There are dozens of ways to keep track of your hikes, from relying on your gps track history to simply writing it down in a trusty notebook. Each method has its own benefits and downsides.
I used to keep track of my hikes by writing the date and the names of my hiking companions at the bottom of the page in whichever hiking guidebook I was using. It worked well enough back in the 1990s, when guidebooks and magazines were the primary sources of trail information. But now that trail databases have migrated to the internet, that old system is only occasionally applicable. I’ve also run out of room on the pages of my favorite local trails that I hike frequently, or upgraded to newer editions and abandoned my old notes.
I now keep track of my hikes by creating a simple Google Form that I’ve bookmarked on my phone. It’s free, easy to set up, and you can customize it to track whatever information you want. Best of all, it’s always right there in your pocket when you need it, and the data is easy to use and store well into the future.
Why keep track of your hikes
If you’re just a casual just-once-in-a-blue-moon hiker, then it probably doesn’t matter if you track your hikes or not. But if you hike more regularly than that, I’d recommend you start doing it. This is especially true if you have a personal hiking goal like the #52HikeChallenge. It’s a quick little habit to start that you might really appreciate having access to later.
In addition to keeping track of your personal goals, a hiking log can make it easier to figure out which trails you’ve already hiked and with whom, including any special or noteworthy details that you won’t find in guidebooks or online trail descriptions. I particularly like keeping notes on memorable things that happened during the hike, such as stumbling across some pottery sherds, or an interesting animal encounter, or what day the wildflowers started to bloom that year. Since you customize exactly what you keep track of it, you can also include whatever tidbits you don’t want to forget.
Hiking logs also serve as a helpful historical record of your hiking accomplishments. They can be used to calculate and analyze statistics such as how many miles you’ve hiked this year, how many times your pooch joined you on the trail, or how much faster you hike that local quad-burning trail now that you’ve gotten into better shape.
Tracking hikes for the #52HikeChallenge
The 52 Hike Challenge is a great idea, but their tracking spreadsheet isn’t the easiest to use on a phone. As a fellow challenge hiker, I find that a simple Google Form makes entering my hike each week much, much easier. Even better, I get to capture more than what the 52 Hike Challenge tracking spreadsheet does, which makes the log that much more useful to me.
Benefits of using Google Forms
There are a variety of mobile apps out there that you could use to track your hikes—many of which include useful features like GPS tracks and trail maps. But as new apps are released, feature sets shift, or subscription fees change, many hikers find themselves switching between apps or using them for only a subset of the trails they hike. For instance, I’ll rarely fire up Gaia GPS for a local hike in the nearby Phoenix Mountains Preserve, as I know exactly where I am at all times. On the flipside, I probably won’t use a GPS app on my phone to track a long day hike in the Superstition Wilderness due to concerns about my phone’s battery life. Another problem lies in trying to export your data from many of these apps; it’s not always an easy task.
The end result is a mishmash of hiking data siloed in multiple apps, or missing entirely. But with your own custom Google Form, you can solve many of these issues by simply logging your data in the form after each hike, no matter which GPS app you might use to track your route. Or, if you didn’t use one but know the basic details of the hike you completed (such as the distance and elevation gain), it’s easy to enter that data later—something that’s impossible to do with many of the leading hiking apps. Sometimes, simple is just plain better.
Best of all, it’s free and all you need to get started is a browser and a google account. And since it dumps the data into a basic spreadsheet, it’s rather easy to analyze the data. That allows you to do things like quickly total up your cumulative hiking miles for the year, figure out how many feet of elevation you climbed, or total up how many different trails you hiked during the year. And depending on which fields you include, you could also analyze all sorts of other interesting tidbits, as well. Since it’s all contained in a simple spreadsheet, that data is easily transportable too, so you don’t have to worry about future software incompatibility.
Which fields to include
You have a lot of options here, so spend a few minutes to decide what items you’d like to keep track of. If you’re on the fence about something, my recommendation is to include it on the form and make sure it’s not a required answer. If you later decide to stop logging data for that item, you can simply ignore or delete that field when you review the spreadsheet later.
Here are some possible options of data to collect—you’ll need to decide for yourself which ones to include.
- Date of your hike
- Name of the trail(s) you used
- Mileage hiked
- Elevation gain
- Duration (how long did it take you to hike?)
- With whom did you hike?
- Was this an organized group hike? (you can even use a drop-down menu for your common hiking groups)
- Did you lead this hike?
- Did your dog(s) join you?
- Did you record a GPS track?
- Link to the GPS track
- Your personal rating of the hike (use the linear scale field type; keep in mind that you can create multiple rating questions, each on a different aspect of the hike, if you’d like to get detailed)
- How tired you were hiking the trail (or maybe how many times you had to stop to take a breather)
- Links to photos
- Links to blog post
- Wildlife encountered
- Type of trail (e.g., out-and-back, loop, lollipop, etc)
- Location type (such as national park, wilderness area, state park, or city preserve)
- Where to find hike details (guidebook, link to website, etc)
- Rating on the “Fun Scale“
- Notes (capture any other details in this section)
How to use it on your phone
As I mentioned in the screencast, I strongly recommend that you add the form as a shortcut to your phone’s home screen. A hiking log is only as good as the data you enter, so you want it easily accessible so you can get to it whenever you remember to log your hike.
The first step is to get the link to your phone’s browser. There are a number of ways to do this, such emailing it to yourself, typing into your mobile browser manually, or using a universal clipboard. Once you have the link on your phone, it’s a breeze to add the shortcut.
Keep track of other types of adventures
You don’t have to use this solely for tracking your hikes—you can create forms to track any of your other adventures or outings, too. It wouldn’t be hard to create separate forms to track things like how many nights you camped, what trails you mountain biked, or what lakes or rivers you paddled. I’ve even used google forms to get track of hikes I want to do, or at least to add to my adventure map.
Be sure to check out the screencast above to learn how to design your hiking log. Then hop on over to forms.google.com to get started, and let us know in the comments if you have any other suggested uses or fields that others might want to copy.