Walk The Distance is the kind of app that will motivate a very specific type of person to get off the couch and get some exercise. Instead of making you walk towards escape from zombies or catching Pokémon, it lets you virtually hike long-distance trails like the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), perfect for those of us who don’t mind our local trails but want something a little more scenic. .
For every mile you walk home, you can see a little icon with your image moving across a map, weaving your way between famous landmarks like Springer Mountain in Georgia or Kennedy Meadows at the base of the Sierra Nevada. And as you reach certain points, Walk The Distance will give you images and data about them. It is, in a way, a bit like playing The Oregon Trail, except instead of sitting in front of a computer, you’re getting some exercise. (It is worth noting that there are actually an official Oregon Trail app which does something similar if you prefer to take a more historical trip).
In the time I’ve used it, I’ve enjoyed coming home from a hike and looking at the app to see what landmarks I passed virtually. The descriptions he gives you are short and sweet, explaining things like the weather or scenery in a certain place or going over certain aspects of what it’s like to walk the trail, but for me the photography makes them worth checking out each time. . I also found myself looking at the map ahead and planning how far my next hike would be; when I read the description for Hawk Mountain Shelter that says the next stop is about seven miles away, I used AllTrails (another great app) to find an eight mile hike nearby.
In theory, all my short walks will add up to many thousands of miles, and I will have completed the AT version of Walk The Distance. The app also offers a variety of shorter hikes through various national parks and towns if you want to start with a slightly less intimidating goal.
Let me get this out of the way real quick now that you’ve seen a screenshot: I don’t think Walk The Distance is an attractive app. In fact, I think it’s honestly a bit ugly. However, if you can look beyond that, the app’s functionality is pretty solid: you can see where you are on the trail relative to other users walking it virtually, browse through your walking history to see how many miles Checked in each day, and revisit points of interest you’ve already passed. There is also a full backpack setting that allows you to customize much of the experience.
There’s even a social element to Walk The Distance, although I can’t say I’ve played with it much. In addition to all the users publicly broadcasting their progress, you can also add friends to go along the way, and the app has a mode that only shows you where you and your friends are along the way. (If developers are looking for some free advice, it shouldn’t be the “friends” section, it should be the “tramily” section, after the trail and family acronym which is used in the hiking community. It would be a nice theme to go along with the fact that the app allows you to choose a “path name” instead of a display name).
Also, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I appreciate Walk The Distance’s pricing structure. It gives you a lot of flexibility on how or if you want to pay for the app. You can do the first part or two of the big hikes for free, then pay to unlock the rest. Unlocking the entire AT costs $4.99 and unlocking the PCT costs $9.99. Some of the national parks and city tours are free, while others cost $0.99 each.
However, if you don’t want to pay for things in chunks, there’s a $2.99/month/$29.99/year subscription that gets you all the walks for free and unlocks syncing with Fitbit or Garmin. Syncing with Apple Health or Google Fit is free (and since I use another app to sync my Fitbit data with Apple’s system, Walk The Distance collects that data).
So far, I haven’t gotten to the point where I need to start paying; for the AT, which is about 155 miles in. When I do though, I plan on buying at least that trail. REI, an outdoor gear company, estimates that hiking the Appalachian Trail costs around $6,000so I’m really getting by doing it for five bucks.
Of course, the Walk The Distance form of motivation won’t work for everyone because not everyone is a huge hiking nerd. However, for those of us for whom it works, getting to the next virtual haven may just be the motivation we need to get off the couch and get out for a bit. Personally, I’m looking forward to making significant progress on my virtual Appalachian Trail trip later this summer when I head out for a hike on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail because that’s the kind of thing I find deeply amusing.
Walk The Distance is available for free at the app store Y google play store.
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