Hiiker App Review

Screen shot: Map of the coast with a blue line for the trail and an elevation profile
Hiiker’s main screen for the OCT, showing the route and elevation profile.

The Oregon Coast trail is now available in an app, with the full trail route available for offline navigation!

I’ve used the popular Guthook app on the Pacific Crest Trail. It combines trail maps with hiker information like water sources and camping sites. It’s used by most PCT hikers, who add to it by posting notes as they go with the latest trail conditions. But Guthook does not include the Oregon Coast Trail in its map collection and has no plans to add it.

In the meantime, a competitor has cropped up: an app called Hiiker. It doesn’t have the extensive user base of Guthook, so not much in the way of trail notes so far. But it does have the Oregon Coast Trail. I dove in and took a look.

What is in the free version?

  • Online access only
  • An end-to-end trail map. The route it takes is pretty much the official route from the Oregon Parks Department. At 401 miles, it’s a long route. That’s because it assumes the only charter is the “sure thing” crossing of the Nehalem River.
  • Waypoints for accommodation and amenities
  • One map layer (a basic topo map)
  • Elevation profiles for the trail showing where I am on the elevation (How much farther is it to the top of this headland I’m climbing?)
  • I can adjust my walking pace, and the app adjusts the hiking times for trail segments accordingly. The default is one hour for every 3 miles forward, plus an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of ascent (Naismith’s rule).

What do I get if I pay for the premium version? ($29/year, though I can get just the OCT for $9.99 with slightly reduced features). The main thing is offline functionality, but here is the full feature list:

  • I can view the trail in stages, with each day ending at a town for camping or lodging. The default stages are for a 32-day hike. I can also set up custom stages to match my planned itinerary and view their mileage, elevation profile, and estimated hiking time.
Screen shot showing custom hike stages
My custom itinerary: created by entering my motels as custom markers
  • Spur routes and alternate routes.
  • Measurement tool: If I click on two points it gives me the mileage, elevation gain, and estimated hiking time for the route (adjusted for my hiking pace). I can see using this to estimate when I will get to a headland or inlet for comparing against the tide tables.
  • Printable maps: One page for each stage of my itinerary.
  • Points of interest along the trail: Many lack descriptions, but at least there’s an indicator for something nearby. For example, there’s a marker for the side-trail that leads to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse viewpoint.
  • More map layers, including a satellite layer that’s pretty useful on the OCT.
  • Two of the map layers can be downloaded for offline use: the waymarked trail and an OSM Outdoors layer (open-source street maps with elevation contours). The images below show the trail layer (l) and the OSM layer (r). The OSM layer adds several smaller roads and trails.

What do I like about this app?

  • Simplicity: the entire trail in one place
  • Elevation gains and predicted hiking times for each stage of my custom itinerary
  • Ability to project arrival time at a point or inlet (tides)
  • Hiiker encourages posting comments to improve their trail information
  • It covers other trails I want to do: PCT sections in Oregon and Washington, Timberline Loop, Columbia Gorge, etc.
  • The trails are worldwide, so once I can travel again, I can use Hiiker for the Pennine Way (UK) and Te Araroa (NZ)
  • Tutorial on how to use the app
  • Very responsive developer.

What don’t I like?

  • The best features are in the paid version (fair enough)
  • It’s a “safe” OCT route. More road walking, but easier to navigate.
    • It road walks around Ecola State Park (maybe there were trail closures at the time the track was generated?).
    • It road walks from Oceanside to Netarts, but it’s possible to walk the beach there at most tide levels.
  • It includes some routes that may be impassible or closed:
    • It assumes the inlet of Sand Lake can be crossed, but this is only true with a very low summer tide.
    • The Cascade Head route includes a section of trail that is closed Jan-July.
  • Few alternate or spur routes are provided. I wish it had more spurs like Bob Straub and Bayocean Spit, and more alternates like Cascade Head and charter boat options.
  • Few users so far for this trail, so
    • No recent updates (like the closed trail at Neahkahnie Mountain)
    • Incomplete waypoints for water sources.
    • No waypoints yet added for shops and restaurants
    • No information about charters for water crossings
    • No warning notes about risky spots affected by tides
    • I will add notes and submit new waypoints as I go. I hope others will do the same.
  • It’s not easy to add notes or comments.
    • Comments can only be added to an existing “location”. The current set of locations on the OCT are pretty limited: campsites, historic viewpoints, shops. If I want to comment about a tricky spot on the trail, the nearest existing location might be 5 miles away.
    • The workaround is to add a new location and then add your comment. For example, to add a comment about a charter you have to first add a new “transportation” location for the charter. I’ve added the first charter at Nehalem Bay to the app. The trail in the map shows a line crossing the river at a place where you’d have to swim a half mile through current. I’ve shown where the charter crossing is and how to use it.
    • Locations have to fit a pre-defined “type”. There are no categories that fit for alternate routes or adverse trail conditions. Ideally there would be a “trail junction” type that you could use to suggest alternate routes, warn about tides, or report washed out trails. For example, there’s a good alternate over Cape Meares, but I can’t figure out how to mark the turnoff. If you select the “other” category, the marker that shows up is a tent. I don’t want people to think they can camp at the junction.
  • The two layers I can download are not as detailed as I’d like. For wilderness navigation, I’d want offline access to USGS and satellite map layers. The Garmin and Gaia apps have these layers available for download.

Bottom line: The free version is definitely worth a download. I bought a membership so I could evaluate the app on the trail and write this blog. I’ve seen enough to decide I will keep it and renew my membership next year.

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