Five mobile navigation tools that can help to plan your next adventure

Traversing unknown terrain is easier with an aid, and navigation tools are necessary to explore wild places. Adventurers should always carry a compass and map; however, there are a growing number of technological tools that remove some of the guesswork from trip planning and wilderness navigation. Downloading navigation apps to a smartphone can help users plot a course, track the route in real time and connect with other outdoor recreationists.


One of the most useful technological tools for outdoor adventures is GAIA GPS. This app and web-based navigation software offers route planning, track recording and custom waypoint creation. The software lets users plan and research routes then sync the data to any personal device. Downloading and installing the app is free on both Apple and Android, but you must create an account to view maps. The free version is useful only with cell service, however. To access other features and additional maps, there are two subscription options to consider. The first is $19.99 for one year, and it includes the ability to download and print offline maps. The premium version is $39.99 for one year. It comes with map layers, over 200 National Geographic Illustrated Trails, weather conditions, hunting units and other specialty maps for activities like backpacking, hunting, off-roading, mountain biking and backcountry skiing. The price for the subscriptions reflect the value of this tool. Best of all, the software is easy to use, and individual displays are customizable.


Ramblr lets you track your route, share the adventure and follow in the footsteps of your friends. The app is free and available for Apple and Android products. Like GAIA GPS, the app offers users additional access online. With a GPS signal, Ramblr can record the route, speed, duration, distance and highest point without cell service. Ramblr also allows map downloads for offline access. Add photos, record audio files and videos while exploring, and tag them to specific points on the map. Upon returning to an area with data coverage, users can upload their experience to, and share it with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Users can access an HTML link online to share photos and routes via blogs and emails as well.


One of the most popular navigation apps, AllTrails provides details, maps and reviews of thousands of trails. There are over 10 million users across the globe, and their detailed experiences can provide helpful information for backpackers, bikers and hikers on the trail. The app is available to download for free on Apple and Android products. With the free version, search for trails, view maps and record data from trips. These features make the app a good option for backcountry navigation, where cell service is limited. AllTrails also offers customers an option to upgrade to AllTrails Pro for $29.99 for one year, or $59.99 for a three-year plan. With this upgrade, users can download and print customized maps, track weather conditions and add map layers.


An advanced compass and augmented reality make Spyglass a unique navigation tool for desert and mountain adventures. The app is available for Apple and Android products, and costs between $3 and $6. Spyglass does not function like the other navigation apps. There are no maps, but it has a long list of features to help users navigate the wilderness, including a speedometer, altimeter and rangefinder, which use the phone camera and sensors to calibrate your location. Users can take photos and save waypoints during an adventure, and view GPS coordinates in real time. The software also enables navigation by the sun, mood and stars, making it a useful tool for nighttime adventures and trips on the water. The display is completely customizable; however, new users can feel overwhelmed. The app developers recorded helpful videos from basic tutorials to detailed instructions and navigation tips. For a better idea of how the app functions, view the videos online at


The Viewranger mobile application is easy to use and comes with an extensive list of features that help users navigate, record data and share outdoor excursions. The app is designed to work in areas without cell service, and allows users to view maps and trail guides offline. It tracks information like time, distance, elevation and speed, and clearly marks the user’s route. Viewranger also has an estimated time of arrival and an ability to create a Trip Journal. The app is available for free download on Apple and Android devices. Access additional features with a premium subscription for just $4.99 per year. Or pay $19.99 per year for premium plus maps, which includes the purchase of world-class outdoor maps covering all 50 states. A feature included in the premium subscription is an augmented reality tool similar to Spyglass that identifies peaks and points of interest along the way. Premium users can also access a feature called BuddyBeacon track friends in real time using Viewranger, making it a useful tool for group adventures.

Though each app is highly-recommended, and available on Apple and Android devices, it is important to remember you should never rely on technology alone. Personal devices are susceptible to damage or malfunctions, and cold conditions can drain battery life. Always carry a compass and printed map, and a solar charger for your mobile device. Despite drawbacks of technology, these apps are a great guide for every journey.

HUNTER HARRELL is a writer and editor based in Durango, Colorado. She loves rainy days, spring cleaning and music that makes you move.