By NED HALLAHAN
Apps have increasingly become a valuable tool that hikers can use to explore the Adirondacks. There are a variety on the market that offer a range of services from highlighting interesting places to recording mileage and elevation gain during a hike.
Choosing the right app is a personal preference.
“I look for offline ability, the ability to plot my track and the ability to take pictures and see them on a map,” said Ezra Schwartzberg, who owns Adirondack Research, which makes topographical and recreational maps.
Schwartzberg said apps can provide tools that traditional paper maps cannot such as the ability to help hikers find hikes that guidebooks do not highlight and inform themselves to what they’re getting into when taking on new hikes.
After a review of available hiking apps, here are a few that we found useful:
Gaia GPS seems to be an excellent app to plan hikes and reference during hikes. Hikers who are comfortable planning their own routes will find that Gaia’s detailed topographic maps, along with its easy-to-use route planner makes this map helpful when planning hikes. The app uses GPS and non-premium users can save routes and access online which makes Gaia a useful tool for tracking progress on the trail. While Gaia’s recording feature doesn’t offer as many features as its competitors, it is perfectly functional. For a subscription price of $39.99 a year, users can access, National Geographic maps, hunting maps, as well as a selection of other land use maps.
REI’s Hiking Project, a well put-together app, serves as a nice tool for finding places to hike. It does an excellent job of highlighting less popular hikes or “gems,” as the app calls them. Additionally, pictures from the trail accompany each hike that the app showcases. While this app excels as a tool to find new hikes, it offers little value when brought out on those hikes. Barebones maps with no recording feature make this a poor choice for hikers on the trail. That does not mean this app doesn’t deserve a place on your phone. At the low cost of nothing, Hiking Project is an excellent tool for finding out-of-the-way places to explore in the Adirondacks.
AllTrails is a third option hikers can use to find and plan trips in the Adirondacks. AllTrails doesn’t offer the depth of Gaia’s maps or route planner or the variety of hikes that Hiking Project’s featured hikes section presents. AllTrails offers both of these features in one accessible package along with a functional recording system that even allows users to take pictures within the map. The non-premium version is a useful tool for finding and planning hikes in one app. The upgrade to premium, at $2.50 a month, allows users to download maps to use when they don’t have service as well as unlocking additional map overlays.
Ultimately, both Gaia GPS and REI’s Hiking Project are excellent at what they specialize in. Functionally, Gaia is fantastic for route planning while Hiking Project is excellent for finding new hikes. Conversely, AllTrails performs neither of these functions as well as its competitors, but provides both in one functional package.
With that said, hikers should note that trail apps can never replace a paper map; they’re useful tools, but they rely on phone batteries that can die. Especially in the winter, when batteries often die in the cold, it is important that hikers use apps to supplement their paper maps, not the other way around.
Chuck Bruha, a long-time employee of The Mountaineer, an outdoor recreation and mountaineering in Keene Valley, cautions: “Apps are great, and they’ve helped a lot of people, but you still need to have a backup.”