Gear Up: {onX Backcountry App}

This new platform from the Montana-based company features GPS technology along with approximately 650,000 miles of trails, 450,000 points of interest and 24,000 topographic maps.

Gear Up
By Courtney Johnson
Gear Up Ambassador

Brought to you by the creators of onX Hunt, one of the first digital mapping apps for hunters, onX Backcountry is onX’s third app available for Android and iOS devices and any browser. This new platform from the Montana-based company features GPS technology along with approximately 650,000 miles of trails, 450,000 points of interest (including campsites) and 24,000 topographic maps.

What sets it apart?

  • Real-time GPS tracking
  • Ability to change between 3D, satellite and topographic maps with just a tap (3D not currently available for Android)
  • Ability to download offline maps
  • Snow mode for finding winter routes, with avalanche reports and slope angle shading
  • Multiple-day weather forecasts
  • Ability to create custom waypoints
  • Ability to share routes, add photos and contribute beta for other users
  • Opportunities to discover new trails and adventures within a search area
  • Ability to see public land boundaries

How much?

Sign up for a seven-day free trial for your next adventure. The basic free app includes satellite, topo and hybrid maps. Users can save one offline map, track their trips and add unlimited waypoints. The premium membership is $30 for one year ($40 to renew after the first year) and provides access to unlimited offline maps, slope data, avalanche predictions, featured trails with photos and descriptions and guidebook-quality adventures. Future app updates will include additional trails, more detailed adventure ideas and descriptions and more.

How do I use it?

Find trails for hiking, biking, skiing or trail running within the database of 650,000 miles of trails by using the search tool. Use the GPS tracker and maps (on or offline) to plan your next route or help navigate your adventure safely from start to finish. Toggle the trail map mode from hike to snow to find winter trail routes that often differ from spring through fall routes. Snow mode allows users to see avalanche forecasts, weather forecasts and slope angle data, helping them be informed of changing conditions. The hybrid map feature combines both a topo and satellite map, allowing you to find landmarks, water sources and more.

In addition to the navigation features of the app, much of the trail and additional content comes from groups including Colorado Mountain Club and other organizations and contributors to the Adventure Project and Outdoor Project. Users can check out waypoints and photos while also getting beta on recent trail conditions, local restrictions and more from fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

Looking for a place to put in your SUP for a recovery day after a huge hike? Want to know what dispersed camping sites are close or for a place to enjoy a beer after a day of epic adventure? This is just another feature of onX Backcountry. Use the magnifying glass in the right-hand corner and type in keywords like beer, campground and more. You can even share routes with friends by tapping on the blue route line, going to the bottom of the screen and tapping Share.

Courtney’s insight:

I gave the app a first test on a hike with my daughter to St. Mary’s Glacier. I downloaded the map ahead of time to test the offline map mode. In offline mode, I could track our route by comparing our track to other users’ and kept track of our overall hike time and mileage. The app was simple to use, and the route map included other user waypoints and info along with an established hike route. I added a few waypoints to our track to help other hikers see the exact route we took, since there are a few ways you can hike up to the glacier and back to the trailhead. After our visit to the glacier, I opened up my Gmail to discover an email congratulating me on downloading my first offline map. I thought that was a nice touch.

I think the app is fairly easy to use once you familiarize yourself with it. One great thing about the company is its customer service. With just a phone call or email, you can get in touch with someone if you have issues using the app. They also have quick tips when you open the app on how to take advantage of the application features. A few times a month, they send out an email to make sure you are taking advantage of all the benefits the app has for users.

I have continued to use the app on subsequent hikes across the state of Colorado. The GPS tracker is reliable, with hike data similar to what you would find with online searches and other GPS tracking apps. The hybrid mode is my favorite map mode as it combines both topo and satellite map data. I am not a strong map reader, despite all my time in the mountains. I was able to clearly tell where important markers and landmarks were while using the app, as well as see natural features along the trail, from lakes to cliffs.

I love having the ability to search for a recreation area or for an adventure and see the current weather forecast. With just a click on the current temp, you can see future weather, including wind speed, barometric pressure and precipitation. It’s amazing to not have to toggle over to a weather app to have real-time weather info at your fingertips. This feature has been helpful in planning our summer adventures.

Beyond using it for hikes, I also used it to search for an outdoor store close by to grab stickers for my Yeti cooler. The app came in handy when my husband realized he forgot to pack the SUP pump on a trip to Aspen. He found an outdoors store with SUP rentals close to our base camp for the weekend to get his board inflated. My pooch and I have found some more dog-friendly routes close to home, as well.

After using the app for a few months, I found there are some features that would make the app more user-friendly. A great addition would be a search feature allowing users to find hiking or ski trails within a geographic area by desired mileage and elevation gain. It can be a bit cumbersome to search for new hikes that fit your desired criteria, especially in areas you aren’t familiar with. By not having to click on each specific hike to see the difficulty rating and additional info, it would make finding the information you want quicker and easier.

Also, the ability to see current elevation/elevation gain near the time and mileage tracking data would be an addition I would personally like to see in future updates to the hybrid map. For those without strong map-reading skills, this takes out the guesswork while using the topo and hybrid map modes. For backpackers and hikers who may want to do only portions of a trail, you currently cannot click on a track for trail segments. You can see full mileage, but you cannot click from one point to another point along a trail route to see the mileage between the points.

I look forward to using the app throughout the fall to find great leaf-peeping hikes and mountain bike trails, and backcountry ski and snowshoe routes in the winter. It will be much easier to see property lines and what is in bounds with the app once snow covers the terrain. If you are looking for new places to adventure safely, the onX Backcountry app should be a resource you use when heading out to explore.

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