Best Navigation Apps For Outdoor Adventuring 2021 - Outdoors Magic

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Best Navigation Apps For Outdoor Adventuring 2021

Get planning some bikepacking trips, hiking adventures and more with these handy navigational apps designed for the great outdoors

While paper maps are important – essential some might say – on hiking adventures in wild places, a good navigational app can be incredibly handy for those times when you’ve taken a wrong turn on the trail, or have misread your map coordinates, and need to quickly get your bearings. There are some that also offer ways to discover and follow routes that other people have created, taking away the need for lots of careful plotting. 

There are, however, a lot of navigational apps to choose from, and some of these, to put it delicately, aren’t very good. To save you falling into the trap of a dud, we’ve pulled together a list of the best navigational apps available.

How To Choose A Navigational App

Aside from route planning and navigating your way along hiking paths, navigational apps are also choc-a-block full of cool features to make your journeys that much smoother. These might include terrain information, mountain profiles, elevation levels, progress trackers, weather forecasts, voice navigation, live tracking, offline and saving functionalities, points of interests along the route and much, much more. Depending on which features you think you’ll use the most, having these clever extras is very handy indeed.  

Photo: Gaia GPS

Your choice of app will also inevitably depend on which outdoor activities you love the most and the whereabouts of each trip you make. For example, while PeakVisor mostly caters towards the mountaineering and snow sports communities, AllTrails tries to include as many different activities and types of user abilities as possible. Similarly, while Footpath Route Planner includes worldwide coverage, OS maps solely focuses on the UK. 

In addition to this, if you’re going on a multi-week backpacking or bikepacking trip and are looking to cover multiple regions and areas, it’s not always handy to bring loads of physical OS maps with you, especially if you want to keep your pack weight down. So even if you’re a die-hard physical map lover, it might be worth checking out how much weight you could save by adding an app to your kit list.  

Top 10 Navigation Apps | Our Favourites

  • Komoot  
  • Strava
  • OS Maps 
  • Outdooractive 
  • AllTrails
  • Gaia GPS  
  • Spyglass  
  • Footpath Route Planner  
  • Maps 3D Pro
  • PeakVisor 

 

Komoot

Best for: Easy route planning
Price: Basic: free, One region: £3.99, Region bundle: £8.99, The world: £29.99
Available on: iOS and Android

If you’ve been following Outdoors Magic with a close eye, you’ll know we’re big fans of komoot. It really is one of the easiest and handiest navigational apps out there. With worldwide route coverage, there’s thousands of options to choose from, as well as a multitude of different outdoor activities. You can even pick your experience level and the app will plot a route catered to your needs. 

Though you won’t get the same level of detail as an OS map, the graphics and topographical details are definitely good enough to get you where you need to go. Considering it only costs a one-off payment of £29.99 to unlock the entire app, it’s probably one of the most affordable options too. 

Other features include: photos to help you visualise your journey, voice navigation, turn-by-turn directions, live tracking, terrain options, downloadable maps for offline use, customisable courses and many more.  

Strava


Best for: Training and performance
Price: Basic: free, Subscription: £47.99 annually or £6.99 p/m
Available on: iOS and Android

Strava is very popular amongst runners and cyclists and specialises in performance analysis. This means that if you’re focusing on training for a marathon or beating your previous records, for example, Strava will track and store all of your progress and work with you to reach your goals.  

As well as analysing your performance on specific sections of your route, you can track statistics such as average pace, average heart rate, elevation gain, calories burned and the like. Racing against other Strava users is also possible with multiple leaderboards, clubs and challenges to choose from.  

The premium subscription will give you access to advanced and customisable training, workout plans, live feedback and more. The list of sports to choose from is similarly impressive with options including snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing, roller skating and kayaking, as well as more common activities such as hiking and cycling. 

OS Maps

Best for: Cartophiles
Price: Basic: free, Premium: £29.99 annually (or £3.99 monthly)
Available on: iOS and Android 

Ordinance Survey has been making maps since 1791 and is the home of British mapping. Having begun their venture into the app world in 2013, OS Maps has made significant advancements since then, including 3D rendering technologies, and an augmented reality feature to help you visualise the trails, landscapes, and points of interests ahead. 

As expected from OS, these maps contain unparalleled levels of detail and information, and are excellent for UK adventuring. There’s mapping available in OS Explorer 1:25k and OS Landranger 1:50k, as well as authored routes from BBC Countryfile, Country Walking, and Mountain Biking UK among others. 

With the premium subscription, you’ll have the option to share, favourite, download, export and print different maps. This gives you a nice level of versatility, especially if you want both your physical and digital mapping routes to match exactly.

 

Outdooractive


Best for: Advanced mapping and GPS
Price: Basic: free, Pro: $2.85 p/m, Pro+: $5.70 p/m
Available on: iOS and Android  

Previously known as Viewfinder, Outdooractive has an incredibly advanced GPS system used by hikers and search-and-rescue teams alike. It uses standard topographical maps, with the option to integrate OS mapping too. 

Related: The Best Long-Distance Walks In The UK

There’s worldwide coverage and a high-resolution display at all zoom levels thanks to state-of-the-art vector technologies, and all maps can be downloaded from offline use with the Pro subscription.  

The ’BuddyBeacon’ is one of our favourite features and is a real-time location sharing capacity for friends, family or other adventurers on the same route. This is awesome not just because it’s cool to track your friends’ adventures from the comfort of your couch, but also from a safety point of view. It’ll make it much easier for people to check in on you or find you should you ever get lost and should ease your mind a bit if you’re new to long-distance adventures.  

 

AllTrails


Best for: Activity and experience level options
Price: Basic: free, Pro: £29.99 annually
Available on: iOS and Android 

AllTrails is one of the most inclusive options here, with dog-friendly, kid-friendly and wheelchair-friendly routes, to name a few. There’s over 200,000 trails to choose from, all verified by experts and reviewed my members across the world. 

You’ll have access to road, satellite and topographical maps – though not with the level of detail as an OS map – as well as map overlays including time, distance, top speed, air quality, weather forecasts, pollen counts and light pollution levels. GPS directions to help you get to the trail head are also included.  

AllTrails have additionally planted 10,000 tress so far, and donate 1% of their profits to environmental initiatives worldwide. Much like Outdooractive, you can also assign safety contacts who’ll know your plan and can track your progress along the way.

 

Gaia GPS

 

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A post shared by Gaia GPS (@gaiagps)

Best for: Multi-map options
Price: Basic: free, Premium: £34.99 annually
Available on: iOS and Android 

Named after the Greek Goddess of the Earth, Gaia GPS is pretty darn good for navigating in the great outdoors. With historic and classic print maps to explore, NatGeo trails to choose from, and topographical, road and satellite options; there’s a lot to work with here. 

You can track your pace, distance and elevation whilst also viewing private and public lands, roads off the beaten track and campsites, amongst other things. There’s also an immense amount of data available about your location – professionals such as firefighters and mountain guides have even been known to use the app.

Related: Best Campsites In The UK

The basic subscription package will give you all the features except the ability to access the map catalogue in its entirety or the option to mass-download maps for offline use.  

Spyglass

Best for: Visual innovations and technical features
Price: $5.99 app purchase then $2.99 p/m
Available on: iOS and Android 

Spyglass is without a doubt one of the most visually impressive apps on this list. It’s also incredibly unique in its technical and navigational feature options – it serves as binoculars, a hi-tech compass, a gyrocompass, a GPS receiver, a waypoint tracker, a speedometer, an altimeter, a sun, moon and star finder, a gyro horizon, a rangefinder, a coordinate converter, a sextant, an inclinometer, an angular calculator and a camera. And that list isn’t even exhaustive. 

The app operates in 3D using an augmented reality to display real-time object positions, information and directions overlaid on top of the map. These augmented reality GPS technologies track exactly where you are using your surroundings and the data from your device.  

The option to navigate by the stars is also definitely in a league of its own.  

 

Footpath Route Planner

Best for: Ease-of-use and fast planning
Price: Basic: free, Single route: £1.99, Footpath Elite: £21.49 annually
Available on: iOS and Android 

The Footpath Route Planner app literally maps routes using your finger. You tap the draw button and trace the outlines of a map with your finger. The app will then ‘snap to map’ and choose the best trail and road options according to your outline. You can also zoom in and customise specific segments further if you have points of interests (or pubs) you wish to stop at on the way.  

Designed for any activity (even the SUP) in any country, you can share your adventures with your friends and also overlay your route line on top of your photos for memorable visuals. 

The elite version will unlock turn-by-turn navigation, premium maps (with details such as cycle lanes and avalanche slope shading), organisation features, activity analysis and exporting and saving abilities. Your first five saved routes, however, will be free.  

  

Maps 3D Pro

Best for: 3D Visualisation 
Price: £3.99 with in-app purchases
Available on: iOS  

Maps 3D Pro is for the adventurer who prefers to be able to visually see terrain rather than just drawings, basic graphics or map coordinates.

With the topography all demonstrated in 3D, it allows you to visualise and inspect sections of hikes, so you can see the right line to take up a hill, perhaps, or search for possible wild camping locations away from the trails. You can also view distant landmarks, contour lines, water sources, towns, points of interest and the like. These routes can be stored, used offline and shared with your family and friends.  

Related: A Beginner’s Guide To Wild Camping In The UK

It’s worth noting that this is the only app on this list that’s exclusively available with iOS systems.  

 

PeakVisor

 

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Best for: Mountain hiking and winter sports  
Price: Basic: free, Pro: $23.99 annually 
Available on: iOS and Android 

As you might have guessed, PeakVisor is the best app for mountainous terrain and is said to ‘make you a superhero of outdoor navigation’. It has a very cool design and identifies mountains using your camera and device data. The app will then tell you where you are based on recognition of these peaks, giving you information about the surrounding areas including elevation levels, trails, summits, passes, viewpoints and much more.  

Due to the level of detail PeakVisor provides on mountains, it’s also incredibly handy for skiing trips when you want to identity what’s around you or find specific ski resorts, mountain lifts, ski runs and the like.  

On another note – this app is actually really fun to mess around with when you’re at home too. You can inspire adventures and identify mountains hundreds of miles away from the comfort of your own bed.  

 

Main Photo: Outdooractive 

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