When wilderness backpacking and camping, it’s important to have an app on your phone that tracks your GPS location and displays a digital map so that you do not get lost. These hiking apps are easier and have more features than a traditional compass and paper map, so they are the go-to option for today’s hikers.
I’m too cheap to pay ongoing fees for these trail GPS apps like ViewRanger, AllTrails, and Gaia. I went searching and found a bunch of crappy apps that didn’t help me until I found Polaris GPS on Android. It is the best free option that I could find that did exactly what I needed it to do.
This app allows you to download USGS topographical maps to your phone for free OFFLINE use. The reason that this feature is so important is that most people have poor cell service in the backcountry, so you need to download the map before you go on your hike. Other apps will try to charge you to do this, while it cost nothing to do with Polaris. These maps contain trail maps of the US National Forests, allowing you to navigate specific trails for any of the major forests without paying a dime.
It also has a bunch of other cool features like saving waypoints so that you can always find your way back to your camp or car. Below is a quote from the app’s author’s website and the link to get the Polaris GPS app.
Easy-to-use high-performance GPS for wherever your travels take you. No account setup or subscriptions required.
Most features of POLARIS NAVIGATION do not require an internet connection or phone service. With the exception of the integrated Google Maps module and land survey altitude reporting, all data is received directly from the U.S. GPS Satellite System, meaning the app will work anywhere you are! Also, there are no maintenance fees associated with the use of POLARIS NAVIGATION: all that is required is a view of the sky.
Special features include the ability to permanently store and manage waypoints and trails, navigational tools to help you find waypoints and trails and two customizable floating compasses: A directional compass and a waypoint-finding compass. In addition to standard coordinate reporting, there is an odometer, a speedometer, ETA and Bearing To Waypoint reporting for destination waypoints.
A preference menu allows you to customize coordinate reporting, unit reporting, proximity alerts and the appearance and functionality of compasses as well as several other aspects of the graphical user interface.