I’ll admit it. I’m a bit old-school. I learnt to navigate using a paper map and a compass.
The downsides to this are many: peering at a soaking wet map in the fading light, hungry and tired in the middle of a muddy field in the Peak District. Lost.
That was a low point.
I’ve often argued with those tech-savvy hikers who pull out their phones and try to drag me into the 21st Century "I'm old-fashioned", I yell. When they point out that I’m hardly dressed in 19th Century explorers gear, I relent.
I did relent. And went on a mission to find the best hiking apps for 2017.
All right, I did this in 2017, so that you can be prepared for hiking in 2018.
Obviously, the first thing to remember is that you need a smartphone.
Some might argue that when you go hiking, you go to "get away from it all". I used to take quite a dim view of people who took their cellphones hiking. But for a mixture of safety and convenience many of us never completely "switch off". Even when out in the bush.
I should point out that I use an iPhone. Apparently it's an iPhone 6, and they are probably on iPhone 25.5 by now. So I haven't tested any of these apps on an Android device or an old 1990's Nokia.
I've helpfully provided links to the iTunes place where I found these for iOS, I've no idea where to look for the Android versions, but I'm sure you will.
What I hadn't realized is just how much fun this would be.
Here are the best hiking apps that this technophobe has used and enjoyed both when hiking and when sitting on the couch too lazy to go hiking:
This very popular app (over 5 million downloads can’t be wrong, eh?) gives you access to over 50,000 trails worldwide.
With the free version you can plan your trails, get driving directions to the trailhead and see photos and reviews from other hikers. Hiking trails are rated according to their difficulty and you can filter them by length, kid/dog friendly etc.
The $29.99 for Pro version gives you the ability to create custom maps, share and download/print your maps.
I like this app very much. I didn’t find the elevation data to be very accurate. As most of it is user-generated content, there are certainly areas of the world left wanting.
I didn’t plan to go hiking in Angola, but if I had, this app would have been no help.
I’ll admit it. I love this app. Not because of it’s super-functionality at getting me from A to B, but for it’s beautiful graphics and really cool features.
In other words, it was easy to sit down and play with the app instead of blazing the trail. Spyglass is a GPS navigation app and compass.
Who can’t love an app that calls itself “Augmented Reality GPS Navigation”? I love meself a bit of augmented reality (whatever that is…).
But it’s actually much more than that. Ever heard of an inclinometer or an angular calculator? Nope, me neither. You can even use it as a sextant if you are so inclined.
It’s not just gimmicks, either. Spyglass turns your boring old phone into an “advanced milspec gadget employing every sensor - GPS, digital compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, camera and more”.
What is a gyroscope? Dunno, but it’s fun to play with.
If you are in the UK and have a large, battered collection of the Landranger OS Maps, you’ll love this one. You can buy and download Ordnance Survey and topographical maps for over 20 countries.
This app is great for planning, plotting and navigating your way through your chosen trails. It’s advanced GPS system works on and offline.
With Apple Watch compatibility, if you are an Apple Geek you can’t go wrong with this one.
It also has an Augmented Reality (which I’m addicted to after my experience with Spyglass), called "Skyline" where you can identify key features around you such as mountain peaks or indeed Canary Wharf and the Empire State Building.
I can get lost in my own home. So don’t blame me if you can’t find your way using this app.
Providing a separate app for over 400 US National Parks, you can now navigate your way around Yosemite like Wily Coyote.
The GPS works without a cellphone/wifi signal and has neat features like an audio-guided tour, points of interest, hiking trails and even times for park shuttle services.
If you are heading to a National Park (in the US - this won’t work in the Masai Mara) then get this app. With things to do for the kids, and “Where am I” features, you won’t want to be without it.
I couldn’t find the “Where is the Nearest Bear” feature. (Nor the "Where is the Nearest Bar" for that matter).
Note: the “Where Am I” feature doesn’t work when you are trying to navigate around your own home in the dark. You have to be in a National Park, people.
Made by Under Armor who are usually busy making underwear, this app tracks your hike and allows you to log every feature of your hike, with a helpful audio “feedback” tool.
You’ll be able to track your calories burned, pace, distance etc and as it’s community-based you can gloat to all your friends and family about your hiking prowess. You can also log your food intake and weight loss goals.
Less of a "real" hiking app, it’s more to track your weight loss goals and workout goals. If you decide to pay up for the subscription (currently $5.99 a month or $29.99 a year), you can have a personal training plan which adapts as your fitness improves. It also offers functionality to monitor and analyze your heart rate and the optimal zones to improve your fitness.
This is a bit more boring as it’s a very accurate GPS but without all the bells and whistles (and amazing mind-blowing awesomeness of Spyglass) of some of the other apps.
It’s good for cycling, running and hiking and I like it better than the Apple maps built into the iPhone.
There is a sharing feature which allows you to gloat to your friends who are lying on the couch that you’ve just hiked 50 miles across Chicago.
(I'm not sure why you'd hike 50 miles across Chicago, but eh?).
You can track your hikes, send accurate location information in the case of an emergency and it even has a handy map comparison if you want to compare trails side by side.
It’s worth checking out if you don’t want to be distracted by a lot of ‘fun’ and prefer a sensible GPS and trail app.
I like that you can catalogue your photos according to waypoints so that when you show them to your granny you can actually remember where on the hike you were!
The share to Facebook/Twitter feature is good for those of us who can’t unplug from social media even for ten minutes.
Yikes! Look at the cost of this app. I’m not sure how anyone can justify spending this much moolah on an app, when there are lots in the 2.99 category.
However, this app claims to be able to replace your Garmin GPS and provides very accurate GPS data.
There are also no in-app purchases or subscriptions to further part you from your money.
It’s major advantage is that it does not need a cellular or wifi signal to be able to operate.
You can print maps overlayed with waypoints, routes and tracks and view and print elevation graphs.
It looks Very Serious, and whilst it won’t tell you your calories burned, it does provide free topo maps, and USGS and Forest Service maps for the US.
If you are hiking in New Zealand, for once you’ll know where you are with the iHikeGPS NZ. And if you are bored with the trails and decide to go sailing, iSailGPS will help you on your way (US only).
Why put up with the limitations of Reality, when you can have Augmented Reality?
Another very cool app that doesn’t do anything boring and helpful like show you the way… you point your phone at the mountain range ahead of you and it cleverly tells you the name of each mountain.
With it’s very smart 3D compass and altimeter, it tells you the elevation as well. A First Class app that you really don't need, but you'll love.
This app is one you really don’t want to be without. But you also really don’t want to have to use it.
The official Red Cross app is available worldwide and will tailor it’s information to your location. It provides access to any relevant safety information and advice for emergencies.
It has a lot of advice about what to do with various injuries - with videos, diagrams and interactive questionnaires.
It’s a good way to brush up on your first aid skills and help you plan for emergencies.
Get this app. It’s good. It’s free.
If you’ve got an iPhone and don’t know what on earth to do with the average topographical map, this app makes it idiot-proof.
Showing your routes in 3D, Maps3DPro takes the guesswork out of contours and allows you to easily see hills and trails.
You can search maps, then plan and save your routes as well as load maps for offline viewing.
Since it’s in 3D, you’ll know in advance whether the hike you’ve planned is up a steep hill. Logging your exact elevation can give you bragging rights on Facebook afterwards.
I’ll admit it. I got bored by the time I used this app to help me walk down to the pub.
My initial reaction was one of “oh no, not another GPS telling me when to turn left”. But that’s rather unfair. Let’s just say I was having Hiking App Fatigue by this point.
And I wanted to get back to Spyglass and all it’s bells and whistles. It’s much more fun to navigate via a sextant for my evening beverage.
Now this one’s fun. And very informative. The definitive guide to surviving in any situation, this app - developed by a former SAS soldier and instructor - gives you the survival skills you need if you are lost halfway up Kilimanjaro or drunk in the Sahara.
With amazing photo galleries teaching you to navigate by the stars (hoping for a clear night then) it details all the basic survival information you might need: lighting fires without matches, finding water, opening wine bottles without a corkscrew (no, not that one).
It’s a fascinating trip through "how to make sure you get home safely when things go wrong".
The Lite version is free. If, like me, you start wondering if you could star in the next season of “Survivor” or “Gilligan’s Island” then you might want to stump up for the paid version.
Prepare to waste many an hour learning all sorts of information that will impress your friends. And ensure that you survive the next earthquake.
Fascinating. I certainly hope I never need to use it.
Ever wondered what you’d do if you were a cannibal in the jungle and needed to tie up an unwanted visitor prior to cooking them?
Well this app will show you everything you need to know. Knots and all. Actually this app is all about knots and whatnot.
For the princely sum of $5.99 you can practice your climbing knots, your neckties, your arborist knots and even some decorative knots to pass the time and delight your friends.
It’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours with a piece of rope. Knotting sure beats knitting, in my opinion.
As it happens I’ve never had any idea how to tie a proper belay knot (I get someone else to do it) and this app, with it’s clever video walkthroughs ensures that no knot is left out.
I’ve even learnt how to tie a knot to join unequal fishing lines. Which is great, because I don’t like fishing.
Next time you are too lazy to go hiking, pick up some rope and get knotting.
Do you like birds but never know their names? No, this isn’t a dating app, it’s an app that brings out the inner twitcher in all of us.
With a huge database of US birds, you can find out “what bird is that”, what it’s call sounds like, and a host of other information about it’s life such as whether it likes sushi or drinks beer.
Did you know that Blackbirds are born brown? No, nor did I, which is why I got into an argument with a gentleman in an anorak when he told me that the brown bird I saw was actually a Blackbird (juvenile).
If I’d had this app, it would have saved me this embarrassment.
This is the best field guide to North American birds out there. It also allows you to keep lists, share sightings with others and see the latest eBird observations at your favorite birdwatching locations.
Seriously folks, get this app and know your birds!
Maybe your eyesight is pretty bad and you never seem to spot birds in the trees? Or you find the local fauna boring.
Perhaps plants is more your thing? If so, this app is for you.
Our clever friends at Columbia University have teamed up with those other clever folks at the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institute to ensure that you never say “what’s that tree” ever again.
Using visual recognition software, you can take a photo of a leaf and the app will tell you the name of the tree.
There is also a UK version, in case you lot were feeling left out.
From mighty Oaks to humble Leylandii, you’ll sound like a Biology Major in minutes with this app.
Oh this one’s great. If, like me, you spend a lot of time lying on your back outside at night - you can simply point your trusty phone upwards and this app will magically show you all the constellations currently in view (and some that are not) and tell you what they are.
Ever wondered what the Pleiades are? Well now you’ll know.
You’ll see a 3D map of outer space and if you are lucky you might even meet an alien (no. I made that up).
The 3D map is really cool and you can learn about the planets, constellations and even satellites. It’s a great way to spend a summer’s night outside, pretending you are an Astrologist.