Whether I’m planning routes for a gentle walk or a two-day wild camping hike, I tend to use an online route-planning tool. That’s not to say I can’t write a decent route card with a paper map and compass, I still enjoy it from time to time, and it’s a really useful emergency skill.
It’s just that it’s quicker to use online tools to write walking routes.
I feel I should point out here, that I’m not advocating relying on electronics while out walking. They can go wrong, and in my opinion, should be kept for emergencies only. Keep them for route planning, and (just in case something does happen) for letting at least one person know where you’re going to be.
I always use a paper map and compass while I’m out walking.
Which walking route planning app?
I’m a big fan of the OS Maps route planning app. As an outdoor writer I use it almost every day. Whether I’m planning walking routes for magazines, coming up with family walks for hospitality websites, or getting excited about my own outdoor adventures, if I’m in Great Britain, it’s the OS Maps app I usually rely on for great route planning.
But from time to time, it’s good to shake things up.
It’s tricky isn’t it? To put down the tools you love, and try something different. But as an outdoor writer, I feel it’s important for me to understand why people might prefer other online route planners.
I also think it’s important to keep my brain working!
Komoot or OS Maps?
Which is why I decided recently to have a go at planning a walking route on Komoot. At the same time as planning the same walking route on OS Maps.
A lot of work?
Not really. Both apps are fairly intuitive, and I enjoyed the challenge of using a new route-planning platform.
But I enjoyed making the comparison more.
The differences – Komoot and OS Maps
So what are differences between walking route planning on Komoot and OS Maps? Well, as you might expect from two such popular platforms, each app has its benefits and disadvantages but it would be neglectful of me to tell you yet which I preferred.
You’ll have to read on to find out.
Before I started my research I decided to focus on three main categories. Then I put these in order of importance. The first two are essential to good route planning, the final one adds useful enhancements that could improve a walk experience.
- Detail and accuracy
- Ease of use
- Additional features
Best walking route planner for detail and accuracy?
And the winner is – OS Maps
In my opinion this is where OS Maps shines, and Komoot sadly falls down. In short, the quality of Komoot’s mapping really isn’t up to the high standards offered by OS Maps.
Komoot uses OpenStreetMap, an open-source solution that relies on community contribution for accuracy. My premium OS Maps account gives me access to detailed 1:25,000 topographic maps, which have all the navigation features I need for a safe and enjoyable exploration.
Nothing wrong with that you might think.
And in some ways you’d be right. If I was planning a walk around town, or even down country lanes, the chances are OpenStreetMap would provide me with enough information for accurate navigation.
However, Komoot maps miss out vital landscape clues.
Take a look at Sittaford Tor, nearly my favourite Dartmoor tor. One of Dartmoor’s most helpful navigation clues are its stone walls.
In the most part these are easy to follow, even in poor visibility (in navigation terms they are ‘handrails’). On the Ordnance Survey map they’re marked accurately as thin black lines. On the Komoot map some of them (not all) are shown but marked with a variety of lines as tracks and paths.
Somewhat confusing if you’re looking for something solid to follow.
The other obviously missing aspect on the Komoot map is the inclusion of public rights of way. This area is on access land, which means I can wander at will if I am on foot. But even on access land, I would need to restrict my cycling to bridleways (the green dotted line marked on OS Maps).
Incidentally, one thing neither Komoot or OS Maps can do yet, is ensure that recommended walking or cycling routes stick to public rights of way where required.
Also missing on the Komoot OpenStreetMap are the blue ‘marsh’ symbols. If you walk there in the summer, you’ll get very wet feet. If you walk there in the winter, you might get stuck.
What you do get with Komoot however are points of interest images. For example, you might not be able to imagine what Grey Wethers Stone Circle looks like from OS Maps (it’s wonderful) but Komoot allows you to click on the ‘Archeological Site’ button to view uploaded images.
Great for research, not much help for actually finding locations.
Best route planner for ease of use?
And the winner is – OS Maps if you want to choose your own route. Komoot if you’re happy following someone else’s.
It’s always tricky comparing a tool you use regularly with a new one but I tried to be fair to Komoot here. It obviously took me longer to plan my route to Sittaford Tor on Komoot than it did on OS Maps but I ignored that, and focused on how intuitive each app was.
As expected, both apps asked me to choose a start point for my route.
But then things got a bit different.
On OS Maps I would usually click on waypoints as I go until I reached my chosen destination. With Komoot, I picked the start and finish points then allowed Komoot to pick a route for me.
Just as a note here. The routes Komoot recommends have been uploaded by other users (as have the routes on OS Maps). It’s worth remembering this type of community-generated content is of variable quality. Unless I know the credentials of the route creator, I usually approach routes with caution.
Bearing in mind I know this part of Dartmoor well, I was in two minds about Komoot’s chosen route. The first section followed the bridleway correctly (despite not marking it on the map).
The second section included some really wet bogs.
To be fair to Komoot, it’s quite tricky to get up to Sittaford Tor this way without hiking over wet ground but the boggy areas it suggests on its route are clearly marked as such on the Ordnance Survey map.
With the right map to hand I would avoid all bogs.
I then discovered it was possible to choose my own Komoot route by deselecting the ‘follow ways’ box on my finish waypoint. This left a straight line, which I could edit by clicking and dragging waypoints.
Komoot also gave me the option to include interesting waypoints that other users had previously added (for example, Hartland Tor).
My conclusion when it came to ease of use was that both OS Maps and Komoot were relatively intuitive once I had picked up the basics. Komoot was quicker as long I was happy to use the prescribed route.
Which I wasn’t. Or at least, not entirely.
In an area I don’t know, I wouldn’t have felt safe to do this without the level of mapping detail I get from OS Maps.
By this stage, Komoot’s lack of topographical detail was really starting to bother me.
So I decided to see if its additional features could persuade me to use Komoot to plan more walking routes.
Best walking route planner for additional features?
And the winner is – Komoot – if you love community and sharing. OS Maps – if you love armchair exploration.
The usefulness of additional features is always going to be subjective. For example, when I’m planning walking routes, I often use the OS Maps aerial layer to check for obvious paths across open ground (also available on Komoot).
On the other hand, I don’t very often use the OS Maps 3D Fly Through because I’m experienced with contour lines but that doesn’t mean some people don’t find it a really helpful way of visualising the shape and steepness of a walking route.
Both apps have plenty of extra features but in both cases, you’ll have to pay for some of them.
OS Maps – additional features
Snap-to-path in National Parks (and now outside National Parks but not yet on premium topographical maps). Great if I want to walk routes that have been recommended by experts (national park rangers) who really know their areas.
3D Fly Through. Stunning digital rendering, which allows me to preview my walk before I embark on it. Great if I’m wondering exactly what those hills are going to look like.
Augmented Reality. If I find myself asking, ‘What’s that hill in the distance’, this tool is really helpful. It helps me understand how my location fits into the wider landscape.
Downloadable Maps and Routes. An absolute must when I’m planning longer or more remote walks, especially in winter weather. Phone connectivity is not reliable in many parts of Great Britain.
Printable Paper Maps and Routes. When I’m out walking, I never rely entirely on route apps. I prefer to see my phone as an emergency tool, and protect the battery as much as I can.
Import and Export Routes. I don’t have a discrete GPS device but I do regularly export gpx route files to send to writing clients and friends. A useful feature if you want to share your walking routes.
Australia and New Zealand Route Planning. This is a recent addition for OS Maps but if you’re planning a trip overseas, it’s well worth a look. Just a word of warning. If you’re using OS Maps to plan a walking route in Australia or New Zealand, you’ll find the maps are quite different to our GB ones.
Komoot – additional features
Voice Navigation. I’ve never tried this but I can see it might be useful for walkers with busy hands, especially on urban walks. My route to Sittaford Tor did give me a warning that it included off-grid elements with limited voice navigation instructions.
Surfaces and Waytypes Information. Gives me an idea of the terrain my route is going to include. Useful if I want to know which pair of walking boots to choose, or if I’m deciding between a bimble and a route march.
Average Speed. This is the average speed of other walkers over my route (depending on their stated fitness level). Useful if I want to know how long my route will take but I recommend allowing plenty of time in case of emergencies.
Social Sharing. If sharing photos and comments about your walks matters to you, Komoot’s social sharing features will appeal. A step ahead here of OS Maps. If I chose to, I could share Komoot routes on my social media feeds. I could also create communities of friends, and follow other users.
Live tracking. This one’s been designed as a safety feature that enables someone at home to see your location. I imagine it gets a mixed reception, it wouldn’t be my first choice but it can be turned off.
Should I choose OS Maps or Komoot for planning walking routes?
We’re definitely talking walkers for courses here. Both apps have merits, and I am forming ideas about which would appeal to which type of walker.
Here’s a really quick breakdown.
Then you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Safest walking route planning app?
OS Maps – because of the mapping detail.
Quickest walking route planning app?
OS Maps and Komoot – because both give access to existing routes.
Most satisfying walking route planning app?
OS Maps – because nothing really beats planning your own successful route.
Best walking route planning app for sustainability?
I’m going to have to say neither app here. Both OS Maps and Komoot encourage us to walk very specific routes. This can cause issues including erosion and parking congestion. Geotagging images (Komoot) can also have detrimental effects on local environments.
Neither app is particularly good at delivering ‘look after this place’ messages or encouraging the use of public transport.
Best walking route app if you love being part of a community?
Komoot – because it’s far more like a social media platform than OS Maps.
Best walking route app if you’re on a tight budget?
It depends – on what you’re looking for.
Both apps have free versions that offer limited functionality but can still help you plan routes.
Two important things to note. You only get detailed Ordnance Survey topographic maps with the OS Maps premium version. And you only get unlimited downloadable routes and maps with Komoot’s paid bundles.
My advice would be to read the small print!