AllTrails Proves Vital for Hikers of All Levels

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AllTrails Proves Vital for Hikers of All Levels


Close your eyes and imagine a stereotypical hiker. Do the words “sturdy” and “strongly built Ford” come to mind? Do they wear khaki shorts? Is there a tube on a CamelBak hanging from her mouth?

Whatever you had in mind, this hiker is probably using the AllTrails app. In fact, this is the case for almost everyone. Even people who don’t know what a CamelBak is or who have no idea what the term “there and back” means. In the world of AllTrails, a hiker of any skill level is still a hiker.

Many of them find the app the same way.

“Just by Googling how to get hiking, AllTrails came up a lot,” said Jessica Wood, co-owner of French Custard, an ice cream shop in Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s a free app, so it was us.” for example: “We’ll download it and see what happens.” We never deleted it.”

This is of course intentional. What started in 2010 as an idea backed by a seed accelerator – Silicon Valley calls it an incubator program – quickly grew into a juggernaut that swallowed up many of its competitors. Three years later, AllTrails had raised nearly $4.5 million in funding. In 2018, previous funding rounds were eclipsed when the company raised $75 million.

But like so many pandemic-proof companies, the app, which contains details of hundreds of thousands of hiking trails around the world, has seen a real rise in the wake of Covid.

“Even before the pandemic, we were still seeing very high growth rates,” said Ron Schneidermann, who took over as CEO of AllTrails in 2019. (The company’s founder, Russell Cook, left in 2018.) “But in 2020, we suddenly saw triple-digit growth during lockdowns. There was nothing else to do.”

Ms. Wood, who described herself as “a new hiker with no experience at all,” used AllTrails “almost every day” during the summer of 2022 while she and her husband, Alex, waited for business to take a headache.

“It really felt like we had a professional hiker telling us how to hike,” she said, referring to the frequently updated trail reviews that other users leave with details about the condition of a trail or if it is it is a safe place to bring animals or children.

“I would say my toxic trait is that I read reviews very avidly,” said Eva Jee, a food writer and restaurateur in Denver. “When I’m planning a big hike, especially if we’re staying in an area I don’t know or on a trail I’ve never hiked before, I scroll down to read previous weeks’ hike reports. “

Ms. Jee, 41, says she often uses these assessments to determine what shoes to wear, whether a path is shady enough to avoid a hat, and what time of year is best to choose the color of aspen trees can observe or take with you in the wildflowers blooming.

“There’s so much information you can gather,” she said.

Gabby Rumney, a 28-year-old project coordinator for the National Grocers Association Foundation in Philadelphia, said she used the app before and after hiking all 2,193.1 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2021. (“That 0.1 really counts,” she added.)

“It was a good introduction to understanding trails, reading maps and understanding terrain differences,” Ms. Rumney said.

And while she prefers the FarOut app for more challenging thru-hikes like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, she says AllTrails is far more accessible to a broader range of hikers.

“I think with hiking there’s often a connotation of, ‘Oh, you have to be physically fit and have this expensive equipment,'” Ms. Rumney said. “Part of it is true because it makes things easier. But at the same time, you can walk, and that should be accessible to all of us unless you have a disability.”

At AllTrails’ headquarters in San Francisco, the word “accessibility” comes up a lot. “A lot of people came to us or were interested in nature but didn’t consider themselves a nature lover,” said Carly Smith, who joined the company in 2021 as chief marketing officer.

Ms. Smith joins AllTrails following two major milestones: In January 2021, the company reached one million paid subscriptions to AllTrails+, which, among other features, allows users to download maps for offline access. (Trail maps and basic aspects of the app’s search functionality remain completely free.) And in November of that year, AllTrails announced that it had secured $150 million in additional funding.

Under Ms. Smith’s supervision, AllTrails has become more sophisticated and lifestyle-oriented. While hikers were once offered the opportunity to “find your next favorite trail,” now they are invited to “find your nature.” In the app, users can view their stats for the year and track the time it took them to complete a hike through an interface that isn’t that different from fitness apps like Peloton or Strava.

Now redesigned to appeal to your Gen-Z cousin as well as your hunkiest, nature-loving uncle, AllTrails has been named Apple’s 2023 App of the Year for “fostering community through comprehensive hiking guides and outdoor exploration for all.”

“There aren’t many award ceremonies in software development,” Schneidermann said. “This feels like our Pulitzer Prize.”

And like every company in the 21st century, AllTrails has doubled down on expanding its network of brand ambassadors and influencers. For example, during Black History Month, the company unveiled a clothing and accessories collaboration with three Black artists in support of the nonprofit organization Vibe Tribes Adventures. In March, AllTrails introduced products from six women-owned brands.

Evelynn Escobar, founder of the nonprofit Hike Clerb, said she recently contacted AllTrails about a possible partnership. While she doesn’t credit AllTrails with introducing her to the joys of hiking — that credit goes to an aunt who took her hiking in and around LA as a child — the app is “the core of my outdoor lifestyle,” she said . “I base my hikes on what I find there.”

Accordingly, Ms. Escobar provided each member of Hike Clerb’s inaugural hiking guide class an AllTrails+ subscription to help them better plan their hikes, which are primarily aimed at “Black, brown and Indigenous women and gender-expansive people.”

“Nature is still such a homogeneous space,” Ms. Escobar said, citing her first trips to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. “It struck me that these literal centers of outdoor recreation are still only white people.”

But if AllTrails has its way, the national park system could soon be filled with its younger and more diverse user base. In March, the company unveiled its Public Lands Program, a partnership with land managers in 270 parks across the U.S. that allows them to access real-time data about trail activity and also send real-time alerts about trail health to AllTrails users. Participation in the program is free.

According to AllTrails, a pilot test in Olympic National Park in Washington in 2023 resulted in a 66 percent decrease in search and rescue incidents on two of the park’s most popular trails and a 62 percent decrease in such operations on all of the park’s trails compared to the previous one Year.

Connecting park rangers directly with users could also help avoid negative press, such as an incident last fall when SFGate reported that AllTrails was giving users directions to a treacherous tourist attraction on the Hawaiian island of Kauai for more than a month was closed. In response, the company encouraged users to “help us maintain accurate and up-to-date trail information by suggesting changes or leaving reviews.”

AllTrails relies on users not only for changes and alerts, but also for advice on adding trails. The company’s Data Integrity team researches the proposal and approves or rejects it. “We will first put everything through a whole layer of machine learning, computer vision and validation, and then, most importantly, it will go through a whole layer of human curation,” said Mr. Schneidermann, although he readily admitted that in the open air they are natural from susceptible to change.

“Once a trail goes live on our website, it doesn’t mean it’s static, it just means it will stay that way forever,” he added.

Just like the trails themselves, hiking habits can change over time. Some people think this means that at some point you have to say goodbye to AllTrails – and set off on your own.

“If I were in the position of being someone whose beginner hiking experience came through AllTrails, I would say it’s definitely worth trying to break the habit of,” said Ryan Tripp, a 21-year-old. year-old environmental engineering student at Dartmouth College who grew up hiking near his home in Oakland, California, and has led his own hiking tours.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say turn off your phone, turn off everything and just go into the woods,” he continued, “but I think a gradual move away has the potential to be really rewarding and people to become familiar with what I think.” the benefits of being outside,” such as the feeling of self-sufficiency and independence.

“Technology will continue to penetrate nature,” Mr. Tripp said, citing ongoing debates over whether cell phone service and infrastructure should be expanded in national parks.

But Mr. Schneiderman insists that AllTrails is firmly on the side of nature, even as users look at their phones and not at weathered trail signage. He no longer sees other hiking apps as his competition and instead focuses on being an alternative to tech companies like Facebook and TikTok.

“There are these incredibly strong, well-equipped companies that attract some of the best minds out there, you know, and are designed to keep people behind the screen all day,” he said. “And obviously we are the anti-metaverse.”



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2024-03-31 09:01:13

www.nytimes.com