Maps Versus GPS Apps: The Best Choice for Hiking

Maps Versus GPS Apps: The Best Choice for Hiking

Ireland is home to more than 900 developed walking trails, encompassing a huge variety of terrain.

Making Ireland something of a haven for hiking fans, reason enough to get out of the city for a while and enjoy the fresh air. From the Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk in County Wicklow to the Jean Kennedy Smith Walk in County Wexford, our beautiful country has something for everyone.

It’s no mystery why the top activity enjoyed by Ireland’s tourists is hiking and hillwalking, besting golf and cycling.

Still, it’s vital to plan your walks and prepare your gear accordingly. A hike can be more exhausting and overwhelming than inexperienced walkers may imagine; a wrong turn or lack of supplies could force you to abandon your hike sooner than you would like.

One key area to focus on is navigation: you simply have to know where your hike will begin, where it will end, and how to get from A to B in the safest, most responsible way. Today, Ireland’s hikers have access to both traditional paper maps and GPS apps – but which is the best choice for your hike?

Printed Maps: Pros and Cons

Without the barest shadow of a doubt, a paper map is a beautiful object. The extreme attention to detail and breadth of coverage is staggering; if you haven’t studied a map for a while you might have forgotten just how remarkable they are. Just think of the time and effort invested into creating each one, condensing mile upon mile into such a small format.

Paper maps are beautifully simple in their accessibility: the vast majority are folded into a pocket-friendly size, allowing you to carry it with a minimum of hassle. You can take it out, open it up, and plot your route without having to worry about low batteries, plugging a charger into a socket, or damaging the screen.

Reading a map can help to bring a group of hikers closer together, transforming plotting a path and measuring distance into a team activity. It may add to the experience and help less-seasoned walkers learn valuable skills from senior members of the group.

While a printed map has no backlight, shining a torch beam across the paper solves that issue in seconds. Still, one downside of paper maps is their visual complexity – anyone who has never paid much attention to maps or been shown how to read them can become utterly perplexed by the vast amount of information presented, especially with paths and roads snaking across the paper by the dozen.

This is a real problem for solo hikers. While a skilled map-user will be able to pinpoint their location and identify all possible routes within moments, a novice will likely spend minutes scratching their head before either attempting to guess or simply giving up altogether.

Abandoning the printed map in favour of choosing a random direction and hoping for the best may be dangerous when alone (or even in an inexperienced group), leading you into unknown areas far off your hike’s trail.

Last but by no means least: with paper maps, you can record your journey in notes and scribbles, creating a permanent souvenir of your hike to cherish for years to come.

GPS Apps: Pros and Cons

Printed maps clearly have their benefits, but the GPS app is one of today’s technological wonders.

You can download a GPS app to your phone in a matter of seconds, and be prepared for virtually any hike across Ireland. You have the power to view your exact location on-screen at all times, location sharing and bookmarking branching paths and potential obstacles in real-time (provided your app of choice features updates).

GPS is also highly reliable, pinpointing your position with greater accuracy than you may be capable of when scouring a printed map. This makes estimating times and progress far simpler, and eliminates much of the worry you may feel about making your way along a hiking trail for the first time.

GPS apps are highly accessible too, far more so than the average printed map. Anyone, no matter how inexperienced, can keep track of the moving dot on their phone’s screen, and be made aware when they are veering off-track.

However, there are downsides.

For one, some GPS apps require a signal to stay connected to the service. If you stray into an area with low coverage, you may be cut off from your navigation – leaving you with no idea where you are or where to go next. It’s best to download a GPS app which allows for offline usage, with maps designed to be installed to your device.

GPS apps also include elements that may be missing from printed maps too, such as points of interest (referred to as POI) and will include such helpful data as distance travelled, current time, and more.

Hiking trails might change over the years, of course, requiring maps to be updated. If you rely on printed maps, you will either have to amend outdated ones yourself or pay for a revised edition when (if) it is released. GPS apps are updated regularly, providing you with the latest routes often at no extra cost; the app may refresh its data automatically too, when connected to the internet.

There are benefits to both printed maps and GPS apps for Irish hikers with an urge to see the best trails the country has to offer. The latter are certainly the most convenient and accessible for today’s walker, especially those lacking in experience, and they make for a substantial aid to printed maps.

You may prefer to carry both: the GPS app as your primary navigational tool, the printed map as a back-up. You can switch between the two, using the app to help you understand the paper map’s design and function more easily over time.

Whichever you choose, stay safe and have fun. Hiking is an incredible way to get fit, see some of Ireland’s most beautiful sights, and build a closer connection to the world around you.

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