One App to Rule Them All
If you were to ask us if there is one single app we couldn’t do without on our phones, we would both instantly give the same response: OsmAnd, of course!
Despite the clunky sounding name and slightly awkward app design and layout, this app has proved to be the single most reliable and helpful tool we have with us on our adventures. Without it, we would have gotten ourselves lost more times than we could count. Without its unbelievably detailed, annotated maps, we would have accidentally biked past several beautiful Incan ruins or missed a market or village shop because it didn’t lie on the main road. We planned a route into the Peruvian higher jungle using these maps and navigated easily whilst on the route.
This app, making use of data from Open Street Maps database, is simply the essential app to replace all paper maps for navigation and for finding local businesses (e.g. hotels and restaurants) without needing a data connection.
What Can OsmAnd do?
Just about everything! It is an offline map app with the most exhaustive feature list we’ve seen. You can do offline route navigation, overlay contour lines (available as a paid add-on), find points of interest, create custom point of interest groups (e.g. bike shops + water taps + hotels) and just about anything else you would consider useful in an app of this sort.
There is the option for downloading hillshade layers, which give a fantastic overview of terrain, so you can plan your journeys to be as mountainous or flat as you like. Flag locations on the map to see your distance to the flag in real time. Star locations you want to remember and toggle their viewability so that they don’t clutter the interface. Really, this app does everything.
Paired with your phone’s GPS receiver, this app will make sure you never get lost again. All maps are incredibly detailed; if you’re one for staying off the beaten track, this road contains walking trails, cycling routes and alpine hiking routes. We’ve not found a road small enough that it hasn’t been logged in OSM’s database yet! We were most surprised when OsmAnd showed us the hiking trail to the top of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, which we were able to follow up easily.
What is OSM (Open Street Maps)?
OSM is an open source database containing data about every single point of interest a hiker, biker or driver could want to know about. That includes everything from roads and hiking trails to hospitals and local supermarkets. Honestly, the database contains an astonishing amount of information and detail and never fails to surprise us when it knows every small dirt track off the main road in the countryside in South America. The data is all user submitted and free for others to use however they like without licencing.
OSM have taken this open source database and constructed a phone app which allows you to view the maps incredibly easily and access the wealth of information (points of interest, address lookups) with incredible ease. I doubt this was an easy task and the team deserve a huge amount of credit (and a small amount of money no doubt) for their tireless work. When a single paper map can cost up to €30, paying €3 to access all the features of an app which will provide detailed maps of the entire world seems like a purchase even we can justify to ourselves, despite the budget conscious nature of our travels!
Paid vs free app
As the developers make very clear on the Play Store page, the free version is limited to a certain number of region downloads, which you will almost definitely exceed if you are planning a world adventure. Sure, you could delete maps as you go and download upcoming regions to avoid paying for the full version, but if you are on a SIM card data plan, that will be impossible.
Besides, the developers really deserve some money for the work they have put into this app. The money we have saved on maps and simply life-saving information such as water sources, markets and other such points of interest is beyond value.
Paid for add-ons
OsmAnd comes with a few in-app purchases you should be aware of before you go ahead and commit to buying the full version of the app. In our case, it was a little frustrating to find out the full version does not include contour lines and that they are only to be had by purchasing the contour lines plugin from the Play Store.
The most useful add-on for the bike tourer is undoubtedly the aforementioned Contour Lines plugin. This app allows you to download and overlay contour lines and hillshades (probably more useful than the contour lines themselves) on the regular OsmAnd map using the settings menu. The contour line downloads are huge files; Peru’s contour lines alone consume almost 1GB of storage on your phone, so make sure you grab yourself a large SD card for your phone to handle all the extra files. We often don’t use contour lines, instead favouring the hillshade layers which provide a general overview of the land you will be biking on. Using that overview, it is easily possible to decide on routes which are less or more mountainous, depending on your preferences. They take up less room and don’t slow down the loading of the map screen.
This map is simply essential. If you aren’t carrying around paper maps or a GPS cycling computer, or even if you are, this app for your smartphone will change the way you travel on your bicycle. It is so easy to find landmarks to visit, to plan routes or to simply explore an area you hope to visit some day. Making the OSM database available for offline download and viewing could not have been easy for the developers, but they have done a stellar job and this app deserves every bit of support we can give.