It has never been easier to find trails and routes to hike, run, cycle, climb and ski thanks to a range of on-line platforms and mobile phone apps. These include two favourite apps, AllTrails and TrailForks. We take a look at the pros and cons of each app.
What is AllTrails?
AllTrails is a mobile app used for outdoor activities such as hiking, trail running, mountain biking, climbing and snow-sports. Users can access a database of trail maps, which includes those created, generated and suggested by people who like to hike, cycle, climb and ski themselves.
Founded some 13 years ago, the app now has 45 million members globally. The platform offers information about 400,000-plus curated trails across the world.
To use the desktop version or the app, you simply search for your location, or a location you are visiting, and you’ll discover a long list of trail suggestions.
The focus is on places to go and views to see. The AllTrails app also allows you to connect with a community of outdoor people. You can share your activity experiences with members, or see what they are sharing.
Each trail is graded for difficulty and includes distance, elevation gain, a map, directions of how to get to the start of the route, plus an overview of what to expect on the route.
There are also photos taken by other people who have done the route, reviews by others, plus a current weather forecast. The routes are not offered with step-by-step details of how to navigate.
The app is available in both Android and iOS versions.
AllTrails: what does it cost?
There are differences between a free and “pro” version of the app. The free version is a basic membership that allows you to search for routes worldwide. You can filter trails according to details such as activity, experience level, length, elevation gain, as well as what you can see on the route, whether it’s an out-and-back or loop trail, how busy the route is likely to be.
In the free version, users access maps on-line and create customised maps on the website and then use them in the app. It’s also possible to track your own activity by recording hike, run or bike ride and then you can add details about the route, such as the conditions of the trail, your review and photos. This is how the number of routes on the app grows and how more people join the Alltrails community.
All the routes and experiences can be shared with other people on the map through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc.
Meanwhile, the Pro membership costs £29.99 a year or £2.50 each month in the UK and $35.99 annually ($2.99 monthly) in the US.
For this you get the same as the free membership, plus a range of additional features. Of most importance, is the ability to have access off-line – and especially the mapping. You can't download a route on the phone app unless you pay for the pro membership.
There are also other details such as heat maps – heat maps show the routes that are most or least popular according to user input – plus an index for air quality and pollution, pollen count and satellite weather forecasts.
The Pro version provides off-route notifications to keep you on track, a lifeline feature so that family and friends know your location and use of the app without adverts popping up.
Pros of AllTrails
The AllTrails desktop platform and app look and feel modern. It is easy to find trails according to area, activity and grades. Other advantages include:
- A database of some 400,000-plus trails routes across the world.
- Ability to search for trails where you are, or where you are travelling to.
- A host of filters for searches so that you can find a route to suit your experience, fitness, and aspirations.
- Reviews and details offered by a community of like-minded outdoors people.
Cons of AllTrails app
However, there are some disadvantages of the AllTrails app to be aware of. They include:
- Offline maps are available for paid-up Pro members only.
- If you have the free membership you can't use the maps on the app unless you have mobile phone reception.
- There is a lack of detailed information about how to actually complete the route.
- If you want more than a basic overview of the route, you’ll need to source these details elsewhere.
What is TrailForks?
The app and desktop platform TrailForks is also user-generated. It is best known for providing routes for cyclists, especially mountain bikers or gravel riders. However, there is also a growing selection of routes for hikers, snowsports fans, horse riders and trail runners to explore.
The app and website are described as "a trail database, map and management system for users, builders and associations”. The platform is used by trail associations to keep track of trail conditions, for builders to log work and for users to discover, plan and share their activities.
According to the website, there are 627,614 miles of 553,841 trails listed in 135 countries.
TrailForks allows you to read trail descriptions, look at photos, view trail reports and browse comments of other users on the platform.
Trails are rated according to difficulty, so you can choose routes that are suited to your abilities. You can also find route suggestions on the best way to link up trails.
To find a route, you can search a location and then filter routes according to activity, grade of difficulty etc. Once you choose a route, there are helpful reviews and feedback from members of the TrailForks, as well as photos and videos (not all routes have videos).
You need to be signed up to the platform to be able to download a GPX route file, or similar. It is possible to download a route on the desktop version without paying for Pro. I did this and then uploaded to my personal choice of navigation app.
However, if you want to download the route on your phone app for use off-line as you hike, run or bike, you need to pay for Pro. You also need to download the region (for free) where you want to explore.
It is an app that can be used on Android and also iOS.
TrailForks: what does it cost?
The desktop website of TrailForks is always free. There is a free app version that offers a route finder option, trail reports, activity recording and personal stats, as well as a popularity heat map for a local area.
There is a Pro monthly cost for the app of £2.08 ($2.99) or £24.99 ($36) annually that gives all that the free option offers, as well as Garmin Basemaps, global heatmaps, ability to download trail and route GPX files.
There is another special Outside+ Pro subscription for £2.50 ($3.74) per month or £30 ($55.99) annually (price has 25% discount) with a number of extra features.
Pros of TrailForks
TrailForks is predominantly an app for mountain bikers and gravel riders. It is a great source for discovering new routes and reading reviews of routes. Other advantages include:
- It’s free to use on the desktop. There is a subscription per month or year for the Pro version.
- There are no adverts or in-app purchases to annoy you.
- The platform includes trail maps for regions worldwide.
- Users can submit routes and suggestions for changes to the trail maps.
- Information is available offline.
- You can download trail maps for any region.
Cons of TrailForks
TrailForks is very mountain bike heavy and if you're a trail runner or hiker, you will feel like you are working hard to discover lots of routes. You should also bear in mind that:
- The website and app don't look or feel as modern as AllTrails.
- Some users find that the app takes a while to load and occasionally crashes.
- You have to download each region of trails individually.
- You need to pay for the Pro version to have access to maps offline.
AllTrails versus TrailForks
Both apps offer a wealth of trails and routes to choose form and worldwide. The both provide similar detailed information and they include user-generated content.
For mountain bikers, it is likely that TrailForks will appeal more than AllTrails. For hikers and trail runners, the better app is likely to be AllTrails.
AllTrails has a more modern look and easier functionality. TrailForks looks and appears a bit dated.
To access all features you need to pay for a premium version of each app.
To decide which app is for you, take a look at the free version of each before committing to a membership.
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Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.