking history in the palm of your hand to share with others or even use yourself in the future.
But getting started can be a little intimidating, so I have put together the basics to help you get started. Now, let’s get you pumped for your next hike into the wilderness!
1. Back To Basics
Before you set out on a particular hiking trail, personally I believe you should also read up on it. You can find info online about pretty much anything, and looking into a specific trail won’t usually be a problem.
This is particularly important if you are on holiday, and you’re going hiking in a country you’ve never visited before. You can find a lot of information online about the length of trails, the elevation, any obstacles to be aware of, and the average time it takes to complete a hike. This is especially true if you are heading to a national park, or a particularly popular tourist destination – many local government organizations will often include PDF guides about hiking trails, which have maps and all the information you might need.
And if you find a map of the trail online, I recommend you at least take screenshots. Firstly, because you might not be able to get online once you get there. And secondly, it will make it easier to do the hike anyway. It will help you figure out your location in case you get lost, and it can help you find your way back to the trail. But for me, this is just the basics of course or the minimum I would do.
Copy the most important information to your phone, and you can keep track of your hike as you go along. This is a little bit better than just relying on an app since you don’t need wifi or phone signal to access the notes. And this drains your battery a lot slower than an app.
Google’s Keep app is a good option for this. It allows you to insert photos into the note, so you can have all the info in the same place. And it syncs between your laptop and phone – you can create your hiking itinerary on a computer, and then access it offline on your phone later.
2. All Trails
Personally, I think this is a must-have app for avid hikers. It’s a database of more than 60,000 hiking trails. You can find just about everything you need to know in it – the length of the trail, elevation, and difficulty. Plus, you can also see the hiking trail mapped out on a topographic map, which shows you exactly where you are heading and what kind of terrain to expect. All important parts of properly planning your hike.
You can download maps to have them available offline, but you can’t download all kinds of maps. The free version of the app lets you download road, satellite, and an AllTrail map. The paid version has several more options – terrain, World Parks, OSM and OCM maps. Whether or not you choose to pay for the app is completely up to you.
The app also has the option of recording your hike as you go. It will track how far along you are on the trail, how many kilometers you’ve hiked, how long you have been hiking, and your average hiking speed. This is actually pretty cool if you’re trying to break your own record on a particular trail – you can see your time down to the exact second you’ve spent on the trail.
There is also a Lifeline function, but it is not available in the free version of the app. The function allows you to assign safety contacts that can see your progress of the hike, and they can come to your rescue in case you get lost.
3. Map My Hike
Map My Hike is one of the best apps for keeping accurate track of all your hikes. Plus, the app doesn’t work just for hikes – it allows you to log information about any kind of workout, so it is also quite versatile. That kind of functionality usually makes it easier to bite the bullet and actually pay for the pro version.
This app also has a database of existing hiking trails, but it’s not as extensive as the database of the previous app. But it does provide you with a lot more info than AllTrails – this app tells you the time, the duration of your hike, and also how many calories you’ve burned. That’s in addition to a map that keeps track of your location and progress.
It then records all that information into your own hiking account. You can have an overview of a hike you’ve recorded a year ago, and reminisce about some of your previous hikes.
One thing I really like about this app is that it allows you to set goals and challenge your friends. If you’ve completed a hike in 3 hours when the average time is 4 – challenge your friend to see if they can beat your time. Or set a goal that you want to hike for 12 hours each week – the app will keep the progress of your goal, and give you an incentive to get out of your chair and hit the trails.
4. Get A Smart/Sports Watch Instead
Smartphones are great, but they’re pretty much a useless brick when they run out of charge. So, even if you had every little detail planned out, you’re on your own if the battery on your phone betrays you. Sure, you can carry another weight with you – an extra charging battery, but we are talking hiking here, not driving!
That’s where a smartwatch or a sports watch comes in – their batteries last longer, and they can be just as helpful as your phone when it comes to navigation and tracking.
For hiking, a running watch might be just what you need. It can keep track of the time you’ve spent on the trail, tell you what elevation you’re on, and the good ones will have a GPS function. Suunto’s Ambit3 series is a good option here – the watches are pretty affordable, and they have all the functions you could need on a hike, including decent battery life, even for multiple day hikes.
Another popular manufacturer worth checking out is Garmin. They are comparable to Suunto when it comes to price and function, so it can be worth checking out both.
And another reason to substitute your smartphone for a watch is water resistant. God forbid you to drop that brand new iPhone into a puddle! But watches have good water resistance and are immune to puddles and heavy rain.
5. Cairn – In Case Of Emergency
Properly planning out your hike includes thinking of all contingencies. Worst case scenario, you’re lost in the wilderness and you can’t find your way back – what then? That’s where Cairn comes in.
The app is designed to help you plan out your hike, but that’s not the feature we’re interested in. The feature that could potentially save your life is that the app notifies your emergency contacts if you don’t make it home on time.
The catch is that this feature is only unlocked when you buy a subscription plan. But you can buy a one month option, which is only about $5, so it’s not terribly expensive. Especially if you actually need to use the feature.
Of course, there are other ways you can create your “safety net” plan, but they’re not as convenient as the app. Tell some friends where you’re headed, and when you plan to be back home. If they don’t hear from you by a specific time, they can alert the proper authorities. Both plans work in the same way, it’s just the old analog vs. digital convenience difference.