Map Apps

A review of the best Map Apps to keep you on the right path

Posted by James Anderton on August 5th, 2019

I quite enjoy getting lost. Many a time I've sat by the side of the road and reveled in the thought that I have no idea where I am. I mean how often in life do we not know where we are. I sit there humbly with a blank look on my face wondering which way I should go and whether it really matters. Then the novelty wears off and I reach for my phone. Fortunately (or unfortunately) it's quite difficult to get lost these days. Unless your phone runs out of battery that is. There are an abundance of map apps out there that will keep you on the path you wish to travel but it's what else they offer that draws me in. Where can I find water, where can I find food, just how big is that climb. A good map app can also offer invaluable clues as to where I should try and camp that night. I won't review all the apps out there. There are too many and I haven't used them all. I will go through the pros and cons of some of the more popular map apps that I've tried on my cycles.


Maps.Me

maps me map app

Android/iOS

Free

103 MB Android/158 MB iOS

Maps.Me has been my map app of choice for my last couple of cycle tours. It is the most polished offline GPS navigation app out there using free geographic data provided by the OpenStreetMap initiative. It has been downloaded by over 50 million users and translated into virtually all major languages. The app comes with turn-by-turn navigation, bookmarks, points of interest, location sharing, and social network integration. The current version enjoys an impressive rating of 5 out of 5 stars.

Pros

It is free. There isn't even a paid version. You get full features and capabilities totally free. Every single day the maps are updated by millions of contributors. You can update the maps yourself providing valuable information for future cyclists. It is excellent for mapping cycle routes providing handy elevation information for the road ahead. Crucial when you are trying to get as low as possible to camp in cold weather or when you are trying to get as high as possible to camp in hot weather. There is a ton of useful data on where you can find water, shelter, food, ATM's, gas and hospitals if everything goes pear shaped. All maps are available to download and work perfectly offline. You can save points of interest. It has been fully integrated with Booking.com. You can book from the app if online. If you’re offline you can still see the rating and cost estimate of most hotels. You can import KML files downloaded from other sources. This lets you follow a route that someone else has created and tracked. Apparently the turn-by-turn directions are excellent as well although I confess I don't use them. I like the way Maps.Me shows seasonal water sources with a dotted line. This way I know I can't rely on that water source up ahead if it's the dry season.

Cons

Some of the cycle routes it comes up with are quite bizarre to say the least. It seems to think that all cyclists want to go around the houses at all times. The cycle routes will always chose a dirt road over a paved one which might not be what you want. You can't drag the route onto a preferred option. It can take a while to re-route after a wrong turn. Trying to map a cycle route over 100km can also take a long time to load and drains the battery. Also, when in remote countries in the world there are a lot of back roads missing but this is more down to data gaps in OSM and not really the fault of Maps.Me.

the maps.me interface

Komoot

komoot map app

Android/iOS

Free version and paid version

181.2MB

Komoot (small 'k') has the most powerful routing algorithms of any of the apps in this list. Like Maps.Me it also uses OpenStreetMap to calculate an optimal route (via any number of points) for road cycling, touring, or mountain biking. It's reputation has grown over the last couple of years and as a result so has it's market share.

Pros

It is excellent for off roading. As well as having the back roads we cyclists love it also has a whole host of trails that you can follow if you feel like adding a level of adventure to your cycle. So if you like to mix up your cycling like I do then Komoot is a good choice. There is an excellent level of detail included in your route. Type of surface, gradients along the way as well as the average time required to complete when you adjust the fitness levels. There are also some excellent 'local' tips. Komoot has implemented a Pioneer initiative for local experts to upload their knowledge. You can get tried and trusted recommendations of possible routes. If you like being talked to by your phone then the voice navigation is the best out there. Komoot can also be synced with most bike computers and Garmin devices.

Cons

Whilst komoot is free to download and use there are costs if you want to make the most of what the app has to offer. The first of the regional offline basemaps you choose to download is free but from then on maps are chargeable at £3.99 each. World cyclists might prefer to buy the complete package (£29.99) which covers the whole globe for a one-off purchase. The re-routing is poor if you go off-route. The easiest thing is to start a new route. The map design is a bit clunky compared to Maps.Me and Google Maps. It's not as immediately easy to use as other map apps. Takes a bit of getting used to but fine once you know how.

The komoot interface

OsmAnd Maps

OsmAnd - Offline Mobile Maps and Navigation

Android/iOS

Free version and paid version

39.0MB

Also uses the OSM map database for its primary displays, but is an independent app not endorsed by the OSM Foundation. It's an excellent app that I used on my first big trip when I got fed up of getting lost. I only moved to Maps.Me to stop having to pay small amounts of money for each additional map I needed to download.

Pros

All map data can be stored on the device's memory card for offline use. GPX recording option enables you to record your trip and share it. There's an plugin where you can enable displaying contour lines and hill-shading which I find helpful. The automatic re-routing is pretty good so you don't have to spend 5 minutes by the side of the road getting yourself back on track everytime you take a wrong turn. You can also view high-definition satellite images (takes a little time to load) so you can better understand the geography of an area.

Cons

Although free to use there is a limit to seven free downloads. This will only get you so far. Fine for a couple of months but after that you will have to pay. A big country would tend to be split up into several downloads. The United States is split up by the 50 states. Smaller countries are one download. It's pretty cheap though. If you sign up for a year it's only $1/month. Going month by month is $3/month. I did find that the app would use more battery than other map apps I have used since. The search function isn't as good as on other map apps. It fully relies on the map data. Therefore you need to know the exact name as stored in the data. Not great when looking up street names in non English speaking countries. The interface isn't as user friendly as Maps.Me or Google Maps and takes a bit of getting used to.

OsmAnd map interface

Soviet Military Maps

Soviet Military map app

Android

Free

181.2MB

The apps so far reviewed all use OpenStreetMap as their base source. This is sufficient in the majority of countries in the world but what about when you are in the real back of beyond? Fortunately there is a solution from an unlikely source - the ex-USSR. During the cold war, the soviet military made a concerted effort to map the entire world, in high resolution and in a variety of scales down to 1:10,000. This staggeringly ambitious project was top secret, and only became public knowledge in the West following the break-up of the USSR. You can now download many of them to use in areas where the traditional map apps don't extend. I used them a lot in Mongolia. I wouldn't say they stopped me getting lost but they definitely reduced the time I spent lost. Loadmap.net is a good site to download the maps from. It shows the available maps overlaid on Google Maps which makes it easy to identify the ones you need.

Pros

As mentioned they are excellent when in truly remote areas. I have used them in Mongolia, China and when taking roads less travelled in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. I've heard they are also extremely useful when travelling in parts of Africa. The maps are very detailed and accurate. Most of the map image downloads are georeferenced. That is, they have an accompanying file that specifies the location of the map image in the real world. So, for map xxx, you get an xxx.jpg image and an xxx.map georeference calibration file. You can overlay the digital map image on Google Earth. You can load the maps into a number of mapping software programmes (for example OziExplorer) and edit them adding add trails and waypoints. The maps were produced with a uniform grid coordinate system. If you can set your GPS unit to the appropriate grid then you can use the maps with your GPS.

Cons

The resolution of some of the maps can be a little blurry. Many of the place names are in Cyrillic script. Although seeing as you only tend to use these maps in places where there aren't many place names this isn't a big problem. The maps can tend to be a little out of date. They date from the 70's and 80's but once again you will only tend to use these maps in places that don't change very much from decade to decade. Not all trails tend to be marked on the maps. I certainly found this to be the case in Mongolia.

Soviet Military Maps terrain view

Ride with GPS

ride with GPS map app

Android/iOS

Free version and paid version

94.8MB

Ride with GPS is gaining popularity in the cycle touring world. Another app that uses OSM as its source. It has a lot of cycle computer features. I tried it out for a couple of months when touring Asia in 2017.

Pros

Ride with GPS is as good as any app for tracking and sharing your rides. It is principally a tracking app and provides excellent data on speed, elevation, distance. If you enjoy analyzing your routes then this is the app for you. It is very good for planning rides. You can easily create your own cycle routes and export them in a format that suits a smartphone. You don't have to start a route from the official start route. You can join it at any point without having to adjust the route you created. The app includes a good routing algorithm, which means you can put in as few as two points on your route, and it will create a cycle-friendly route between the two. You’ll need at least 4 points to plot a circular route.

Cons

It costs to download apps. We cycle tourers need to be able to download maps for offline use. It is $6/month for an upgraded version that allows offline usage. This is expensive compared to all the other apps on this list. It tends to use a lot of battery so you would definitely need a functioning solar panel/dynamo hub set up if you were using the app daily on a long trip. Much as I like Ride with GPS and it's tracking/planning features I do feel it is more suited to day rides or a short cycle holiday than a long cycle tour.

the Ride With GPS interface


Google Maps

google-maps map app

Android/iOS

Free

221.9MB

You might have heard of Google. They are quite good at search engines. They are also quite handy at maps.

Pros

It's completely free. Always a good start. Online the terrain detail is excellent. As you would expect with Google the interface is slick, simple and easy to use. The walking and cycling route options offer up good low traffic routes that don't take you around the houses.

Cons

You can download maps in the default style for offline use but that's where the offline functionality ends. It won’t cache the terrain view You will have only a limited idea of elevation and the geography of the area you are cycling through. Nor can it store anything offline about points of interest other than their name. The offline limitations mean you could never use Google Maps as your sole map app. Also, surprisingly, Google does not have the world covered. There are many areas where it cannot calculate a cycling route or even a driving one for that matter. Not only remote areas. There are large tracts of South America that Google struggles with. I only use Google Maps when I'm online and I want to get good visual idea of what's ahead.

Google Maps terrain view

Verdict

All down to personal preference and what you are looking for. These days I use Maps.Me as my mainstay. Soviet Military Maps when I'm in remote areas and Google Maps when I'm online.