We’ve come a long way from the days when families had to rely on walky-talkies to keep track of each other on the ski slopes or hiking trails. Yes, resorts and national parks offer paper trail maps, but they can easily get lost, torn or are simply awkward to decipher, especially if you’re wearing bulky gloves or battling a headwind. And while using the map feature on your smartphone works up to a point, they may not offer the level of detail you’re looking for to be accessible in the wilderness.
Enter Avenza Maps, an in-app store that lets you download digital maps you can access from your smartphone. The app accurately tracks your GPS location on the map, plots placemarks and geotagged photos, measures distances and areas and records your GPS tracks. Avenza Maps’ in-app map store works like the iBooks or Kindle store for digital books by letting you search for and download free or inexpensive — typically less than $3 or $4 — maps for a specific region and activity.
There are about 1 million maps to choose from, basically located anywhere someone published a digital map, including National Geographic and the U.S. Forest Service, and you can use them without internet or data.
What’s especially useful are the activity-specific details like topography, trails and even campground locations and, in winter, the product works for a range of outdoor enthusiasts, including Alpine and cross-country skiers, snowshoers, snowboarders and snowmobilers. In warmer weather months, the maps can come in handy when hiking with the kids. In Yosemite, for example, parents could search within that region for trail maps, including this example of an entire Yosemite National Park Map Bundle from National Geographic.
The app download is free for iOS and Android.
Of course, emerging technology is no substitute for commonsense parental guidance when setting out on an outdoor excursion with kids. It’s important to talk to children about the importance of staying together or, in the case of older children, designate a meeting point and time. If you’re skiing, for example, make sure the kids know which base camp is your designated lunch spot, if there is more than one, and put a card with the name of your hotel in each child’s coat pocket. You would be surprised how many lost youngsters have no idea where they’re staying. Finally, ensure everyone’s phone is fully charged — there’s no point in having a great digital map if your phone dies — and even consider putting a small external charger in everyone’s pocket.