With so many apps and subscriptions out there it can be hard to know where to put your dollars. Explorer Matt Pearce has been roaming around with AllTrails Pro to find out how the mapping app impacts his adventures and whether paying for the app is worth it.
For the majority of us, I’m going to assume part of our love for the outdoors is about getting out from behind a desk, disconnecting from technology and finding some peace and quiet in nature. There’s been plenty of times I’ve switched my phone to airplane mode and stashed it away in my backpack, knowing I won’t need it again until I order Dominos on the way home so it arrives the exact same time I do.
But those little gadgets can do a lot more than order pizzas from the M5 nowadays. There’s been other times when my phone has helped me get back on track, discover hidden waterfalls or leave useful information for the next group of hikers. In fact, when you factor in the whole planning process; finding the right activity, planning the route and looking for points of interest along the way, you’re likely to have used several apps and websites before you even set a foot out the door.
That’s where AllTrails comes in. In one app AllTrails manages to cover the planning process, the execution and even the post-adventure glory bask, through some great functionality.
What is AllTrails?
AllTrails is a bit like your favourite map service, a GPS tracker and a social platform all rolled into one. It has an impressive 6,339+ trails in Australia for you to discover that have been tried and tested. They range in length from 1km to 3565km and in elevation from -2 meters to 1,700 meters above sea level.
You can input variables for your upcoming adventure like distance, points of interest, difficulty and it will provide you with relevant options, complete with reviews and photos from the people who have done it before you.
Once on the hike you can check your location in real-time on the AllTrails map, and when you’re done, you can share a recording of your own route, add comments, write a review and upload photos for others to view.
In short, AllTrails does a lot!
With a warm, autumnal Sunday to explore, I wanted to find a new walking track I hadn’t done while giving the AllTrails app a solid test.
The app has five main sections; Explore, Plan, Navigate, History and Profile. Explore is where I got started looking for inspiration. I input my criteria; hiking, views and bird watching, flipped into map view, zooming in on the rough area I wanted to head to.
The Bullawarring Track in the Heathcote National Park stood out as a route I’d not done before and it was the perfect length, being 10km one way with a train back to the start.
One of the great advantages of the AllTrails app in the planning phase is being able to read other people’s reviews. A few recent comments mentioned sections of the trail were overgrown, so I knew to pack a long sleeve tee. Other reviews said the swimming holes at the start and end were full from recent rains, so I packed my swimmers.
Route picked, I could also toggle between different maps to see how to get from my current location to the trailhead, the route of the trail itself and even a handy elevation chart to show me how hilly it was going to be. All of this presented in an easy-to-understand, intuitive format.
In reality, I imagine I’ll still use sources like We Are Explorers and local hiking blogs to get inspired and learn about new routes and areas, but I’ll turn to the AllTrails app to get the granular detail and up-to-date information.
On The Trail
Once you’re on the trail, AllTrails allows you to record your effort, a little like Strava. This also helps you to check your progress, following the route highlighted in red.
The maps contain more detail than a standard Google map, such as the topography of the surrounding area, and if you sign up to and pay for AllTrails Pro like I had, you also get map overlays that show you live weather, air quality, light pollution, and pollen data.
One slight downside is not having interactive features on the map. If you see a point of interest on the map, you can’t tap on it to see what it is, or reroute to explore it.
With the live recording running, one feature I really liked was a summary of the journey displayed on the lock screen, showing distance, average speed, and how long I’d been going for. Perfect for staying motivated when we were 8km in and melting but know there’s a swimming hole at 9km.
Another very important feature the Pro version users have access to is ‘Lifeline’. This allows you to share your route with an emergency contact, telling them your start time, proposed end time and intended route. You can also send them updates as you progress through the route, letting them know you’re ok. If you’re overdue for your intended finish time, Lifeline will send your contact a notification letting them know so they can start making decisions.
The hike out along the Bullawarring Track was fairly straightforward and easy-going, but the AllTrails app came in handy more than once when the vegetation closed in (which it pre-warned me about in the reviews) and I wasn’t sure I was on the right path. An alert popped up to notify me so I could check the map, backtrack and stay on course.
Similarly, there were several viewpoints I might have walked right past without the map showing a point of interest at the end of a slight detour.
Another feature of the Pro subscription is offline maps, meaning you can still navigate by GPS, even when you’re out of phone service. This is a really handy feature and will probably be of benefit on most trails that take you away from urban areas. There were several points along the Burrawarring Track where I was tucked into a steep-sided valley with no 4G and it was reassuring to know I could still track my location.
For me, this functionality seems like an important requirement for a map service specifically designed for the outdoors. Google Maps, Maps.me and several others all work offline through GPS once you’ve downloaded the route. At the least, AllTrails should make it super clear this is a Pro feature to avoid anyone finding out on the trail when it’s too late to input credit card details and sign up.
Hike done, there’s something deeply satisfying about shrugging your pack off, ordering a cold one at the bar and hitting ‘End’ on the app. Unfortunately you don’t get to see how your hiking speed stacks up against the competition like Strava, but you do get data like total length, elevation gain, moving time, average pace, and even a prediction of calories burned. You can also see your splits per kilometre if you’re really into numbers.
AllTrails also prompts you to share your thoughts on the route and add comments. This is a great feature and one which sets the app apart from standard map services and online trail notes that can be months if not years old. By encouraging every AllTrails user to review their activity, the app becomes an up-to-date database of trail conditions and first-person observations.
As I sipped on my well-deserved schooner I finished my entry with a few of the photos I took along the way and uploaded to my ‘History’ tab. My entry also gets attached to that particular route meaning other people can see what I thought of it and what conditions were like.
If they find my activities relevant and local to them, they can even follow me and see as I add more to my profile. In this way it acts like a social media platform and becomes a great source of inspiration.
AllTrails is a great app for anyone who’s planning to go hiking, running, riding or dog walking, off well-trodden paths. After a play with the features, it’s quick, intuitive and straightforward, using functionality and icons similar to many other everyday apps.
The Pro subscription I trialled comes in at $29.99 for an annual membership or $59.99 for three years. In my eyes that’s a bargain. The amount of hiking and mountain biking I do means I’ll definitely get a lot of value out of it. I’ll be able to benefit from the AllTrails community and contribute myself. Also, I’m not sure you can put a price on the safety and peace of mind it can provide, but if you could, I’d say $29.99 a year is a pretty good price.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to have their phone out on the trail, the AllTrails Pro features like ‘Off-route notifications’ and offline navigation mean you can get everything up and running before setting off. In theory, you’ll only get pinged if you accidentally head off route and you’ll feel safer knowing if something goes wrong, you’ll still have working navigation.
That said though, relying on just a phone will always carry an element of risk. You should ensure you have a Plan B, such as navigation skills, planned exit routes, physical map and compass and even a PLB in case you end up in trouble.
If you still need convincing, there are a few more perks to going for the Pro subscription. No annoying ads. You can download maps and print them in custom scales, sizes and with a range of overlays. A great back up if you’re worried about the battery life of your weather-beaten iPhone.
And finally, you can feel smug that AllTrails is a ‘1% for the Planet’ member. So while the app helps you to find and stay on trail, your subscription helps not-for-profits protect the areas we love.
For me though, my favourite feature is being able to see what other people thought of the routes. Once I reached Heathcote, hit ‘End’ and shared my own thoughts, I had the warm and fuzzies knowing I could be helping someone else to get out there and explore a new walk of their own.