Ever since I opened my mind to using my smart phone as a handheld GPS (essentially replacing my old Garmin etrex units), there have been two apps in particular that I have found to be the most useful (and most popular) – Gaia GPS and AllTrails.
So the question then becomes, which app is better for enjoying the outdoors?
Having used both apps extensively (often at the same time), I’ve learned that they are very capable (helping me with things like navigating in the field, logging and marking what I’ve done, and even planning upcoming trips or local excursions).
However, there are definitely strengths and weaknesses to consider with each app as they take very different approaches to how the outdoors (especially hiking) should be enjoyed.
It’s this difference that I wanted to explore more deeply to answer the question of which app is better, especially for my waterfalling needs since it encompasses the most common use cases of hiking, driving, planning, and logging.
So let’s compare the key attributes of each app and see if we can draw conclusions about which one is the better GPS solution.
What Does Gaia GPS Do Better Than AllTrails?
I’ve found that when it comes to using Gaia GPS, you’re really leveraging the strength of the underlying technology driving their application to excel in the tasks necessary for enjoying the outdoors safely and effectively.
In particular, the app does extremely well in the overall tasks of planning, navigating, orienting, and recording – all of which I perform when I’m engaged in outdoor activities.
Map Detail and Accuracy
The free default base layer of the Gaia GPS map consists of markings that have been surveyed from professionals (in addition to community input), and this gives me confidence in using the map even for places that aren’t popular (yet).
At the same time, I’ve found that its markings (e.g. contour lines and landmarks) have a clean and uncluttered presentation so it’s very readable while not losing the necessary details to ensure I always know where I am and where I’m going.
Heck, some pretty useful landmarks like waterfalls, peaks, buildings, bodies of water, or other features have been pretty accurate (for the most part) even in other places around the world, especially with a premium membership.
Speaking of the paid premium map layers, there are numerous ones to choose from (including USGS Topo!, USFS, Australia topo maps, New Zealand topo maps, Canadian topo maps, Norwegian topo maps, and more).
All of these layers provide even more surveyed markings and contour lines to the already detailed default base layer for even more critical in-the-field information to better make sound decisions in the field.
It’s why I tend to use Gaia GPS as my go-to hiking solution as far as maps are concerned, especially when I go to off-the-beaten-path locations where reliance on community input can be spotty or non-existent at best.
By contrast, I’ve found that AllTrails tends to have a more limited map selection primarily from open source projects like Mapbox and Open Street Map, and even their premium layers have a very limited selection (only the USGS Topo! layer is the most noteworthy one in my experiences).
Moreover, with AllTrails, the markings are all user-contributed (if not almost all), which means the quality control leaves a lot to be desired (kind of like how Google Maps tends to have the same issue since it, too, is all user-contributed).
I’m the type of person who likes to see the context of where I’m going on a map whenever I plan out an upcoming hike, or an itinerary for a longer, more involved upcoming trip.
Since Google Maps (which I use for basic routing and driving distances) tends to miss a lot of features (especially to places that require hiking), this is where the Gaia GPS map (both the website as well as the phone app) fills in these holes beautifully.
Indeed, leaning into their map details and accuracy, it’s why I found the Gaia GPS map catalog (made even more powerful with their premium layers) to be an invaluable resource for my trip planning needs.
Another nice thing I like about Gaia’s website is that I can place waypoints anywhere on their maps for the places that I anticipate going to.
This is incredibly useful because I can look at where my places of interest are in context with each other, and they give me a good idea of how long a trip should be as well as helping me to make that painful decision of what to leave out on that particular trip due to being too far out-of-the-way.
Granted, not a lot of people like to put this kind of effort into planning their trips, but it’s the kind of thing that allows me to have confidence that we’re making the most of our precious time (especially abroad).
In fact, I’d say that trip planning in this manner gives me greater confidence to explore the more off-the-beaten path places that have yet to be overrun (so I could still enjoy the relative peace and quiet of the outdoors while they still exist).
Heck, if I could turn back time, I could have avoided failures (i.e. missing the target waterfalls in the field) had I known about the map details prevalent in Gaia GPS in past years during my trip planning efforts.
Conversely, trip planning by consulting maps is really not a strong point on AllTrails (thanks to the lesser detail on the AllTrails maps).
Instead, they took a very different approach, where they lean more into pushing trail suggestions around you based on your GPS location (if your location services is turned on) or the area you’re interested in (even if location services is turned off).
In this paradigm, I’m really relying on what people have already contributed, but it’s not conducive to let me discover places on my own or customize the maps for my own trip planning needs.
That said, there is a “Create map” function, but it’s less intuitive to find and use compared to Gaia, where putting in my own markings is native to their base map function.
As a result, going with AllTrails’ suggestions likely pushes me towards the already popular and well-traveled locations, which can negatively impact the overall experience when in the outdoors as a result of the inevitable overcrowding and the higher likelihood of people behaving badly to the detriment of everyone else.
In-The-Field User Interface
I’ve found that when I’m in the field, Gaia GPS’ user interface was very responsive, intuitive, and efficient.
In particular, I’ve really like Gaia’s interface as far as seamless map zooming, waypoint (or POI) marking, and recording (also called breadcrumbing).
Map Zooming and Panning
It’s important for me to quickly zoom in, zoom out, and pan on a map to glean valuable information when it’s needed at that moment as I’m navigating.
When I zoom in, I’d want to identify key markings on the map and correlate them with what I’m seeing in the field to stay oriented and to stay on track.
When I zoom out, I’d want to better understand the context of where I’m at, which can help me determine my progress or anticipate what’s ahead and how to better pace myself as well as when to take rest breaks.
Similarly, when I’m panning, sometimes there are things that are just off the screen of where I’m at or where I’m headed, and I’d much rather do this than zooming in and out.
So in this regard, while actively using Gaia’s app in the field, I was able to zoom in as closely as I want while still retaining relevant landmarks and markings that I could reference to in reality to remain oriented.
Going in the other direction, when I zoom out with the app, they’ve intelligently kept the clutter to a minimum by retaining only major markings, contour lines, and boundaries.
However, when I try to perform these zoom functions in AllTrails as I’m navigating (i.e. the app is recording), I find that the zoom-in function is very limited, and thus, I’m prone to not being able to delve into the finer details of my surroundings because I’m too zoomed out and the map is too cluttered.
Interestingly, when I’m not recording or not navigating on AllTrails, then the zoom in limitation is not there, and it can zoom in almost as much as Gaia GPS lets me.
When I’m panning on Gaia GPS, the map is very responsive to me swiping as well as stopping the map immediately when I point my finger at the map without moving it.
On AllTrails, I’ve noticed that the app is annoyingly not as responsive as it would continue to scroll for a split second even after I stopped swiping and pinning my finger to the map.
It’s this seamless map interaction interface that compels me to trust Gaia GPS more as a map reading as well as navigation tool in real-time, especially if there’s a lack of reliable user-created breadcrumbs to navigate with.
When it comes to recording waypoints while in the field, both Gaia GPS and AllTrails let you take pictures and use those pictures to describe a waypoint or point-of-interest on the map (note: AllTrails calls them “Markings”).
Hey, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
It’s way more efficient than the old way of doing things like trying to name a point-of-interest (POI) in the field, which can be clunky, time consuming, and ineffective (do you really remember how you named a waypoint at the end of a trip or hike?).
By the way, I did this clunky old school way of waypoint marking in-the-field on my Garmin etrex handheld units and I still do it with the Garmin Fenix Pro GPS watch (though I just leave the default timestamp as the name in the interest of marking things quickly).
That said, I’ve found the waypoint management in Gaia GPS is superior to AllTrails in that I am able to use the app to take pictures in fewer taps on the phone (i.e. it’s a task I can get done quickly and pause for less time as I need to quickly turn my attention to the trail and my surroundings).
Compared to AllTrails, I found that I needed at least two more taps per waypoint on the app plus I have to caption that photographed waypoint on the spot, both of which slow me down in the field.
In the same vain as waypoint management, I also appreciated how intuitive and easy it was for the Gaia GPS app to trace (or breadcrumb) my travels no matter what I was doing regardless of whether I was driving, hiking, biking, on a boat tour, etc.
Like the handheld Garmin units or smart watches that I also use concurrently these days in the field (primarily because they’re waterproof), Gaia GPS simply makes tracks for where I’ve been as long as the app is recording, and there’s nothing more to it.
After I’m done with my activities, I can stop recording, name the track (or leave the default time-stamped name and edit it later), and that’s that.
On the other hand, I found the AllTrails app to require me to register or choose my activity prior to recording, which was rather clunky and confusing for me let alone slowing me down in the field.
In other words, I have to tell the app whether the recording I’m about to make is for hiking, scenic driving, biking, boating, off-roading, etc., and this is something I don’t care to compartmentalize, especially as I’m about to track what I’m doing.
AllTrails then further encumbers me by not allowing me to save my breadcrumbs and markings from the most recent activity until I complete the forced prompting of providing a rating and a review on the spot (or risk losing the activity if I hastily close the app in an effort to skip this prompting).
So this makes it harder for me to do a sequence where I would breadcrumb a drive to a trailhead and then quickly go on a hike once arriving at the trailhead if I logged this activity in AllTrails as opposed to Gaia GPS.
I think this inflexibility in its usage ties to how your data gets integrated with the AllTrails website (and thus prop up its search engine rankings due to frequent updates by the community).
Granted, AllTrails does let you pause your recording, which helps to make your breadcrumbs more accurate, but this has the drawback that you’ll have to remember to resume the paused recording when you’re on the move again (or else lose that information if you forget).
Moreover, if you’re trying to log 2 different activities back to back, then you’ll still have to go through their forced feedback interface or else risk confusing the two different activities if they’re only separated by a pause in the recording.
As a result, I pretty much confine my usage of AllTrails to the activity of hikes only (I don’t want to change settings just to log a different activity), but I can easily and seamlessly use Gaia GPS for any purpose (e.g. hiking, driving, or just about anything) without being encumbered by the interface.
I’ll say more about AllTrails’ website integration with the app (because this can be viewed as a major strength), but in this context, it also compels me to be selective about when I use the AllTrails app in the field.
Recalling Logged Data
Another aspect that I appreciate about Gaia GPS involves the ability to recall my logged activities from the website (as well as directly in the phone app).
For example, I can easily look at the GPS coordinates of my waypoint markings (especially those points of interest where I took a photo within the app) as well as particular spots on the trail’s breadcrumbs within the website itself.
I had a hard time recalling this kind of information in AllTrails.
Granted, both websites leave a lot to be desired regarding this website interaction with the maps.
Heck, they often times require me to download the .gpx files into a software like Garmin Mapsource or Garmin Basecamp to have access to that kind of information.
For example, you can’t split trails in either app or website directly to get more accurate stats on trail length, but I can do that within Mapsource or Basecamp after going through the trouble to download my logs from there (though that’s something I already do with my Garmin handheld and smart watch logs anyways).
Nevertheless, just having the freedom to readily procure the information gained in the field from the apps helps me to better recall what I did while also acting as additional content for my particular use case of making my website’s write-ups more accurate.
It is yet another thing that Gaia GPS does better than AllTrails.
While not everyone uses these apps with being a creator in mind, it’s why I have a hard time not using Gaia GPS whenever I’m out in the field (whereas I can afford to be pickier about which hikes I’d use AllTrails on).
Not Pushy About Making Me Share My Activities
Finally, I appreciate that Gaia GPS isn’t too pushy about forcing me to share my data with the community.
That said, upon signing up to Gaia GPS, they did default to making my waypoints and breadcrumbs public, which I had to turn off to avoid accidentally spilling more metadata about my whereabouts to the public (like where I live, etc.).
By the way, this is why I don’t use Garmin Connect because there’s that potential to make my Garmin Fenix logs accessed by unauthorized people (a risk that was realized when Garmin had a data breach in 2020).
Contrasting my Gaia GPS experience about sharing my data with the community, the AllTrails apps forces me to rate and review my activities when I’m done recording.
There’s no way for me to skip those steps to quickly proceed (so I can edit them later), and I either quit the app (and lose my logs) or just play along and fill out the required fields with hasty, half-assed inputs and finally save my latest activity.
Knowing this, it really makes me wonder about the quality of user contributions on their website as well as their app (at the very minimum, it’s why the AllTrails website is full of not-so-helpful one-sentence reviews).
Therefore the bottom line is that I have to be a bit choosier about which activities I want to record in AllTrails as opposed to Gaia GPS (i.e. I just use AllTrails to share or provide latest trail conditions for just the popular hikes).
That way, I can do my part to try not to be propagating what I call the “AllTrails” effect where once nice places get overrun due to this forced data sharing posture (and search engine visibility), which I definitely don’t want to use in the more quieter places (while they’re still “quiet”).
What Does AllTrails Do Better Than Gaia GPS?
Now that I’ve gone deep into what I like better about Gaia GPS over AllTrails, what about the things that AllTrails does better than Gaia?
In a nutshell, I’ve found that the AllTrails Experience is really all about the appeal of turning the activity of hiking into more of a social endeavor with peers as well as the wider internet.
It’s almost as if AllTrails has successfully positioned itself as the TripAdvisor or Yelp of hiking, and they’ve made it very easy (as well as appealing) to participate in this community by using the readily-available socially shared data that members are compelled to contribute to.
So let’s delve into the details about why the AllTrails app hits me in this way…
Sharing Activities & Being Seen
AllTrails is great for sharing your activities with not only your friends but also the wider public (i.e. the internet), especially because they’ve streamlined the interface for this purpose.
Moreover, it’s appealing to use the AllTrails app with a sort of “collectors” mentality of saving activities under my profile so it can be seen by people interested in my collective history of activities.
In fact, like with other social media apps in general, you can follow other hikers if you’d like to see their activity history (or even be notified of their latest activities) and then turn around and use that person’s activities for your next hike.
The app procures this information from its users by pushing them to rate, review, and publish (i.e. share) their activities every time they record an activity.
Thus, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re ALWAYS contributing to the AllTrails website when you’re using the app!
Heck, I wasn’t even able to finish saving my activity until I completed the ratings and reviews fields.
I suspect the interface is this way because it helps to streamline the behind-the-scenes filtering and sorting of the data before it goes right to the AllTrails website, which features prominently on Google Search results for that trail’s keyword search term.
As a result, whatever you contribute to AllTrails stands a high likelihood of being seen by the wider internet due to its ability to do so well in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
I’ve observed that some social media influencers have already caught on to this and are using the AllTrails app to gain greater exposure for their monetization efforts.
There’s something to be said about why Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, YouTube, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. all have worldwide appeal in the age of social media, and it ultimately comes down to our innate need to be seen and heard.
And AllTrails has certainly cornered this social aspect for hiking.
Getting The Latest Trail Conditions
AllTrails enjoys a very large user base (said to be over 10 million members from over 100 countries as of 2023).
As a result of this user base, there’s a high likelihood that whatever trail or waterfall that you’re Google searching for will have a recent review (and the latest in-the-field observations, including photos) on the AllTrails website.
In fact, I’ve often found myself consulting the AllTrails website to see what the trail conditions are (e.g. if a waterfall’s flowing, if it’s closed, if there are new obstacles to be aware of, what the trail’s like in different seasons, or how much recent activity had taken place).
Indeed, they tend to fill in the gaps when TripAdvisor or Yelp don’t have recent-enough reviews to provide the latest in-the-field info.
Therefore, this can be a powerful feature for trip planning in addition to anticipating what an upcoming hike would be like.
With a premium membership, you can supplement this in-the-field trail reconnaissance with map layers providing weather, air quality, and even light pollution (if you happen to be stargazing).
Such basic information can be useful in-the-field, especially if you see an incoming storm or bad air quality from a fire forcing you to change course.
Granted, Gaia GPS also does this for premium map layers, but I haven’t seen many Gaia GPS trail reviews readily available on the interwebs providing the kind of up-to-date info you get from the AllTrails website with a simple Google Search.
Trail Guiding Or Navigating
Another nice feature about AllTrails, especially if you’re not experienced in hiking, is that it lets you use shared activity logs (i.e. breadcrumbs) as virtual navigation aids.
In other words, once you choose an existing track (of which AllTrails has no shortage of user activity data) for navigating, the app then keeps you on track by letting you know if you’re deviating from it.
It’s not quite as if you have a car GPS helping you with turn-by-turn directions to get to your destination, but you get the idea.
Based on this experience, using AllTrails becomes more of a scavenger hunt kind of experience, and you may not even need to know how to read a topographic map to get to where you want to go (though I wouldn’t recommend going to these places without knowing how to read a topo map).
As a result, this brings the outdoors to a wider segment of the population as hiking becomes an even easier and more sociable activity than ever before.
No wonder why AllTrails enjoys such a large user base.
Conversely with Gaia GPS, you can use the “Search” button and still follow other users’ tracks who have bothered to share them or make them public.
Unfortunately, their interface for this guiding feature isn’t as intuitive as that of AllTrails (for example, the “Guide Me” option hides under the “More” button after selecting a trail in Gaia GPS’ search page on the app).
In fact, even the breadcrumb disappears once I start being guided, which I felt was a bit clunky (i.e. prone to user error) if that was the intended purpose of this feature.
To further lean into bringing the outdoors to a wider audience through its easy trail navigation feature based on past user inputs, the AllTrails app really helps you to choose your next hike through its trail suggestions.
They do this by tapping into your GPS coordinates if you have location services turned on, and then they suggest the nearest hikes and trails that people have already contributed to their database (which constantly grows given how many contributors they have).
You can also use the search dialog at the top of the app’s screen if you have location services turned off or if you’re planning a hike for somewhere you’re not at presently.
Most people are not necessarily into pre-planning and reading maps, and that’s where they’ll appreciate letting AllTrails push suggestions (along with ratings and at-a-glance trail summaries) to influence their decision on which breadcrumbs to follow next.
This is especially helpful if you need last-minute suggestions or alternatives given a trail closure, lack of trailhead parking situation, or you showed up with no plan in the first place!
Remember what I said earlier about being compelled to leave ratings and reviews when using AllTrails to track your own activities?
Well, it’s that prompted user feedback mechanism that feeds into this trail suggestion mechanism to push the highly-rated popular ones to the top of the suggestions list.
To be fair, Gaia GPS does have a Search “button” on the bottom of its app, which then puts you into a listing of nearby popular spots (along with a dialog box so you can enter a location via keyword).
However, it’s neither as prominent nor as integral as AllTrails’ Explore button, which leans way more into this way of exploring the outdoors.
Finally, AllTrails+ (i.e. pro or paid premium) members have a nifty feature called Lifeline, which basically allows the AllTrails user to be tracked by loved ones while out and about on a hike.
Indeed, you never know if something happens on the trail (e.g. an injury, a change in the trail conditions, an animal attack, an unexpected delay, etc.).
I know I’ve gone on fairly difficult hikes alone before, which tends to worry my family quite a bit, and this is one feature that certainly can help their piece of mind.
The app lets you choose up to 5 contacts who will be able to track your activities without even needing to download the AllTrails app provided the AllTrails user has set up the Lifeline in the first place.
In addition to real-time location on a map (which can be superposed with a planned route), other planning info like start and expected finish times and/or locations as well as tracked distance and elevation can be shared.
It does this by sending a unique link via text message or email to the safety contact, which brings that person to a web page showing the whereabouts of the hiker (so that contact doesn’t even need to download the AllTrails app).
The only catch (and it is a major one) is that both the hiker and the safety contact each must have a data signal in order to even get that text message and/or email.
If there’s no signal (which can be an issue since most hikes tend to be in out-of-service areas), then texts, emails, and real-time location will not be received by either party until the signal is re-established (resulting in delayed or even dropped info).
You could argue that the added cost, weight, and bulk of an SOS device like a Garmin inReach unit is better at handling emergency situations on a hike.
However, considering how Lifeline is already built into the AllTrails app, it’s certainly a reason to seriously consider the pro membership especially since you need it to download maps offline these days.
Anyways, this feature is just another way for loved ones to take the guesswork and anxiety out of the safety of a hiker despite its limitations (something that doesn’t even exist on Gaia GPS).
Other Remarks Pertinent To AllTrails and Gaia GPS
The following remarks are just some general things that I’ve noticed while using both Gaia GPS and AllTrails.
These remarks are not readily compartmentalized into a pro or con of either app, but I present them here to further inform whatever decisions you have to make in evaluating both products for yourself as well as the use of these kinds of apps in general.
The AllTrails app used to be free (even for offline map downloads) until early 2021, and I suspect this freemium model was the main reason why they grew their user base so quickly.
These days, you have to pay around $36/year for the pro membership, which is also known as AllTrails+.
The main key feature is being able to download maps for offline use, which is especially useful if you’re hiking in an area without cell phone reception.
The pro membership also includes more detailed map layers as well as Lifeline among others.
Conversely, Gaia GPS used to have a $20/year membership tier for just being able to download maps and using them offline.
However, ever since they were acquired by Outside, they now skip that tier for their existing $40/year premium membership, which includes even more map layers (including the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series as well as the statewide Topo! maps that I used to pay $100 per state for back in the 90s and 2000s).
Other premium layers for Gaia GPS’ premium membership include winter maps as well as real-time weather maps, which can be particularly helpful if there’s weather coming your way (and you’d rather not push your luck going any further).
Of course, they have so many map layers of not just the USA but also many parts of the world, which further makes it harder to turn down the expense of this level of membership.
Gaia GPS also offers a $60/year Outside+ membership tier that includes perks with the Outside Network along with the Trailforks Pro GPS app, but I’m not subscribed to this level because I haven’t gotten into mountain biking.
Responsibility of Sharing Activities on the Internet
While it’s nice to freely share information and gain social capital from your (hiking) activities, there’s a responsibility aspect of this freedom that tends to be overlooked or even ignored altogether.
Case in point, once nice and pristine waterfall spots are now overrun and even defied with tagging and litter as a result of these places blowing up on the internet (often faster than authorities can keep up with the increased usage).
Given the prominence of hiking apps like Gaia GPS and especially AllTrails, I tend to notice such phenomena resulting from people sharing spots on the app to a much wider audience.
By the way, AllTrails shrewdly grew their user base rapidly by being free for over 10 years before starting to charge to use their maps offline in 2021.
AllTrails also deftly integrated the user-contributed activities with their website so the frequent updates by the community causes the search engines to reward them with higher placement (thus it’s easily seen by the wider internet).
This is why I’ve called this the AllTrails Effect, and it’s the main reason why I’m very careful about when I choose to use the AllTrails app (whether or not this position is fair or not is another debate for another time).
Although responsibility ultimately lies with the user, it’s clear that there’s something off and unsustainable about the current state of affairs regarding the relationship between GPS apps (as well as the internet) and the adverse effects on Nature.
Until local jurisdictions find ways to institute policies and/or fees to make up for the increased use of these trails (as well as natural resources in general), I see this situation continuing to get worse.
This is especially the case if authorities continue to lag behind in corrective action and not properly or sufficiently valuing Nature.
Meanwhile, there’s an unwillingness by enough people to take responsibility for their own actions, which further exacerbates the decline of places that we as a society treasure as a whole.
Creating a Detachment from the Realities of Nature
One thing I’ve learned with places blowing up on the internet through the use of apps is that there is a tendency of people relying on such apps to not develop basic outdoor skills, especially in the case of hiking where apps make it too easy to reach remote spots.
While it seems to be the case that it’s becoming less necessary to read and navigate with maps in the absence of phone apps, it does leave such people vulnerable to those times when the phone and/or app fails you.
For example, you could run out of batteries, or you could accidentally drop the phone in water (and kill it), or you get lost and the app just doesn’t have the in-the-field information needed at the time.
In my mind, the over-reliance on technology is kind of like how too much screen time causes you to lose your ability to critically think or to forget how to interact with other people face-to-face or even act respectfully to others as well as to Nature.
I’ve also seen lots of app users show up to the trails unprepared (whether it’s not bringing enough water, not wearing the right shoes, improper gear, not layering, lack of first-aid, etc.).
Case in point, I was one of the few people in proper hiking gear going to Eaton Canyon Falls, and I remembered getting strange looks from numerous people on the trail dressed in attire more suitable for a workout than for hiking.
Perhaps more seriously, there were a series of deaths on Mt Baldy in early 2023 when several people on different occasions attempted to hike there in winter conditions during a year that we got a lot of snow in a short period of time.
Indeed, apps have a way of narrowing down your world through echo chambers and the oversimplification of the realities of our world.
And I definitely worry about the state of Nature as well as hiker safety as we continue to rely on these apps more (and becoming detached with the cold hard truths about reality).
I admit that this section is probably more of rant on how I’d prefer technology to facilitate our lives rather than take them over.
However, having lost my brother (likely due to a lack of situational awareness in Nature perhaps exacerbated by the interwebs creating that dangerous detachment from reality), this truly is the difference between life and death.
Conclusion / Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, determining whether AllTrails or Gaia GPS is the better app ultimately comes down to how you experience the outdoors.
The following table summarizes how I view each app’s strengths (and weaknesses) that I went in-depth in this write-up.
Based on these observations, I’d say that if you’re an inexperienced hiker, then I’d argue that AllTrails would better cater to you.
This is especially the case since it appeals to turning the outdoors into more of a communal activity so it enables you to rely on their wide user base to get by without basic outdoor (let alone map reading) skills.
Indeed, AllTrails is to hiking what Yelp is to restaurants or other local businesses and TripAdvisor is to travel (especially in foreign countries).
They’ve certainly positioned themselves well to take advantage of social media by socializing the hiking experience!
On the other hand, if you’re a more experienced hiker or want to go a little more off the beaten path for some true back-to-Nature moments, then I’d argue that Gaia GPS is the better app.
Gaia emphasizes superior mapping information, an intuitive and efficient interface, and enhanced handheld GPS functionality.
This means that you can still pursue less trodden places that haven’t blown up on the interwebs (yet).
Heck, in addition to hiking, it’s also preferred to be used by offroaders, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts that are into the more immersive and skilled pursuits.
Indeed, there’s something to be said about enjoying the outdoors in a more immersive level, and Gaia GPS certainly is a powerful tool to realize that kind of experience!
Personally, if I had to have a preference for one over the other (even though I often use both apps simultaneously), than I prefer using Gaia GPS over AllTrails.
Having chased waterfalls for the better part of 3 decades now, I’ve found Gaia GPS has been my go-to app for hiking and trip logging (even abroad), especially since I started using the app in 2020 (yes, I know I’m late to the party with the whole smart phone GPS app thing).
In fact, Gaia GPS does what I need so well that it affords me the luxury of limiting my AllTrails usage, and it’s why I continue to be a premium member.
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