Hiking the Appalachian Trail is on many people’s wish list – you might hope to hike from Springer to Damascus or complete the whole 2,190 miles of trail. There’s a lot of gear that you will want to think about taking on your trek, but one thing you definitely should pack is Appalachian Trail apps.
These apps contain a variety of features so whether you’re after a simple map or real-time weather updates there will be something to suit you.
Why do I need an app if I have a paper map?
There’s a range of advantages to using a phone app as opposed to paper maps. Even if you’re an experienced map reader, sometimes it can be a struggle to locate which stream you’re at, or waste time referencing landmarks to re-establish where you are. On a trail as well marked as the Appalachian Trail, you might find that you’ve been hiking for over an hour without stopping to pinpoint your location on your map.
If you have chosen an app which uses GPS technology to identify your location, you’ll have no doubt exactly where you are, and how close the nearest stream or shelter is. Some apps also give you real-time updates from other users so if there is a new permit required or water is running low in summertime, you’ll be the first to know.
That said, even if you do have an app on your phone, you should still carry a paper map with you. This is basically just a very sensible safety precaution to protect you in case your phone breaks and you’re left without knowing exactly where you are.
Who are Appalachian Trail apps for?
There’s an app to suit everyone – whether you’re a thru-hiker, flip-flopper or have no idea what those terms mean but want to get out there and complete some of the Appalachian Trail!
Thru-hiking is the nickname given to hikers who complete the whole of the Appalachian Trial in one go. Given that the Appalachian Trial covers some 2,190 miles, traversing a total of 14 different states, this is an epic achievement!
Most people take between five and seven months to complete a thru-hike. The success rate for one-direction thru-hikers going southbound (SOBO) is 31% and northbound (NOBO) is just 26% so if you’ve successfully completed your thru-hike, you have the respect of all other hikers out there.
Flip-flop hiking is also a thru-hike, but the difference is the hiker picks somewhere near the middle of the trail as their starting point. Hikers then travel southbound part of the way and then northbound for the rest of the trail.
This allows for a less crowded trail experience, a longer hiking season and more importantly, the option of starting the trail at one of the easiest parts of terrain which allows you to build up endurance before hitting the hardest parts of the trail. Compared to classic thru-hiking, the success rate of a flip-flop hike is a massive 57% so it’s easy to see why this is becoming a more popular option.
Section hikers complete the Appalachian Trail in multi-day trips, taking however long they like to complete the whole trail. This is great as it allows you to enjoy all the Appalachian Trail has to offer, but doesn’t require the commitment of thru-hiking.
What features should I look for in an app?
There’s lots of features out there, so it’s worth spending a little bit of time doing some research and deciding which features are important to you. If you’re really not sure – that’s where we come in! Read on for our breakdown of popular features that you will find on apps:
Also known as topo maps, these are maps with large-scale detail which show a variety of features including elevation (using contour lines), hydrography and landmarks. Most hikers will be familiar with these but the advantage of having a topo map on an app is that it will usually be combined with GPS in order to show you an accurate pinpoint of your location.
If you want to see how much uphill and downhill a particular section of the trail contains, then you’ll want to look for an app with an elevation profile feature. This lets you easily see if you have a big climb ahead of you, or if the campsite you’re heading to is downhill. Most apps which offer elevation profiles allow you to toggle between the profile and the topographical map.
Water sources (including reliability of source)
All along the Appalachian Trail you will come across natural sources of water. Knowing where these are allows you to plan ahead and ration your water supplies sensibly. Some apps will mark these sources, along with a note about reliability of the source, including whether it will be running in summer.
Shelters, cabins and huts
Scattered across the Appalachian Trail are more than 250 backcountry shelters. Many of these have a privy nearby and will be close to a water source. On average, these shelters are around 8 miles apart, but some are up to 30 miles apart if there is a town in between.
These shelters are available for all users of the Appalachian Trail on a first-come, first-served basis. So if you’re desperate to get a spot in one for the night, it’s important to plan ahead. Some apps will show these which allows you to factor in how long it will take you to reach the next one.
Tenting sites and campgrounds
There are about 100 designated camp sites along the Appalachian Trail. These are usually fairly basic, consisting of a flat areas to pitch your tent. They will usually be near a water source such as a spring or creek. Some apps will show you where the camp sites are along your trail, so you have the option of planning your hike around how long it will take you to travel between each one.
Road crossings, trail junctions, and resupply points
It’s great to know if you’re near a road crossing, especially if you’re planning on heading into the nearest town to stock up on some new supplies, or pick up your mail.
You definitely can’t carry all the supplies you need for a longer trek along the Appalachian Trail, so if you’re thru-hiking or section-hiking you’ll want to know where the resupply points are along the trail. Here you can stock up on calorie-dense foods for the next part of the trail, or replace your boots and buy waterproofs.
Some resupply points are definitely less well-stocked than others, so if you have some idea of what lies ahead it’s much easier to plan accordingly. You also have the option of mailing yourself a resupply box to some of the hostels along the way.
Parking areas and trailheads
There are hundreds of parking areas along the trail where you can leave your car if you’re section-hiking. If you’re using an app to plan your trip ahead of time it could be useful to pick one with these pointed out.
Natural landmarks and scenic views
Sometimes it can be a motivation to know that you’re nearly at McAfee Knob and you can get that once-in-a-lifetime shot that you’ve been waiting for. Many apps will point out these landmarks as waypoints
No matter what time of year you’re planning on hiking, accurate and up to date weather forecasts are essential. They can help you plan when you’re going to take a zero-miles day or simply whether you need to put your raincoat within easy reach.
Before you buy an app for your adventures on the Appalachian Trail, first have a think about which features you’re going to find most important, and then read on for our round-up of apps to help you make your hike amazing.
Best Apps for Appalachian Trail
AT Hiker: Guthook’s Guide
Available for: IOS and Android
Cost: Free demo (covering 8.8 mile Springer Mountain Approach Trail), other trail sections priced at $8.99 each
This app is written in conjunction with the renowned “The A.T Thru-Hikers’ Companion” and contains much of the same information in an easy an accessible interface. No internet or phone service is required for it to run.
Waypoints along the trail are highlighted by different icons, including shelters, campsites, water sources, viewpoints, road crossings and trail crossings. Clicking on a waypoint gives you a detailed description, elevation and a photo of the feature itself.
Cleverly, this app allows you to write in a ‘Trail Register’ for each waypoint, so if you have any useful information or comments, you can leave a note for other users to read. There is also a ‘Trail News’ section, which sharing of information that is relevant to a wider area. So if there’s a major trail closure, or new permits required, you will find it listed here.
Appalachian Trail Notebook
Available for: iOS
This app allows you to record and email information as you hike the Appalachian Trail. Over 1500 waypoints are identified and listed by state. If you want to make a note about a certain point, you just need to tap the location and you can write an entry or take a photo.
This app is GPS enabled which means that elevation information can be viewed as well. This app doesn’t offer a detailed topographical map. You have the option of emailing your notes, GPS data, location data and photos of each waypoint you’ve made an entry for. This would be great for keeping a diary of your AT adventures.
Gaia GPS: Topo Maps and Trails
Available for: iOS and Android
This is considered the best collection of offline topo and satellite maps available. Whilst not specific to the Appalachian Trail you can plan a route ahead of time, and view detailed satellite imagery. You can sync your tracks, photos, maps and waypoints to all your devices as well as share links via Facebook, Twitter, SMS and more.
You can link photos to a waypoint so you never forget the location of that special memory. There are some features that you need to have a membership subscription for in order to access. It’s also possible to access information such as pace, distance and elevation.
ATTrail 1 – 16
Available for: iOS
Cost: $1.99 each
This app contains loads of features including elevation profiles, topo trail maps, points of interest and GPS localization along the entire Appalachian Trail. You can view the topographical map and elevation profile on the same screen, giving you a really clear idea of what lies ahead. This app also provides distance from your current location to a wide variety of waypoints including water sources and shelters.
This app is relatively new to the market therefore expect some additional extras in the future, such as the ability to take photos linked to location. This app provides segmented maps and information for different sections of the trail, so if you’re planning on hiking the whole trail, you will need to buy all 16 apps.
Appalachian Trail Weather
Available for: Android
If you love your paper map or guidebook but want detailed weather forecasts for your hike, then this is the app for you. Simply by entering which mile marker you are closest to, you will be provided with a list of the closest shelters.
When you pick one of these you’ll see an accurate and detailed weather forecast for the next seven days. If you want to plan ahead and see what the weather might be like at a future location, you can search by state and by shelter. This app uses a very small amount of data so your battery charge will last longer.
Available for: Android
This basic app contains an interactive map, a car locator to help you find you way back to your vehicle, news relating to the Appalachian Trail and historical information.
So which app is best for me?
With a fantastic range of Appalachian Trail apps out there, you’re bound to find one that’s perfect for you.
You might want a very streamlined app which just provides a topographical map that you can use to cross check your paper map; or you might be looking for an app which shows you all the waypoints along the trail as well as keeping you informed if sections are closed or water sources have run dry.
If we’ve missed your favorite app off the list, please do let us know in the comments section.