With spring right around the corner, I want to share some useful tools that I love and use to help plan and prep for my own hikes and backpacking trips. Be sure to check them out before your next big hike and let me know how it goes.
Listen to Episode 9: Hiking Tools To Help You Plan Better Hikes
Or listen on Apple Podcasts \\ Google Podcasts \\ Spotify
The first is the Hiking Project from REI, there is a mobile app or you could also just go to hikingproject.com in any browser. After many failed/glitchy attempts trying to use All Trails, I was SO glad to find Hiking Project, which I found not only to be more accurate and more useful, but it’s also free!
I love using apps like Hiking Project to help in my initial research of finding trails in a given area but the big perk is being able to see other hikers’ recent comments on trail conditions, like snowpack or flooding, and overall ratings of the trail. I also like to get a quick overview of the distance and elevation change of the trail, which is easier to see at a glance on an app than trying to calculate or guesstimate it from my trail map.
This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosure for more info.
BUT, this is a big but, I have two pet peeves with any apps and that’s that they can fail, crash or become inaccessible (or your whole phone could die/break/fail) and also, most trail routes on apps like Hiking Project or All Trails are typically user-generated – which means the route recorded on the app could be wildly inaccurate or incomplete! (I noticed this a lot in my local area on All Trails.)
Hard Copy Trail Maps
And that segues perfectly into our next tool, National Geographic trails illustrated maps – you should never rely on an app or your phone alone, especially for navigation, so always always always carry a hard copy of a map of the area you’re in, along with a good compass, but here’s the catch. You gotta know how to use them! Simply carrying them isn’t enough, so take a class, watch some videos, practice in your local parks until you feel comfortable with these.
Check & Plan Around The Weather
Another tool I discovered within just the last couple of years actually is Weather.gov. Now weather.gov in and of itself isn’t anything to write home about, it looks like any other weather site BUT I found out you can actually type in a specific mountain, or lake, or another big landmark that might be in the wilderness which is particularly useful if you’re not near any bigger towns or municipalities. So for example I could type in ‘Mt. Elbert CO’ or ‘Columbine Lake CO’ and it would give me the closest weather data as it could for that spot, how cool is that?!
I’m excited to say that today’s episode is brought to you by the Ultimate Day Hiking Gear Checklist, remember in the last episode when we talked about that girl who accidentally walked down a deadly avalanche chute in yoga pants and sports bra with nothing but a bottle of water?? Don’t let that be you! Be sure to pack everything you need to be able to take care of yourself out on the trail, on every hike. Download the Ultimate Day Hiking Gear List for free here.
The last tool that I highly recommend to every hiker or backpacker is an emergency GPS like SPOT or Garmin – I personally use and love the Garmin Inreach Mini and pretty much carry it for that comfort and safety net of being able to hit that SOS button and call for search and rescue even when I’m not in cell phone service.
I can also just send ‘I’m ok’ check-in messages with friends and family from the trail or campsite, but I haven’t used or relied on my Garmin in reach mini for true navigation purposes, I do actually like to use a paper map for that – but if you’re going to be doing a lot of bushwacking and backcountry navigation, and have the need to save lots of waypoints and practice wayfinding using your GPS, you might want to invest in something a little heftier than the inreach mini.
The mini has a very rudimentary screen that is actually designed to be paired up with a smartphone via Bluetooth, which does work and is cool – but if you’ll be using it a lot, then your phone battery is gonna die quickly, etc, etc etc, I think it would be better to just get a more robust GPS device that has a bigger screen on it that you can use and navigate with it more easily totally on its own.
Again, that’s not impossible to do with the mini, you can use the mini on its own in a pinch but I think you’ll find it much easier, more clear and more enjoyable on a bigger device.