Trail Maps by National Geographic can guide your way without an Internet connection

by Kathryn Swartz

Smart hikers, or even just those with poor directional sensibilities, might be interested in the new nav app for iPhone and iPod Touch, Trail Maps by National Geographic. I was interested in the idea of being able to access maps without an Internet connection, but was unsure that $3 made for a smart buy. After giving Trail Maps by National Geographic a look, my opinion solidly landed with “well, it’s OK, I guess.”

No, hardly a rave review, but it’s hard to get excited over a map app when the native Maps app already does a good job. The major benefit of Trail Maps by National Geographic is that you can download high-resolution files for offline use, perfect for camping, hiking or myriad other instances where your Wi-Fi or 3G signals might be nonexistent. That’s cool, but it’ll take some work to get these installed. For starters, areas are divided into individuals segments, so you’ll need to download a map for each quadrant if your trip isn’t contained in an immediate area. Second, each of these files is upward of 100 MB, so you’ll need to plan well ahead and download these at home with a ridiculously strong Wi-Fi connection. Only 3G available? Forget about it.

Trail Maps by National Geographic offers plenty of tracking functions, such as route mapping, a trip computer, waypoint marking, a compass and a breadcrumb trail. These are all useful functions, but most only work with a network connection. Sort of defeats the purpose of an app that offers offline functionality. I do like that both terrain and aerial (provided by Bing) maps are available, but I found that they were out of date by a few years, at least in western Missouri. Not ideal.

Aside from Trail Maps’ questionable user-friendliness, I experienced quite a bit of crashing along with map timeouts and page freezes. The app felt unstable, which would make me apprehensive to trust it out in the wild.

Download the free Appolicious iPhone app