When I get to take time off from being a tech enthusiast and writer there is generally one thing I want to do — be in the woods and mountains. While my wife and daughter do not share this enthusiasm, my son at least does, and we head out for single and multi-day hikes.
One service I find indispensable these days is the web resource AllTrails, an app that could be described as the Facebook of hiking, and more. Let’s take a look and see if this is what you need to get you in the great outdoors more.
What you get with Pro
To get full use of the web site you will need to sign up for an account, but its free and you can simply use Facebook Connect to do it as well. If you find that you want the extra features then it will cost you $49.99 annually. The Facebook sign-in is ironic, given that this service is kind of like the Facebook of hiking. Aside from all of the features included with the standard version, which is what we are about to look at, Pro offers National Geographic topo maps, Nationals Geographic Trails Illustrated, map printing, verified GPS routes, route planner and GPX exporting. A full list of the differences can be seen below.
The Home Page
Once you are signed up you will land on your new home page. There are a series of tabs across the top with all of the things you’ve added to your account, and below are several featured hikes in your geographic area. Further down still, you’ll find lists of nearby events and nearby searches, as well as is a short list of your recent activity.
Your Profile page includes two columns: the main center column with info about your activities, groups and and recent hikes, and the right side of the page with a map of your local area, complete with terrain. You’ll then be able to add your own favorite trails and find new ones from the My Trails tab, add photos of your favorite hikes, and connect with other hikers through the built-in social network. With a nice design and a ton of features, it’s fun to use, and useful as well.
Now Let’s Go Hiking
With all of the introductions out of the way, let us get down to the real business of why you visit AllTrails in the first place: let’s use it to prepare for a hike. We’ll look for a trail in my local area that I haven’t done before, and find what we need to get to the trailhead and find our way around it and get back safely.
We will begin by hitting the “Browse” button at the top of web site page and then choosing “trails”. A list of trails immediately appears and is listed by name and location, with a thumbnail image. To the right of each one is a series of icons that denote what the trail can be used for. These include hiking, walking, mountain biking, bird watching, rock climbing and more.
Each trail also displays the length and the estimated timed needed to complete it. There is also a star rating that is taken from past hikers who took the time to rate it. On the right side of the screen you can tweak your search by choosing a radius around your home that you are willing to drive, the length of the hikes, duration, difficulty level and what you wish to do — bird watching for instance.
Now we will pick a trail. In this case it is a short 2.1 mile, one hour loop that is located only a short drive from my home. At the top of the page is a series of photos that other hikers have taken and shared. this is followed by reviews from those other hikers, along with their star ratings. To the right is a rather basic map of the loop and information, such as type, elevation gain, season, usage, animals allowed on the trail (dogs and horses in this case) and features — waterfalls and such.
At the very top of the page you will find options for getting directions, printing the information, saving the trail as completed, favorite or wishlist and downloading the GPX information. GPX is trail information and topo maps. You will need to grab a program to open the file — Google Earth is a good free one.
However, you can click the GPS button at the top of the reviews page and simply drag the GPX file into the box that opens. Once the file is uploaded into the viewer you get a page that displays all of the information you need to safely make it around the trail and find your way back home.
Now you have a map, elevation chart and more. You can also share this using Facebook, Google+, Email and a number of other services, or just head out on your hike, confident in the info you’ve found that you’ll be able to have a good hike this time.
Hiking can be a lonely hobby, but AllTrails does its best to make it easy to discover new destinations and share them with other like-minded souls. It adds a fun social aspect to taking a long walk in the woods.
The free options are likely good enough for most casual adventurers, but if you want to get serious then the paid version is a rather good deal given its low price and the extras that come along with it.
A social network for hikers that allows sharing information and discovery of new trails.8
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