hand-apple-iphone-smartphone-largeThe days of carrying around a physical map are long gone. In the 21st century, digital tools, whether standalone GPS devices or cell phones, help us navigate through life. In fact, Google Maps, launched 11 years ago, is considered the world’s most popular app for smartphone users, with over half of all people around the globe with a smartphone, using the apps at least once. The data supporting that measure is from 2013, but the principle rings true today; after all, who really likes to be lost?

Yet, even if you know where you’re going, it takes planning to get there. And while you could download Google Maps to help you like everyone else, you don’t have to. Savvy developers have created a variety of apps to assist avid hikers and outdoor aficionados with planning as well as navigating their next fantastic voyage. They’re all just a few finger taps away, and quite a few of them are free. Here’s a list of 5 free options worth checking out now:

1. Travel Altimeter Lite (iPhone)
This app has a perfect score with so many of its users because of its incredible functionality and resources. In addition to navigation, Travel Altimeter, helps users measure altitude and elevation levels. Such tools are useful to hikers which suffer from asthma, COPD, and other issues which high altitude might affect, as well as those who want to avoid high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), as specified in the description in the App Store. The app also allows users to share progress and backgrounds with others, and is available in over 30 languages, including English, Traditional Chinese, and Spanish.

2. AllTrails Hiking & Mountain Biking Trails (iPhone + Android)
Over 3 million hikers and outdoor explorers have contributed to the data available on the app, which includes over 50,000 trails in North America, and you can be the next to add your adventure. All Trails allows users to record their own activity to share with others, and even provides the option to save or favorite trails for the future. Amazingly, the app also includes driving directions and a chance to engage with friends, or even follow in their footsteps, literally. All for free; the app’s pro service allows users to do even more, like offline and custom mapping. It’s clear why 3.5 million folks have downloaded the app to date.

3. Trail Tracker GPS (iPhone)
Trail Tracker does exactly what it says. This app includes traceable mapps, a built-in lightning monitoring system, and live trail progress and stats, for ultimate details about your journey. Trail Tracker entails four different map views, including 3D maps and Street view, and allows sharing through social media, as well as side-by-side comparisons. Also, according to developers, it won’t deplete your battery. The app is supposedly capable running GPS in the background for up to 6 hours without the need to recharge. That should be a relief for many.

4. Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder (iPhone + Android)
So perhaps planning is not your strong suit, and one day you wake up feeling suddenly adventurous, Oh, Ranger! was made for you. This app has within it all of America’s National Parks, Forests, as well as State and Local park data. Yet, it doesn’t just stop at listing them, it includes activities, nearby attractions, directions, phone numbers to important personell, and lodging details. Not sure if the park is good for hiking? This app will let you know, with incredibly useful detail, as well as list other activities/options for a given, which may pique your interest. This is a must have for lovers of the great outdoors.

5. Commander Compass Lite (iPhone)
Perhaps you’re one who doesn’t need a ton of hat tricks and features. Just a simple navigation tool, like a compass. This app, while beautifully designed and intentionally modern, provides just that. Commander also capable of tracking multiple targets on a journey, with ETAs and travel distance. One can also track positions of the stars and the sun to improve accuracy and proper direction. This is an app for old school travelers, or others who’d just like a variety of functions on their phone. Availble in 10 languages.

These are just a few examples selected from a dozens of tools available for download on your mobile device. Likewise, there are a number of paid apps, which are bound to impress and improve your hiking experience. If this is your first time, however, try out some of these free options to see how things work, and whether you could see yourself using it on a journey. If you have a favorite not listed here, please share with me to include in the future. Enjoy!

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