Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The A.T. Guide and Guthook Hikes App Review

For my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2015 I utilized to sets of guidebook/gps/map information. One source was AWOL's The A.T. Guide and the other was Guthook Hikes Android App. They are both very popular resources for AT hikers. I knew of AWOL from my first AT hike (we hiked the same year) and I'm friends with Guthook. Therefore both generously supplied me with their guides at no cost to me when I ordered them.

Even though I didn't end up paying, I would have been happy to. I think each product is fairly priced and an excellent value for the money. Each has their pros and cons, and I think most hikers could choose one or the other I was happy to have both. I found that they complimented one another quite well and any time there was an inaccuracy in one I could usually use the other. Depending on your resources and what you're looking for in a guide I think you'll find it in one or the other (or both).

AWOL's The A.T. Guide

This book is available in either Southbound or Northbound editions. It is also available unbound so that you can split it up and send it to yourself along the way. At first I was only going to use it for route planning at home and utilize only Guthook's App on trail, but I sent the Guide pages just in case. I was glad that I did.

Personally I like paper. It's easier to reference quickly. Also, since I don't stay in town long enough to charge my phone I seldom have it on. Using Guthooks app in the field frequently would drain the battery. Therefore I carried the Guide pages in my pocket for quick reference.

The town guide information was invaluable for planning. Unlike the PCT there are hundreds of options for resupply along the trail. The A.T. Guide simplified the planning process by including details for the main ones as well as trail angels, stores, or other possible resources outside of the main towns.

Here is a list of the main benefits to The A.T. Guide (from AWOL's website):
  • Landmarks, mileages, and elevations for the entire AT.
  • Maps for 88 towns along the trail, and listings of services available along the way.
  • Elevation Profile maps.
  • Coordinates for over 200 trailhead parking areas, so you can use your GPS to find your way to the trail.
  • Triple shelter mileages: see the distance to the next three shelters in each direction.
  • Symbols for quick identification of services.
  • Book comes with a heavy duty zip-lock bag.
  • Northbound, Southbound, and loose-leaf editions available
  • 224 pages, approx 11.6 oz.

The only drawbacks to The A.T. Guide that I feel are worth mentioning are the following:

  • In the southern part of the trail the Guide stops noting how far off trail shelters are. For most people this will not be a problem, however, I added quite a few miles to my hike because I was counting on shelter water sources only to discover the shelters were .1 or more off trail.
  • There is no true Southbound guidebook to the AT, here or anywhere:
    • There are typos and confusing waypoints in the Southbound edition. You can figure them out when you reverse them, realizing that the Southbound guide is just the Northbound guide printed in reverse with different distance columns.
    • Reliable springs, streams, etc in the mid-Atlantic and South will likely be dry. The Guide  (and Guthook's App) will tell you they are reliable, but they aren't. Because there is only northbound information repackaged for southbounders. So be forewarned.
Guthook Hikes Appalachian Trail App

Here are the main selling points for the Guthook App as excerpted from his site:
  • Detailed information on most major long-distance backpacking trails, with more being added each year.
  • Thousands of points of interest along the trails, ranging from water sources and campsites to views and places to visit.
  • Photos for most points of interest, so you’ll know what you’re heading for.
  • Virtual trail registers, where you can share notes with other hikers.
  • Interactive elevation profiles, so you’ll see just how difficult the climbs are.
  • Instantly updating trails and points of interest. As soon as we get info about re-routed trails or new points of interest, they’ll update on your phone.
For me the best part of the app was being able to see campsites. Since I was strictly mileage based and not staying in shelters being able to look ahead to the approximate mileage where I'd be stopping each day to see what sort of camping options were available was invaluable.

I also utilized the GPS/map features at some confusing road crossings and to determine whether I was on or off trail in a handful of confusing areas. The AT is excellently marked, but there are some places where as a Southbound hiker, you might get confused.

The three critiques I have of the app (aside from the same criticisms about water reliability mentioned above are:
  • The time it takes to locate you 
  • The battery drain
  • The amount of memory it takes up on your phone
However, I am pretty sure there are ways to use the app in airplane mode to minimize the battery drain and ways to delete files as you finish them in order to save memory. I am technologically challenged and I couldn't figure it out. Also, I was afraid to mess with it too much in the midst of a record attempt and risk screwing it up completely. For someone on a typical hike who has more experience with phone apps and more time to fiddle with settings I bet that these won't be a problem.

In short, both products are excellent. I'd use them again. And I recommend them to anyone planning a section or thru-hike on the AT.

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