It’s that time of year when children and college students are out of school, families are vacationing, and generally speaking, more and more people are spending quality time outdoors. Whether you live in the mountains, near the beach, or smack dab in the middle of a city central, I think most everyone can agree that there’s just something special about summertime and playing outside.
Fortunately for those of us who live in the United States, we have at our disposal nearly sixty -- fifty-eight, to be exact -- natural parks throughout the entire country. People travel from all over the country, as well as all over the world, to take in the spectacle and wonder that is the beauty of our natural park system. There’s something so refreshing and rejuvenating about getting off the beaten trail and exploring all the beauty that our wonderful country has to offer, and the natural parks really put on a show for all of us to enjoy.
Before you set-up your out of office message and run away screaming from your 9-5 job to head for the hills, it’ll first be prudent to do your homework. There are so many variables when it comes to planning your natural park getaway -- where you’re going, of course, but also for how long, at which point or which season during the year, how self-supported (or not) you’ll be, if you’ll be traveling with others or solo, for example -- that deciding those preliminary answers will be important to help guide your planning.
Once you have a better idea of exactly where you’ll be going, and for how long, then you’ll be able to get into the nitty-gritty aspects of planning your trip and then, eventually, going out and doing the thing. Hiking the national parks and smartphone technologies may seem incongruous at first, but you’ll likely discover how important it is to use your phone to your advantage, both during your planning process and during your actual hike. Not only are there apps that can help you pack for your trip, but there are also some that can give you very precise forecasts, assist you with first aid, and also help you identify flora and fauna, among other things.
Below, I’ll provide a quick listing of some of the many apps that hikers love. Please note that as with all things technology-related, this list is ever-changing and ever-evolving. I cannot guarantee that a particular app will be available for use -- for free or for purchase -- forevermore, and similarly, just because it may only be available to one operating system, that doesn’t mean that the developers will not be availing it to others in the future. In other words: do your homework.
At any rate, here’s a quick listing of some apps that hikers love. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
Gaia GPS: Gaia GPS gives users an impressive catalog of maps -- including, but not limited to, satellite, road, and topo -- and users can also download maps for offline access, too. While it’s a free app for consumption, apparently the best options are only available to those who purchase the app at either the Member or Premium levels. It also provides users NatGeo Trails Illustrated map series, and the user interface appears to be clean and intuitive. After all, when you’re hiking in the woods all day, the last thing you want to do is expend mental energy trying to figure out how to read an app, right?
MapMyHike GPS Tracking: If you’re familiar with other “MapMy” apps, then you’ll likely find MapMyHike to be comparably accessible and user-friendly in nature. Unlike many other hiking apps, MapMyHike is more holistically focused and integrates its hiking elements with those related to weight loss or weight management, calorie counting, and more. Plus, it’s free, which makes it hard to beat.
AllTrails: Coming in at over 3.5 million downloads across android and iOS platforms, it’s easy to understand why AllTrails is so popular. It features more than 50,000 trails in both the United States and Canada, and similar to Gaia GPS, users can elect for the free version or the annual membership version. In the free version, users can save or share their own, self-created trails with GPS tracking, replete with photos and text. In the paid version, users have the ability to print/edit maps and also have access to the National Geographic Maps vault, similar to the Gaia offerings.
National Parks by Chimani: National Parks by Chimani, compared to similar apps from National Geographic, REI, and the official NPS apps, comes more highly-reviewed and with a greater following. Aside from providing useful and interesting information related to the national parks, it also describes information on “each of the 400+ units of the US National Park Service, including [...] monuments, seashores, historic sites, battlefields, memorials, parkways, scenic trails and more,” according to this website. If you’re into receiving digital awards or badges for your work, this app will be great for you, since it lets users earn points and collect badges for all the park-visiting they do. Best of all: it’s free!
SAS Survival Guide: Of course, when you’re scaling mountains and going on the hike of a lifetime, the absolute last thing you want to be thinking about is the safety. That said, the thing you should absolutely be thinking about is your safety! SAS Survival Guide is the one app to have, according to many hiking aficionado websites, to help ensure that you come to any hike prepared and knowing what to do and when, should disaster or hard times strike. The Special Air Service, a regiment from the British Army, is commonly known as one of the toughest, most hardcore fighting forces ever. According to this website, a former SAS soldier wrote the SAS Survival Guide app, in the process combining “more than 400 pages of text with videos, photos, Morse code and compass devices, comprehensive first aid, and a quiz to test your knowledge.” Ignorance is never an appropriate answer to any dilemma, especially one that implicates your safety, and this nominally-priced app can effectively be your savior in your time of need.
The Basics: flashlight, music, camera. Finally, I think some of the best apps to use on a hike are the ones that probably came pre-loaded onto your smart phone. I’m talking the basics here: a flashlight, a music player, and a camera. Sometimes even the basics can be enough for us, depending on the type or difficulty level of the hike you’re going to be enduring.
These are just a handful of the many hiking-focused apps available on either or both the iOS and Google Play stores, and you’ll likely find that searching for more information about these apps will lead you down a rabbit hole to more information about other apps. My recommendation? Be sure you download these apps when you have a signal and can be on wifi, or you may run the risk of piling on a ton of data charges if you’re not on an unlimited plan. If at all possible, I’d also encourage you to use “offline” versions of these apps, too, when you’re hiking so that even if your signal is poor or non-existent, you’ll still have access to the information.
Enjoy your time in the woods, and hopefully, with technology by your side -- at some point in your hiking adventure, such as during the planning process or actually in the throes of it -- it’ll be memorable and as stress-free as possible.
Author's Bio: Jane Grates
A hiking enthusiast and a sports fan. Performing at the fulcrum of art and purpose to give life to your brand. She also writes reviews and recommendations on Runnerclick, ThatSweetGift, NicerShoes and GearWeAre.