Typically when you think of gear you need for off-roading or overlanding, the best tires, auxiliary lights or even recovery essentials might be the first things that come to mind. But one of the most basic tools you need is a map. While I still try to carry a paper map for emergencies, onX Offroad is an app that has made my life much easier, as it is specifically designed to discover and navigate trails for off-roading of all types. There are options for 4x4 vehicles, UTVs, dirtbikes and even snowmobiles. While I can't speak too much for the snowmobile functions, the in-app features have saved me a lot of time and headaches while planning overlanding trips.
We started using this app after we got our Jeep Gladiator and needed some guidance on local off-roading trails in the Texas desert. 95% of land in Texas is privately owned, so while you might assume that plenty of open space means there are tons of trails to try out, that is not exactly the case. We have had to do some digging to find good spots, and onX has made the virtual reconnaissance a whole lot easier.
What I like about onX Off-Road
Maps can be downloaded for use offline
When off-roading, you typically find yourself in situations where you don't have a cell phone signal. In this day and age, with Apple Maps as my go-to navigation tool, this function is a necessity. Typically, we plan the trip on an iPad or laptop before we leave home and then once our Waypoints are marked and notes are made, I save the maps for the trip to my phone. Once a route is set, you can still use real-time navigation, even without cell service. This was a surprising feature to me that worked a lot better than expected; granted, it won't be rerouting you to get somewhere faster, but the program will guide you through the path you have set.
Notes and Planning
When we start to look at trails that we want to tackle, other off-roaders have uploaded images so you can see some of the terrain and topography of the area. You must remember that trails can easily change with the weather and seasons, but the visuals are very helpful and motivating.
While driving, your co-pilot can easily make notes in the app for future reference. It feels like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, which can come in handy if you drive out the same way you came in. This also works well when there is a tricky area to traverse or a viewpoint you want to remember for your next drive-through. These notes are shareable, so you can send them to your wheeling buddy who couldn't make it out with you for this trip.
The subscription is pretty affordable
The premium subscription is only $30 for the year, which includes all the features except information regarding land ownership and property boundaries. I splurged for the Elite Package ($15/m or $100/yr) to get those extras because most of our adventures take place around a lot of private land. Sometimes it can be tempting to drive down an unmarked path to check it out, but looking at the map and seeing it is a private road has probably saved us from some trespassing trouble.
What I don't like about onX offroad
Apple CarPlay Glitch
The app is compatible with Apple Carplay (and Android Auto), which is great, but it tends to become glitchy after plugging it in. The app has improved with updates, but it still does not operate 100% smoothly. This does not cause huge issues, as you just have to unplug your phone, close out the app and then plug it back in to fix it. But this can get a bit frustrating, especially if you are already on edge with some complex terrain. If you aren't using CarPlay, I have not found this to be an issue.
The Trail Ratings Aren't Well Standardized
The app provides trail difficulty ratings and opportunities for users to write updates and reviews. Overall, this is an awesome feature that allows both beginners and pros to utilize the app. But when it comes to the midrange trails, the difficulty rating is not super consistent. While some of this fluctuation is unavoidable due to weather washouts or fallen rocks, there could be more clarity.
A specific example we experienced was at Black Gap Trail in Big Bend National Park. The trail is part of the Jeep Badge of Honor program, making it a well-documented course. I found it funny that it was rated at the same level as a maintained county dirt road that we had traveled just the week before. While I had a basic idea of what to expect from Black Gap Trail, it was worth noting for future trips that the trail rating system is not as accurate as it could be.
While planning a trip without the onX Offroad app, you are typically hoping to get some info on the trail based on word of mouth or through some mediocre internet thread which tends to take a lot more time and guessing. Sure, some might say getting lost is all part of the adventure, but having the in-depth map gives me some peace of mind and lets me focus on the more exciting aspects of the drive. The program is not perfect, but it has only ever been helpful while planning trips and navigating trails.