Trail navigation apps have become increasingly popular in recent years, as more and more people turn to technology to help them explore the great outdoors. These apps offer a range of features, from mapping and GPS tracking to trail recommendations and real-time weather updates. However, like any technology, there are both pros and cons to using trail navigation apps. In this blog post, I’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of using these apps, so you can make an informed decision about whether or not they are right for you.
Pros of trail navigation apps
Easy to use: One of the biggest advantages of trail navigation apps is their ease of use. Most of these apps are designed to be user-friendly, with intuitive interfaces that make it easy to find and follow trails, view maps, and track your progress.
Trail information: One of the biggest advantages of trail navigation apps is that they make route planning easy. You can search for trails near your location, view maps, and get information about the difficulty level, elevation gain, and estimated time for completion. You can also find reviews and photos from other hikers, helping you make informed decisions about which trails to explore. It’s important to note though that you should not always trust the information about the route, difficulty level or estimated time for completion. You can read more about that here. I highly recommend comparing the apps data to a number of other sources before heading out on the trail.
Trail recommendations: Some trail navigation apps also offer recommendations for trails based on your location, skill level, and other factors. This can be a great way to discover new trails and explore new areas.
Navigation, GPS tracking and offline functionality: Most trail navigation apps use GPS technology to provide accurate navigation, so you can follow the trail and stay on course. For some apps, this only works if you have a reliable internet connection. An increasing number of apps also have offline functionality so you can still display maps, even without internet. This is extremely helpful in areas with poor or no internet connectivity and I highly recommend this type of app. Some apps even offer turn-by-turn directions, making it easier to navigate complex trail systems. The need for this particular feature does raise questions in my mind as if you need turn-by-turn guidance, you possibly should consider an easier trail.
Real-time Information: Many trail navigation apps offer real-time information on weather conditions, trail closures, and other important updates. This can be particularly useful if you’re planning a long hike or backpacking trip, as it can help you stay safe and avoid potential hazards.
Tracking and stats: Many trail navigation apps allow you to track your hike, including distance, elevation gain, and time spent on the trail. This can help you keep a record of your progress and set personal goals. Some apps also provide additional stats like heart rate, pace, and calories burned, giving you a comprehensive overview of your hiking performance.
Safety features: Trail navigation apps sometimes come with safety features such as real-time weather updates, emergency contact information, and the ability to share your location with friends or family. These features can be invaluable, especially when hiking in remote areas or challenging terrain provided your have coverage and your battery isn’t flat.
Community and social features: Many trail navigation apps also offer social features, such as the ability to share your progress with friends and family, or to connect with other hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. This can be a great way to stay motivated and inspired, and to connect with others who share your passion for the outdoors.
Cons of trail navigation apps
Inaccurate data: While trail navigation apps are generally accurate, there is always a possibility of inaccuracy due to various factors such as unverified crowd-sourced content, unofficial trails, GPS signal interference, map errors, outdated trail data, inaccurate times, inaccurate degree of difficulty, and incorrect trail names. Relying solely on an app for navigation without cross-referencing with other sources or using traditional map and compass skills may lead to wrong routes or incorrect information. There have been many bush search and rescues in Australia in recent years as a direct result of these inaccuracies.
Reliance on technology: Trail navigation apps are dependent on technology, including GPS signals and internet connectivity. In remote areas with no or weak signal, the app may not work properly or fail altogether. This can leave you without reliable navigation, potentially putting you at risk of getting lost. Its always a good idea to carry at least two navigation aids such as a map and compass, and/or GPS device. If you are unable to navigate without a smartphone, I recommend learning how to use a map and compass and/or GPS device or maybe considering an easier trail. Reliance on technology tends to make people less observant and suppresses our natural navigation instincts. This can place under-prepared people in life-threatening situations.
Distraction and over-reliance: While trail navigation apps can be a useful tool, they also have the potential to make us overly reliant on technology. This can be a problem if your phone battery dies, or if you lose reception in a remote area. Constantly checking the app for navigation, tracking, and social features can be distracting and take away from the immersive experience of hiking in nature. Some hikers may become overly reliant on the app and lose their ability to navigate using traditional methods or develop their own sense of direction.
Battery life: One of the main drawbacks of using trail navigation apps is that they can quickly drain your smartphone battery. GPS usage, map downloads, and other features can consume a significant amount of power, especially on longer hikes. This can be problematic if you rely on your smartphone for other purposes, such as communication or emergencies. Provided you have offline maps, switching airplane mode on will help extend your battery life. Carrying a portable battery pack is also a great idea.
Data usage: Trail navigation apps also require a lot of data, which can be a problem if you’re hiking in an area with poor reception. This can also be an issue if you have limited data on your phone plan, as you may quickly exceed your monthly limit.
Privacy concerns: Trail navigation apps may collect and store your personal data, including your location, hiking history, and preferences. This can raise privacy concerns, especially if you are not comfortable with sharing your data with third-party providers. It’s important to review and understand the privacy policies of any app you use and take appropriate measures to protect your privacy.
Cost: While many trail navigation apps are free, some do require a subscription or a one-time fee. This can be a barrier for some users, particularly if they only plan to use the app occasionally.
Trail navigation apps offer a range of benefits, from generally accurate maps and GPS tracking to real-time updates and social features. However, they also have some potential downsides, including reliance on technology, inaccurate data, distraction, battery and data usage, and privacy concerns. Ultimately, whether or not you choose to use a trail navigation app will depend on your individual needs and preferences. If you’re someone who enjoys hiking and exploring the great outdoors, a trail navigation app may be a useful tool to help you discover new trails.
Weigh the pros and cons and use trail navigation apps as a tool in conjunction with other navigation methods and outdoor skills to ensure a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience.