Walk The Distance is the type 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 to escape zombies or catch Pokemon, it lets you virtually hike long-distance routes like the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – perfect for those of us who don’t care about our local hiking trails but would like something a little more scenic.
For every mile you walk home, you see a little icon with your photo moving along a map, weaving its way between famous landmarks like Springer Mountain in Georgia or Kennedy Meadows at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. And when you reach certain points, Walk The Distance will give you pictures and facts about them. It’s sort of like playing The Oregon Trailexcept instead of sitting in front of a computer, you exercise. (It’s worth noting that there’s actually an official Oregon Trail app that does something similar if you’d rather take a more historical trip.)
Since using it, I’ve enjoyed coming home from a walk and watching the app to see which landmarks I’ve nearly passed. The descriptions he gives you are short and sweet, explaining things like the weather or the scenery at a certain location or going over certain aspects of what it’s like to hike the trail, but to me the photography is worth Worth checking every time. I also found myself looking at the map ahead and planning the distance of my next hike – when I read Hawk Mountain Shelter’s description that says the next stop is about seven miles away, I used AllTrails ( another great app) to find a nearby eight-mile hike.
In theory, all of my short walks will add up to several thousand miles, and I’ll have completed the AT’s 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 daunting goal.
Let me settle this very quickly now that you’ve seen a screenshot: I don’t think Walk The Distance is a nice app. In fact, I honestly think it’s a little ugly. If you can look past that, however, the app’s functionality is pretty solid – you can see where you are on the trail compared to other users walking it virtually, browse your walking history to see how much miles you’ve traveled each day, and review points of interest you’ve already passed. There’s also a whole backpack of settings that let you 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 users posting their progress publicly, you can also add friends to ride the trail with, and the app has a mode that simply shows you where you and your friends are on the trail. (If the developers are looking for free advice, this shouldn’t be the “friends” section, it should be the “tramily” section, after the portmanteau of trail and family used in the hiking community. to go along with the fact that the app lets you choose a “track name” instead of a display name.)
I also appreciate – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – Walk The Distance’s pricing structure. This gives you a lot of flexibility in how or if you want to pay for the app. You can do the first part or the first two of the Great Hikes for free, then pay to unlock the rest. Unlocking the entire AT costs $4.99 and unlocking the PCT is $9.99. A few of the national parks and city rides are free, with others costing $0.99 each.
If you don’t want to pay for the piecemeal stuff, though, there’s a $2.99 per month / $29.99 per year subscription that lets you do all the rides for free and unlocks syncing with Fitbit. or Garmin. Syncing with Apple Health or Google Fit is free (and because I use another app to sync my Fitbit data into Apple’s system, Walk The Distance picks that data up directly).
So far I haven’t reached the point where I have to start paying; for the AT, this happens at around 155 miles. When I do, however, I plan to at least buy this trail. REI, an outdoor supply company, estimates that hiking the Appalachian Trail costs around $6,000, so I really stand out by doing it for five bucks.
Of course, Walk The Distance’s form of motivation won’t work for everyone because not everyone is a big fan of hiking. For those of us for whom it works, however, getting to the next virtual hideaway may just be the motivation we need to get off the couch and get outside for a bit. Personally, I’m really looking forward to making meaningful progress on my virtual Appalachian Trail journey later this summer when I hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail because that’s exactly the kind of thing I find deeply funny.
Walk The Distance is available for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.