Smartphones and the outdoors don’t have to be at odds with each other, using certain apps can be incredibly useful for planning and tracking a hike. But, what are the best GPS apps for hiking navigation?


As much as we’d all love to leave our smartphone at home while going for a hike — most of us hike to escape the trappings of the modern world in the first place — we simply can’t deny the usefulness of that little black brick in the great outdoors. 

Even the crappiest old iPhone knows how to masquerade as a compass, torch, camera, and even a GPS. 

While a phone will probably never be more reliable than a dedicated version of any of the above, there’s no denying they provide a level of insurance and can act as a backup to your physical gear — or arguably these days, the other way around. 

Obviously, your physical compass won’t run out of battery and mobile phones have another Achilles heel in the form of cell service. However, assuming you can also read a map and navigate with traditional tools if required, there is no reason you can’t also enjoy the ease and convenience of following a mobile mapping tool. 

Mapping applications can also come with other useful features like drop pins for where you snapped a great photo or information on the local environment.

According to Matt Pearce in his review of the Alltrails Pro app, ‘my phone has helped me get back on track, discover hidden waterfalls or leave useful information for the next group of hikers.’


matt horspool natgeo app 2

How To Get the Most Out of Your Smartphone

Before getting to our favourite map apps, it’s important to know how to get the most out of your smartphone and that means extending its battery life. 

  1. Keep your phone turned off or on Airplane mode when not needed to preserve battery life. If you’re out of range it will continually search for a mobile signal and drain the battery more quickly.
  2. Keep phones dry and warm. Cold saps the life from batteries. 
  3. Phone GPS relies on a mobile network to render maps. Any GPS app worth its salt will let you download maps in advance. If not, don’t bother.


Goal Zero Sherpa 40 Powerbank // Gear Review Jon Harris powerbank, iphone, bag, Mattie Gould, thredbo diggings

A power bank, or better yet, a solar-powered phone charger is also a must-have item for long hikes out of range. | @jonharris_photography

Why a hiking app?

There are four reasons you should consider investing in a hiking app for your smartphone. 

  1. Inspiration — Discover new hikes, read reviews and stoke the fire. 
  2. Navigate — stay on course and stay safe. More on this next.
  3. Learn — In addition to the GPS apps in this list, there are a range of outdoor mobile apps that could teach you more than a thing or two — think stargazing or bird watching.
  4. Track performance — See how fast or slow you hiked, count your steps and watch your splits!

Best Navigation Apps

There’s no shortage of hiking and GPS mapping apps available and their quality varies as much as that of the hikes themselves. However, here are some of our top picks.


1. Alltrails


Best Hiking Apps


Alltrails is perhaps the best-known trail and hiking app boasting over 20 million users and 100,000 trails worldwide. 

When Matt wrote his review of the Alltrails Pro App back in April of 2021, the ‘GPS tracker and a social platform all rolled into one’ had 6,339+ registered trails in Australia. Today, that number is 14,319 and counting. 

Alltrails is the best app for pre-planning a trip and you can filter by requirements like family-friendly (4,405 hikes), wheelchair-friendly (326 trails) or trips to a waterfall (10,045 routes).

Once at the trailhead, you can record your hike and follow the route highlighted in red. 

The map is more detailed than a standard Google or Apple map and provides the topography of the surrounding area (a must-have).

If you pay for the $30/yr pro subscription, you also get map overlays with things like live weather, air quality, light pollution and pollen. 

As described by Matt in his review, another reason to get the pro version is, ‘the Pro version users have access to ‘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.’

In summary, ‘AllTrails manages to cover the planning process, the execution and even the post-adventure glory bask, through some great functionality.’


Hiking Apps

2. Gaia GPS


Best Hiking Apps


Gaia GPS is another top-rated and well-known hiking app for navigation. 

It lacks the social and community component that Alltrails has but arguably covers more remote terrain. There is a free version that will be adequate for most casual day hikers, while the paid version will set you back $39.99 per year. It’s included in an Outside+ subscription which starts to make things pretty cost effective.

The paid version offers a range of additional features and benefits including:


  • More detailed maps: The paid version of Gaia GPS offers access to a wider range of map layers, including detailed topographic maps, high-resolution satellite imagery, and specialised maps for activities like hunting and fishing.
  • Offline maps: With the paid version of Gaia GPS, you can download maps for offline use, which can be helpful in areas with limited or no cell service.
  • Advanced route planning: The paid version of Gaia GPS offers advanced route planning tools, including the ability to create multi-day itineraries, plan routes using waypoints, and calculate elevation profiles.
  • Real-time weather updates: The paid version of Gaia GPS provides real-time weather updates and alerts, which can be helpful for planning trips and staying safe in changing weather conditions.
  • Unlimited data storage: The paid version of Gaia GPS allows you to store an unlimited amount of data, including tracks, waypoints, and maps.


I’ve used Gaia GPS as my go-to backcountry ski touring app in Australia and overseas. I even stumbled upon a map overlay for Japan that showed me the depth of all lakes in the region I was in — completely unnecessary but ski buddies appreciated knowing the depths of all the frozen lakes we passed in Hokkaido. 

3. Avenza Maps:


Best Hiking Apps

Avenza Maps has the unique advantage of accessing thousands of maps, including topographic maps, nautical charts, and road maps, as well as maps from government agencies like Geoscience Australia and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

You can download maps for offline use and plan and track routes well, however, it doesn’t have the same community aspect as Alltrails. 

One of the unique features of Avenza Maps is its compatibility with PDF maps, which allows you to import your own maps and use them with the app’s mapping and navigation tools. 

Our Publisher Tim has used Avenza Maps on a bunch of expeditions and likes the simple approach, ‘It’s just like a paper map except that it shows you where you are, no fluff.’

4. Fatmap


Best Hiking Apps

Fatmap is a mobile and web-based mapping platform that provides detailed 3D maps of hiking trails, ski runs, and other outdoor routes. 

You may have just heard of it as Fatmap was recently acquired by Strava for an undisclosed amount. 

Fatmap had previously been beloved by skiers and mountain bikers — with its focus on 3D terrain and affinity for elevation and pitch overlays. I.e. showing you how things look from the top and heading down (with the help of gravity). 

We expect Fatmap to continue to break into the hiking and trail space. It’s a much more immersive experience than some of the other 2D topographic maps which can be useful for fully understanding the complexity of the terrain you might encounter.


Strava and fatmap integration, mobile mockup, source: strava

Which app is best?

Ultimately, the best hiking app for you will depend on your specific needs and expectations when heading into the outdoors. If you want an easy-to-access, well-trodden trail with a bunch of reliable reviews, then look no further than Alltrails. 

If you want to keep a record of your own hikes and waypoints and share those GPX files with others offline, you might prefer Gaia GPS. 

Want to pretend you’re already hiking the trail from the comfort of your home or the passenger seat on the way to the trailhead? Fatmap’s 3D experience might be for you. 



Whether you view smartphones in the outdoors as a convenient tool or a necessary evil, there’s no reason not to have a GPS app on hand — or in your pocket.