A good alternative to Google Maps for hiking and cycling in wooded and mountainous areas
October 29, 2023
In recent months, I have become involved in hiking – walking along routes, trails in wooded and mountainous areas.
From an orientation point of view, hiking routes can be quite obvious – the only clearly visible trail that leads from the beginning of the route to its end. In such cases, there is no need for terrain orientation.
But my routes (which I will talk about in upcoming articles) take place in the mountainous jungle with a labyrinth of paths. Quite often you have to walk along new paths; the length of such walks can exceed 10-15 km; the route itself includes climbing, although not very high, but still mountains. In such conditions, you don’t want to get lost and spend the night in a tropical forest after you’re completely exhausted.
In such cases, a mobile phone with a mapping application, in other words, with a map, comes to the rescue. For me, that app is usually Google Maps – a detailed and up-to-date map in a stable app with lots of extra features. For orientation in a new city or a new country, Google Maps is very suitable.
But once I got on the mountain trail, I had to come to terms with the fact that Google Maps is completely useless in this situation, at least in my country.
This is a screenshot from Google Maps – it looks like it's some kind of desert:
Switching to the satellite map did not change the situation much – almost nothing is visible.
Adding Terrain data gives a hint that there are small mountains here.
That's all. But here is a Reservation Park with hiking trails. Judging by Google Maps, there are no roads or trails here, but I’ve already walked about 100 km here!
AllTrails is a specialized app for hiking and trekking that I didn't like
There is a website and corresponding AllTrails application. There are a large number of hiking routes there. From my quick glance, for the places I know, I can say that not all routes are neat.
Overall, AllTrails is not quite what I was looking for. I need a trail map that I can use without a paid subscription.
OpenStreetMap is a great app for hiking and cycling with a detailed free map of mountain and forest trails and roads
OpenStreetMap maps are popular – some GPS navigation programs use these open maps.
OpenStreetMap has a large following and a large community of enthusiasts who add and keep maps up to date.
Let's return to the mountain jungle, for which Google Maps could not show trails; in OpenStreetMap this section of the earth's surface looks like this:
That is, OpenStreetMap indicates small mountain and forest roads that are suitable for cycling and/or walking.
OpenStreetMap application. How to install OpenStreetMap on Android
OpenStreetMap does not have a mobile app. At first glance, this may seem a little unusual in this day and age. But the explanation is simple: OpenStreetMap works great in any web browser, including a mobile phone.
On your phone, you can create a shortcut to https://openstreetmap.org/ and launch it as if you were launching an application. But you can even install OpenStreetMap as an application – even though you won't find OpenStreetMap installation files on Google Play.
To install OpenStreetMap you need to do the following:
1. Open the website https://openstreetmap.org/ in your web browser
2. Go to your web browser settings by clicking on the button with three vertical dots.
3. In the menu that opens, select “Install application”.
4. Confirm the installation of OpenStreetMap.
You will see a message indicating that OpenStreetMap is being installed.
A similar notification will appear in the notification shade.
5. Wait for the installation to complete. An OpenStreetMap shortcut will appear in the list of applications.
6. If desired, you can add an OpenStreetMap shortcut to your home screen.
How is installing an application in a web browser different from opening the OpenStreetMap website using a shortcut? There are no fundamental differences; you will still need Internet access to use OpenStreetMap. Setting permissions will vary slightly – after installation, permissions can be configured in the Android application settings, rather than in the sites settings in the web browser.
In general, there is not much difference whether you use OpenStreetMap in a web browser or install it as an application.
By the way: did you know that many “mobile apps” are actually web apps or just links to websites. This even applies to some games. As a rule, such applications do not work if the phone does not have Internet access.
How to use OpenStreetMap
Whether you have installed the OpenStreetMap app or opened https://openstreetmap.org/, using OpenStreetMap is the same.
To change the scale of the map, place two fingers on the map and move them closer or further away – this will lead to a decrease and increase in scale, that is, “zooming in” and “zooming out” the map.
To move around the map, touch it and move your finger in the desired direction.
If you are using OpenStreetMap on a computer, then use the mouse wheel to change the scale of the map. And to move around the map, left-click and move the cursor in the desired direction. You can also use the cursor keys on your keyboard to move around the map. And to change the scale of the map, you can use the buttons, which will be discussed below.
On the right side of the screen you will see buttons with which you can change map settings and access additional functions.
1 – This button opens a search window for geographic objects, as well as access to the route building and GPS navigation functions.
2 and 3 – Zoom In and Zoom Out – changing the map scale, that is, zooming in and out of the map.
4 – Show my location – shows your location on the map.
5 – Layers – selecting a map layer – more about them below.
6 – Map Key – that is, an explanation of the symbols on the map. The symbols differ for different layers. Some layers have more symbols than others, and for some layers there is no list of symbols.
7 – Share – Create a link to a selected geographic location
8 – Adding a mark to the map
9 – Obtaining information about the selected object on the map.
For details, see the article: OpenStreetMap – Great detailed maps and GPS navigation app
How to view trails and small paths for walking and biking in OpenStreetMap
If you are already familiar with Google Maps, then you probably know that you can change the map view, choosing between: standard view, satellite view, terrain display and some other additional layers.
OpenStreetMap doesn't have a satellite view, but it does have several layer options, some of which differ in content and some of which seem to differ only in appearance.
To go to the selection of layers, press button 5 – Layers.
The following layers are available:
- Standard – the default view, contains information about bicycle tracks and paths in rough terrain, but the paths on the map are barely visible.
- CyclOSM – has data on bike paths and walking paths, with bike paths highlighted very clearly. There is information about the landscape indicating the height of the mountains. Landscape lines can often be confused with roads.
- Cycle Map – data on bicycle paths and trails in forests is highlighted more clearly than in Standard. Cycling tracks and trails differ from each other only in color – cycling trails are blue, walking trails are red. There are data on the landscape without indicating the height of the mountains. Landscape lines are more difficult to confuse with roads, but this is also a danger.
- Transport Map – no data on forest roads and trails.
- Tracestrack Topo – there are forest cycling and hiking trails, which are marked rather dimly on the map. There are also landscape data including elevations. Landscape lines are sometimes brighter than trail markers, sometimes just as faded.
- ÖPNVKarte – all trails are marked the same, there is no information about the landscape.
- Humanitarian – there is information about the trails, but they are barely visible on the map.
So, to see forest and mountain paths, select one of the following layers:
- Cycle Map
- Tracestrack Topo
Apparently, except for the color intensity, these layers do not differ in data, that is, the same paths are marked on them.
You can choose the type of map that suits you best.
I mention information about the terrain for a reason – sometimes I specifically chose routes through mountain peaks, and sometimes I tried to avoid them, on the contrary.
It is also not without reason that I mention the danger of confusing trails with relief symbols – after you cross a couple of mountain peaks, the body begins to save energy and gradually turns off the most energy-consuming organ, namely the brain. And the way you see the map in a cozy chair under the coolness of the air conditioner differs from the way you will see the map after the first ten kilometers traveled through the mountain jungle.
How to check if a trail still exists in OpenStreetMap
A mountain path, and especially a forest path, is not something permanent and unchanging. For example, the path along the trail may be blocked by a fallen tree, and in this case the path changes its route. Depending on the terrain, the detour can be in the form of a small or quite large loop.
Sometimes when planning a route, we rely on trails that have not existed for a long time. Walking 10 km through mountainous forested terrain and discovering that the next stage of the route simply does not exist is a rather unpleasant discovery.
You can use OpenStreetMap to check if anyone is walking on the mountain road you're interested in.
Click button 5 – Layers and check the “Public GPS Traces” checkbox.
Return to the map.
Colored lines will now be superimposed on the path map.
If there are no public GPS routes for a trail, then the trail most likely has not existed for a long time.
I searched in vain several times for the path that I marked with a red oval. There are no public GPS routes for it because the trail itself no longer exists.
Another example – it would seem, what could go wrong when planning a route along mountain trails?
It turns out the trails called “Buffalo” and “Trail D” no longer exist.
This method may not be 100% guaranteed, but if there are no “Public GPS Traces” for any trail, then this is a very serious signal that you need to prepare a plan B in case it turns out that the trail does not exist.
In subsequent articles I will talk about my favorite hiking trails, and I will refer to this article as an app with maps of forest and mountain trails.
OpenStreetMap also has the function of constructing routes, GPS navigation, searching for geographical objects and displaying detailed information about them. For more information about this, see the article: OpenStreetMap – Great detailed maps and GPS navigation app
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