Over the summer, I thru-hiked the Great Divide Trail of Canada.
Over six-hundred miles of scenes of enchantment. Grizzlies roamed, wolves howled, and the glaciers, lakes, and alpine terrain of the Canadian Rockies entranced.
The GDT also marked my first lettered route since 2009. More of a re-immersion into the thru-hiker culture by walking than the lonelier and off-the-radar walk I did in Utah in the Fall of 2017.
On the GDT I used trail specific maps, had excellent resources tailored for the walk, and had a trail-specific app.
The app works on both Android and iOS platforms. I’ll be looking at the Android version.
The app itself is best known for helping to solve the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot factor on the longer trails. As with other navigational apps, maps are downloaded ahead of time and works with the GPS built into the smart device. No cellular network needed.
A hiker can easily see where they are on a map at any given time using the Canadian topo maps. As you can see from my screenshot, the main GDT is drawn in along with popular alternate routes.
I did not find navigation to be overly difficult on the GDT. More macro than micro navigation overall. But this WTF helpful aspect came in handy during the road walks around Coleman with its myriad of dirt road and snowmobile tracks.
The other area where I found the app to be particularly useful is in blowdown areas or meadows when the trail is easily lost.
I’d find the track on the app and use a simple baseplate compass to get back to the faint trail. Even a faint path ended up being easier to hike than navigating through blowdowns or ‘schwacking through willows. A combo of the old and the new technology working well together.
Along with the usual navigation aids, a favorite feature of the app is the profile maps. A hiker can see at a glance what climbs are up ahead of the trail so a hiker can plan their day accordingly. I must confess I rarely if ever, use this feature as I incline to plan my day using contour lines vs. a profile map. But, the more natural visual of the profile maps is an undeniably popular feature popular with many. Profile maps have been popular with print maps for decades, after all.
The features I found unexpectedly useful are the built-in guidebook like features. Based on the distance from GDT guidebooks and other sources, such info as water, potential campsites, and other features are listed in a traditional trail specific databook-like form.
Especially useful is what is essentially a guidebook built into the app itself. Written by the very experienced GDT backpacker River Taig, the app presents many detailed notes about the campsites, route, points of interest, alt route info, and even some permit and resupply info built into the app. A hiker can also download photos for a particular spot if need be, too. These photos do take longer to download and use space on the device, of course.
I found the user interface of the app to be intuitive and easy to navigate. Both at home to procure the appropriate resources and in the field when I needed to look up information or find where I am located on the map.
Is the Atlas Guide GDT app necessary to hike the GDT, or any trail or route? Of course not.
But the app does make things easier concerning both navigation and the need for taking a traditional print guidebook. An app is simply a tool, and a modern outdoors person makes use of and carries the tools that are most effective for their use.
Which brings up another point, the app complements and does not supplement, traditional map and compass use. Electronics can fail, “things” happen, and the GDT, in particular, is not a trail to just blindly follow a GPS track.
A modern outdoors person should know how to use a GPS and GPS enabled device to navigate in the backcountry. But the same outdoors person must know how to read a map (be it electronic or print form) and use a compass.
If I no longer had access to a guidebook or databook, I’d be OK on any trail. Lose my maps? That’s another story.
As Atlas Guides also state!:
But as an adjunct to other navigation aids, the GDT app ended up being a useful tool in my GDT gear kit.
Overall view: I found the Atlas Guides GDT app to be a useful tool for not just navigating on the GDT, but also as a very helpful “in the field” databook and guidebook. For $25 CDN (or roughly $19 in US dollars as of Oct 2018) for the complete package, a very affordable and useful tool for any GDT hiker. For other popular routes or trails, I’ll be sure to use an Atlas Guides app again!
Disclosure: Atlas Guides provided the GDT app to me at no cost.