Best apps for never getting lost when you’re out walking or riding

Windy Maps is an app made in Prague but equally at home in Pickering.
Windy Maps is an app made in Prague but equally at home in Pickering.
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For many of us, Google Maps has become the first and only recourse when we need to find our way around. There are two obvious reasons: the service is extremely good and it’s free.

Google now covers public transport as well as driving, and it will give you fairly decent walking directions, too - so long as you stick to named roads.

But it’s less good when you want to get off the beaten track. Many footpaths and public rights of way appear only on Ordnance Survey-grade maps, and while OS itself offers a suite of apps you can take with you on your phone, they are not cheap.

However, there are plenty of other ways to use your phone to explore Yorkshire’s vast hinterland, without additional cost. Even free apps can make use of your handset’s satellite navigation and compass, and will work whether or not there is a mobile signal while you’re out.

Windy Maps is an app made in Prague but equally at home in Pickering. It uses publicly-available mapping data, rather than proprietary information from OS, but contains more or less the same level of detail, with footpaths, cycle routes and bridleways all clearly marked. You can zoom in and out fluidly and locate your current position with a single touch.

Full functionality requires that you download maps to your phone, and the one for the whole of Yorkshire - one of nine English regions - occupies 136 megabytes of space on your phone. That’s a fair chunk of space but you can choose to use an SD card, rather than your internal memory, for storage. Other maps can be installed and removed as necessary. Once installed, you don’t need an active internet connection, either for directions or to search its database of hotels, cafes and other amenities. In this respect, it functions like the standalone sat nav in your car.

Unlike many apps, Windy Maps doesn’t nag you to buy optional add-ons; such functionality is has is free. But it has limitations: it doesn’t plot your mileage as you walk or ride, and there are no layers of satellite mapping. However, for avoiding getting lost it’s second to none.

ViewRanger, for Android and Apple phones and compatible smartwatches, is a much more accomplished app, offering terrain, satellite and even virtual reality mapping, which involves overlaying a picture of the view before you with labels. You can also use it with official OS maps, but you have to subscribe to do that. It’s particularly good at recording your tracks and offering up route suggestions from other users, and its latest version includes seamless offline storage.

E-Walk Free is another option for the casual hiker or cyclist, with a choice of base maps and overlays, and the ability to log your movements. There’s no charge but there are adverts.

If you like to take photographs as you travel, you might also consider Geotag Photos Pro, which records your satellite location at regular intervals and saves the information to a file that can be recognised by photo editing software and then embedded into the pictures. However, the mapping itself is basic Google.

For casual users especially, a modern phone, provided it’s fully charged, really does do away with the need for a paper map and a compass. It’s better informed, more up-to-date and, of course, interactive. As the walking season begins, it’s an ideal time to experiment.