I like using AllTrails for navigation (w/ topo and compass as backup), and mostly for review, but most of the people using that app are hikers, not backpackers. It's difficult to find feedback on AllTrails that helps with picking a good trail while getting reviews about incorrect signage, good/bad camping spots, water sources, etc. Is there a better app to use for backpackers?
I use All Trails for finding nice day hikes near me but there’s no way I’d trust it in the back country. I’ve had too many issues with its accuracy.
I have the premium version of Gaia so I can print topo maps. Still figuring out all the features of it.
I still operate in "pre app" mode - eyeball a topo map, looking for interesting features, likely looking camp sites (typically near a stream with water and level ground). If I know someone with prior experience I will see what they know.
Then just go out and see for your self....it's called exploration. Never had any significant problems that i can recall.
Thanks for the input. I also take a topo with me and study the trail well before I leave, but last year I had a crash and burn on a meadow that looked great but had cow patties every few feet. We were exhausted so we stayed there anyway, but found through other hikers that those 50 cows were there all the time. I would have picked a different meadow had others said anything. Dried up water sources and loads of cow poop don't show on topo maps.
I do the same topo exploration as hikermor, but with a tech twist. I use the free Avenza app. You can download USGS quad topos and many others for free, or pay for maps such as the Trails Illustrated series. On Avenza you can plot your course and record tracks. I always carry a paper map, too, however. I don’t trust the batteries of a phone, especially in cold, and it’s always cold at 13,000’.
Guthook seems to be the most informed thus far. It would be great to create a website with maps and user updates from hikers, backpackers, etc.. that provided an up-to-date review of a trail with live weather. Even a trail like the Appalachian Trail (AT) most people use both Guthook and AWOL's guide....calling all you web design hikers...heres an opportunity....
For planning I use CalTopo.com, information from the management agency that manages the area and whatever I can find on line from places like AllTrails. CalTopo has multiple alternative map and satellite layers and tracks for many trails which you can use to create, modify and convert to gps routes to export. There is a phone app but it requires a subscription to use "offline" and I'm not sure if it "navigates".
Generally I use a printed map for actually "navigating". You can get CalTopo to print maps although where I have gone there is usually a National Geographic printed map which are updated every few years and show the various established trails and I find those to be the most convenient.
I believe gaiagps.com has a connection to the National Geographic printed maps also allowing you to get the same maps on your phone.
I have not used it personally, but Guthooks is good if you doing a section hike of certain long trails because it had an active trial report from people using the trail which you can participate in.