If you hike or backpack then you know AllTrails and Gaia are two of the most popular navigation apps. But which one is best?
Navigation apps are a key piece of hiking and backpacking gear. While you can’t go wrong with either AllTrails or Gaia, choosing the one that fits your style best will save a lot of headaches.
As a hiking guide, I have plenty of personal experience with both apps. And, I’ve seen new hikers and backpackers learn to use both before settling in on the one they prefer.
I’ve also used the Pro version for both AllTrails and Gaia, and I have a clear winner.
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The Main Takeaway: AllTrails Versus Gaia
AllTrails offers detailed information, user reviews, photos, and information on things like changes in trail conditions due to inclement weather. It also has the more intuitive user interface. But, when it comes to navigation, it’s hit or miss.
Gaia on the other hand doesn’t have the greatest search when it comes to locating new trails, but once you’ve found and downloaded the map, you can be pretty sure it’s a solid route. It’s also the better app if plan to go off-trail in the backcountry.
Another feature of Gaia is that it provides information on nearby notes of interest including campsites and waterfalls.
Both AllTrails and Gaia require you to upgrade to a paid membership to download maps for offline use.
I recommend having both apps on your phone. There are locations and trails where one app will have the route and the other won’t. It’s always good to have a backup.
Personally, I use the free version of AllTrails and the paid plan for Gaia. This has worked well for me.
My recommendation is to try the free version of both for a couple of months. Once you find the one you prefer, pay for the pro version of that app and use the free version of the other one as your backup.
Differences in AllTrails vs Gaia
While the two apps may seem similar on the surface, they have quite a few differences in how they function and where the routes come from.
Who hasn’t searched for a trail name and seen AllTrails pop up as the first result online? A focus on community, sharing route information, and providing trail updates is part of AllTrail’s DNA.
Gaia is more limited in this area, but it is getting better. Well known trails may be easier to find, but some trails take a bit of doing. Trail names may be different in the search engine, or there is odd syntax.
While both apps provide information on nearby trails, Gaia does it based on your search and AllTrails provides the information based on your search and location.
Accuracy of Routes
AllTrails was designed to be a crowdsourced app. While it does have validated routes (these are the routes in green), most routes are simply people going out, hiking, and sharing their route. The problem is that it only takes a couple of people to run the route incorrectly, then everyone starts following it, and the next thing you know people are hiking through private property and creating a trail 100 yards from the actual one.
Both apps use OpenStreetMap (OSM) to validate routes, but AllTrails does this more as an afterthought rather than integrating it throughout the app. This means some routes are confirmed and others aren’t. If you see a green trail outline, this means AllTrails has validated the route.
While it may have fewer trails overall, Gaia, uses OSM to create all of their Gaia Topo maps as well as other sources. You can even create an OSM account and use data from your hike to help keep OSM up to date.
More than once, using both apps, I’ve found Gaia was on track while AllTrails wanted us to be 100 yards away in the middle of underbrush.
AllTrails has some information about nearby trails and areas on the map, but most of the details are buried in the reviews and details from other hikers. On top of that, you need to zoom in a lot to get trail names, but they are there.
Gaia has better route information including easy to read trail names and points of interest including campsites, shelters, and waterfalls. This not only makes sure you don’t miss anything, but also provides additional navigational features to keep you on track.
There’s a reason AllTrails is so popular and why new hikers flock to it. The app has an intuitive user interface. Once loaded on your phone, the learning curve is short and relatively pain free. Plus, who doesn’t love tons of nearby trails you didn’t know about?
People also like the AllTrails community and social features. You can share your experience, review trails, upload photos, and provide updates. When it comes to realistic trail information, AllTrails is king.
Gaia may be more powerful when it comes to navigation, but there’s a steeper learning curve. While you can just set record and track your route, using the more advanced features requires some understanding of navigation principles and a bit of finagling with the app.
Do you prefer an independent experience, or a community? AllTrails has a stronger community aspect than Gaia. You can share your route publicly, read reviews, and feel that you are part of something.
Gaia will allow you to share your tracks, routes, and waypoints to Facebook and Twitter, but it’s not a true social community.
Both apps have a free and paid version.
AllTrails+ allows you to download offline maps, get alerts for wrong turns, and find trails a specific distance from your location.
Gaia Premium opens more map layers, weather, air quality, and wildfire information. One of my favorite pro features is the Private and public land overlay. Gaia also allows you to overlay maps in the paid version. This provides a high level of customization good for planning and navigating tough areas.
Since Gaia was purchased by Outside, there is a special subscription for Outside members at a discount.
Included in the Gaia Premium membership is 300+ maps including National Geographic maps. This is a nice bonus.
Looking for other great apps to enhance your hiking experience? You may also like:
The Best Hiking and Backpacking Apps
Should You Download and Use Both Apps?
I say yes. Use one as the free version, and the other as a Pro version. You should always have a second GPS app running as a backup.
There are some areas where AllTrails will have more trails and other areas where Gaia will have the best information. It certainly can’t hurt to have both. Also, having two apps helps if one decides to crash. Of course, I always carry a paper map with me know how to use it.
I’ve also found it helpful to have both when there’s a fork in the trail or something unusual pops up. Putting the two apps together sometimes provides clarity neither app alone provides.
When it comes to the paid versions, I would pick one. For me, it’s Gaia. I find it’s a solid app and the few times it hasn’t had a map for the trail I was hiking, it was clear ahead of time so I could plan around it with other apps.
Personally, I’ve had AllTrails Pro (the older version of AllTrails+) crash on me multiple times at the worst possible moments. I was in Slickrock Creek Wilderness, and it shut down then told me I didn’t download the map. I did download the map. I was using it moments before on airplane mode. But now the app is saying the map isn’t there and I don’t have signal and I’m in a wilderness area I’ve never been to before. Luckily, I had a paper map.
Two more instances of this soured me on AllTrails.
What to Consider Before Paying for a Pro Version
Check with other hikers and backpackers in your area. Sometimes one app tends to be better when it comes to covering a wider variety of trails. You don’t want to pay for an app that only has 50% of the trails you’ll be hiking.
If you just want an app to follow and track your route, AllTrails usually suffices. However, just know going in that it can be inaccurate and you should use common sense rather than follow it blindly.
For anyone that may be going into a wilderness area on trails that are not blazed, or areas that are infrequently traveled, or enjoying activities that require precise navigation, Gaia may be the better option.
Wrap-Up: AllTrails vs Gaia
When it comes to choosing with GPS app to use on your hikes, a lot comes down to personal preference.
While AllTrails is easy to use, covers a lot of trails, and has a strong community aspect, it’s also known to be inaccurate and steer your wrong. While some people may laugh at a 3 mile hike that turned into 7 due to inaccuracy, a new hiker with limited daylight may not find it quite so amusing.
Gaia has fewer trails, a steeper learning curve, and is geared more towards independent hikers, but it’s also pretty darned accurate.
It all boils down to where you’re hiking and what you need. I would load both and give them a try. Once you find the app you prefer, consider purchasing the pro version of that app and continuing to use the free version of the other one as a backup.
Bonus: Other Navigation Apps for Hiking
Hiking Project is free. You simply download a state map and turn it on when you arrive at your location. It automatically finds any validated trails nearby. While it is limited, it’s a great GPS app to use as your backup. Beware that it has the worst trail search function I’ve seen. Good luck finding any trail before you go. Once you arrive and turn it on, it will pinpoint your location and show any trails in the area that it has mapped.
Avenza is good for certain trails. The app is free, but some of the maps require payment. Here in North Carolina, the best map for Linville Gorge and Wilson Creek are free Avenza maps created by locals. I wouldn’t use anything else in these areas.
Of course, FarOut is your go to for the Appalachian Trail. You’ll have to pay for the section that contains the area you’re hiking, or the entire trail, but it has everything you need to plan your trip including parking area, drop off areas, info on water sources, et cetera.