8 Best Navigation Apps for Hikers

Sophia Perry

Every hiker will tell you that, to have an adventure in the great outdoors, you’ll need more than just the desire to go for a hike. The modern hiking enthusiast has a wealth of technology at their disposal, so why not use it? Here are our picks for the 8 best navigation apps for hikers.

The importance of apps

Realistically, nothing can replace a compass and a traditional paper map. They never run out of batteries or glitch out when you need them the most. However, a lot can be said about the functionality and convenience of modern apps that can assist you in your travels.

Not only do smartphones have more computing power than the average user needs, but they also come equipped with a GPS, which is an enormously helpful tool for hikers. Simply put, smartphones lower the barrier of entry for beginners. However, when loaded with the right navigation apps for hikers, smartphones become an invaluable tool, which even seasoned trackers can put to good use.

Here are the 8 best navigation apps for hikers:

Woman hiker looking at phone app to help with navigation.

Ever wondered what peak is on that mountain?

1. PeakVisor

We recommend PeakVisor for those of you who are adventurous and like to make up your route as you go. If you’ve recognized yourself in that sentence, then you’ve also surely been in the situation where you have just discovered a beautiful viewpoint – only to have no idea of what is in front of you.

PeakVisor can help you identify the mountains and peaks in your vicinity. What’s best is that it can also find the hikes that take you to those peaks. You just need to make sure you are in good enough shape to make it there. Another cool feature of the app is that it can analyze pictures and then tell you about the peaks you visited in your previous travels.

2. Star Walk 2

Night owls will get a kick out of this app, as Star Walk 2 lets you map out the night sky and identify which constellations are currently above you. If you ever plan to go out and watch a comet or a meteor shower – this app can point you in the right direction. It can tell you where in the night sky you can find stars, planets, and constellations. It even includes year-round tips for what you should look out for in the night sky.

The app uses augmented reality to overlay a virtual view of space. If you have ever wanted to get into stargazing, this app is a fantastic way to start, since it can tell you precisely what you are looking at. That’s something my astronomy textbook couldn’t do.

Starry sky during a night in the woods.

The best place to look at the stars is away from the light pollution of urban areas.

3. AllTrails

AllTrails currently features 1733 different hiking trails in Ireland, so it should keep you occupied for a while. If you are the loner type who doesn’t like running into other people when you hike – you can browse trails by activity and go for the less frequented ones. Trails are also ranked by difficulty and suitability for those who plan to bring a bike, stroller, or even a wheelchair. That feature alone makes this app the perfect companion for hikers with disabilities. You can even read reviews from other users and see what their recommendations are. The app also has a lifeline feature that shares your progress with an emergency contact of your choice, because it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

4. Green tracks

When you are going off the beaten trail, you’ll want an app that functions well even without mobile data services. Unfortunately, the interface of Green tracks is a bit cumbersome and looks a little outdated, to say the least. However, if that didn’t put you off, then you are in for a treat. There is an enormous library of free offline topographic maps for you to download. You can import .gpx files and transfer them to your phone. Just be sure to test the app before hitting the road. It also features the standard live data for hikers, such as distance and elevation.

5. Google Earth

Most of the available hiking apps have 2D maps, and that’s where Google Earth stands out. Here you can choose a 3D display, which can be helpful for scouting the area you plan to trek across. Of course, there are additional features like calculating elevation and plotting out your route. There is also a nifty dice randomizer, which can select the next destination for you. Most importantly, hikers will enjoy the ability to add a hiking trail layer that can be combined with the 3D display. This allows you to superimpose your path on the realistic-looking three-dimensional terrain.

6. Gaia GPS

With Gaia GPS, you can search for nearby trails and save your favourite hikes on your phone. It features topographic maps and contour lines, so even seasoned hikers will find it useful. If you are ambitious about longer hikes that can take up the whole weekend, the app can help you find camping spots. Unfortunately, the offline maps feature requires a subscription. However, users with a connection to the net can enjoy live data while they hike, with real time speed and elevation information.

Smartphone with navigation apps for hikers on a tree stump in the forest.

Campers sometimes need help selecting the perfect spot to put up their tents; luckily, there’s an app for that!

7. Maps.me

Maps.me is a lightweight, free-to-use smartphone app. We are including it in our list because it has a fully functional offline mode. Just download the map for the country you plan to explore, and you are set. You don’t need to worry about things like Google storing maps only for a limited time and deleting your data. Honestly, sometimes even experienced hikers can get lost, and having an offline map can be a great safety net to fall back on in situations when there is no reception.

8. Pokemon Go

You might be wondering why we have a game on our list of hiking apps, especially when there are other outdoor activities that are fun and don’t require digital assistance. After all, you choose hiking to enjoy the sights and sounds that Mother Nature has to offer. Hiking is fantastic because you get to move your body, climb that faraway mountain, and breathe fresh air while doing it. Well, the truth is: some of that stuff is hard, and it can be challenging to find the right motivation. People achieve better results when they gamify any activity. As an augmented reality app, Pokemon Go will get you off the couch and hiking in order to catch all of those rare Pokemon.

The bottom line

That was our list of the 8 best navigation apps for hikers. Now it’s up to choose the right one for you. In the end, it comes down to specific needs and personal preferences. Go ahead and download your favourites and start hiking ASAP!