Ask Engadget: What are the best outdoor navigation apps?

What to use when exploring the outdoors on foot.

The support shared among readers in the comments section is one of the things we love most about the Engadget community. Over the years, we've known you to offer sage advice on everything from Chromecasts and cameras to drones and smartphones. In fact, our community's knowledge and insights are a reason why many of you participate in the comments.

We truly value the time and detail you all spend in responding to questions from your fellow tech-obsessed commenters, which is why we've decided to bring back our "Ask Engadget" column. This week's question asks about outdoor navigation apps. Weigh in with your advice in the comments -- and feel free to send your own questions along to!

I've been doing a lot of hiking and walking outdoors, as well as some bird watching. But Google Maps has turned out to be really unhelpful when it comes to walking directions, especially when it comes to trails in parks. What is the best app for navigating outdoors?

Evan Rodgers

Evan Rodgers
Engagement Editor

I've talked to a bunch of people about the apps they use for finding free camping spots and the answer is always: all of them. Frustratingly, each app has its own user-generated dataset, so you have to have all of them. For example, iOverlander has spots that Campendium doesn't.

Anyway, here are the apps I use:

  • Campendium: I use this the most frequently, but it's a site not an app. You can use it on mobile, though.

  • iOverlander: It isn't great, but it has some good details like RV dumping sites and water fill-up spots.

  • AllTrails: Since I'm too busy to actually hike, I use this to make sure I'm not camping near a trail head, which isn't allowed.

  • Google Maps: Indispensable, though admittedly a bit disquieting that there are so few Google alternatives. I use Google Maps literally every day, multiple times a day, mostly to navigate to various sites.

On that last point, Campendium spots usually give you GPS coordinates, which is great for actually finding where you're supposed to be going, and throwing those in Google Maps will actually get you there.

Terrence O'Brien

Terrence O'Brien
Managing Editor

So the truth is that most of the apps... are not great. AllTrails is alright. Hiking Project from REI is okay, too. I've heard good things about Gaia GPS, but haven't used it myself.

The real answer to this question is: Get a map, a compass and learn to use it if you're hiking. Being out in nature should be an opportunity to put down the tech -- for a few hours, anyway.

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