The hidden dangers of using mobile hiking apps when hiking alone

A Metro rescue helicopter airlifts an inujured hiker off Lions Head. Picture Leon Knipe.

A Metro rescue helicopter airlifts an inujured hiker off Lions Head. Picture Leon Knipe.

Published Jul 11, 2024


Solo hiking has grown increasingly popular with the introduction of mobile apps.

The apps offer features such as trail maps, real-time weather updates, and social media sharing capabilities, making hiking trails more accessible and safer.

However, relying solely on these apps when hiking alone can present significant risks.

Over-reliance on technology

One of the primary dangers of using mobile hiking apps is the potential for over-reliance on technology. Many hikers trust their apps to guide them through unfamiliar terrain, sometimes at the expense of traditional navigation skills.

This can be problematic if the app malfunctions, the phone loses signal, or the battery dies.

False sense of security

Mobile apps can give hikers a false sense of security. Features such as GPS tracking and emergency alerts may make solo hikers feel safer, leading them to undertake more challenging routes than they would otherwise consider.

This can result in dangerous situations, especially if the hiker encounters unexpected weather changes or difficult terrain.

In one notable incident, several tourists hiking above Camps Bay required emergency assistance after underestimating the difficulty of the trail and overestimating their preparedness.

Battery and connectivity issues

The functionality of hiking apps is heavily dependent on the availability of a stable internet connection and sufficient battery life. In remote areas, network coverage can be sporadic or non-existent, rendering the app's features useless.

Additionally, the continuous use of GPS and other app functions can drain a phone’s battery quickly, leaving the hiker without a means to call for help in an emergency.

Limited information and misleading data

While hiking apps provide valuable information, they can also be a source of misleading data. User-generated content, which many of these apps rely on, can vary in accuracy.

Trail conditions, difficulty levels, and weather forecasts might not always be up-to-date or precise. Hikers relying on such data can find themselves unprepared for the actual conditions on the ground, leading to potentially hazardous situations..

Recommendations for safe hiking

To avoid these risks, here are some recommendations for those planning to use mobile apps while hiking:

1. Carry a physical map and, if possible a compass or backup for navigation.

2. Ensure your phone has adequate battery life. Carry a power bank and ensure your phone is fully charged before setting out.

3. Learn basic navigation skills. Understanding how to read a map and use a compass can be lifesaving.

4. Check the weather conditions. Always verify the weather forecast from multiple sources before heading out.

5. Inform someone of your plans. Let a friend or family member know your hiking route and expected return time.

6. Join group hikes. Whenever possible, hike with a group rather than alone.

By taking these precautions, hikers can enjoy the benefits of modern technology while staying safe and prepared for any challenges they might encounter on the trails.

IOL Travel