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Strava is an accurate GPS tracking app with plenty of social features

Strava is an accurate GPS tracking app with plenty of social features

I’ve always enjoyed exploring new ways to track my activity. There’s nothing like strapping on a new wearable or loading up a new app before hitting the road.

I’m all for this relatively new and ever-evolving trend in health and fitness, but for some reason, I’ve never quite been able to stick with any particular wearable or app over the long run. Maybe I lack self-discipline. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one for me. Or maybe it’s a combination of both.

Could the beloved Strava app be the one that wins over my heart? It’s one of the most versatile and feature-packed activity tracking apps I have yet to try.

Free and accurate GPS activity tracking • Challenges and segments to get competitive • Auto-generated and custom routes • 30-day free trial of premium

Requires more battery power for long trips • Mostly only useful for cycling and running

Great for tracking your runs/bike rides and competitive participation, worth upgrading if you want to take advantage of routes, segments, and advanced stats.

What is Strava?

Strava is an activity tracking app that primarily tracks GPS-based activity. Like any GPS app, it runs in the background while you do your thing. You can use it to run, walk, cycle, hike, canoe, skate, kayak, kitesurf, ski, row, snowboard, snow snowshoe, stand up paddle, surf, swim, and more.

There are also options to track more stationary activities like elliptical training, stair-stepping, weight training, yoga, CrossFit, and general workouts. But, these activities aren’t quite as compatible with Strava’s offering. Its features are made for activities including cycling, running, and swimming.

Starting a hike in the Strava app is simple.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

Most sports are distance-focused.

Most sports are distance-focused.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

Is Strava free?

You don’t have to pay anything to use Strava’s core features, the main one being GPS activity tracking. You can also enjoy its social capabilities, participate in challenges, and use segments. 

For just the basics, the free version of the app is pretty darn good. But if you want access to a wide range of extra features and functions, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium subscription for $5 a month, or $59.99 a year. There’s a 30-day free trial period, so you can give it a whirl before you commit to a subscription.

Tracking activity is seamless but drains battery life

I recently took Strava on a five-hour day hike, thinking a hike would be a great activity to track since it would be based on my location. It certainly worked well for tracking my route, but it had used up almost all of my iPhone’s battery power by the fourth hour that I had to stop it from tracking my route so I could get back with some battery life.

I didn’t realize that I could pause tracking when I took two extended breaks during my hike, which would’ve saved battery power and likely influenced my stats a little bit. Still, it was cool to be able to zoom in on the map and see how closely I followed the trail that I was on. I also liked the interesting stats it shared, like distance, elevation, moving time, average speed, and max speed.

The GPS tracker was pretty accurate.

The GPS tracker was pretty accurate.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

If you love stats, Strava offers plenty.

If you love stats, Strava offers plenty.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

I wasn’t using a wearable or any other fitness app (remember my inability to commit?), but if you do, you can easily upload your data or sync compatible devices to put it all in Strava. You can also create a manual upload by tapping the little plus sign in the top left followed by “Manual Activity,” which can be helpful if you forget to track something through the app.

What about privacy concerns?

In 2018, Strava was under fire for releasing a heat map that detailed user’s activities, including revealing locations (like apartments, U.S. military bases, etc.). It’s no secret this is a location-based app, but Strava does have lots of privacy settings now. Your profile, activities, group activities, and local legends are viewable to everyone by default, but you can switch these so they’re restricted to just your followers or only you. You can also create “privacy zones” up to 1,600 metres from an address to hide the portion of any past or future activity that starts or ends nearby, like your home location where you start and end.

Getting social can be fun if you’re competitive

Not everyone wants their fitness app to act as a social network, but Strava’s social features go beyond the basics of adding friends, sharing your activity, and liking or commenting on others’ activities (although you can do this too if you want). You’ve got challenges, clubs, and segments to keep you busy and engaged.

Not everyone wants their fitness app to act as a social network, but Strava’s social features go beyond the basics.

Simply sign up for any challenge according to the activity you want to do, which can be as brief as a day or as long as a month. Some challenges, like virtual races, have a leaderboard where you can compete against other members while streak challenges ask you to complete a certain number of activities for a consecutive number of weeks.

Strava challenges can be an enticing way to stay active.

Strava challenges can be an enticing way to stay active.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

A more detailed look at the social aspect of Strava.

A more detailed look at the social aspect of Strava.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

Premium version has some useful features

Segments: One of the best features Strava has to offer is route suggestions in your area, which you can customize using a variety of filters like current location, activity type, distance, elevation, and surface type. Just select a filter, and the app automatically adjusts your route for you. Segments allow you to see routes created by other members. Your segment efforts can then be compared to the efforts of other participants, offering you a nice little way to get competitive. While you can see and use segments with the free version, you won’t see any leaderboards unless you upgrade.

Route customizations: If you’re not totally satisfied with the route that’s generated for you, you can draw your own route with your finger on the map and Strava will snap the line to the road or trail for you to keep it accurate. This is one of the best features you can get out of the app if you like to explore new areas or want to shake things up with your regular route.

Safety texting: Strava Beacon lets you send automatic text messages to up to three contacts to let them know you’re safe. This could be handy if you regularly venture out alone in forested parks, rural areas, or anywhere you’re not familiar with. Your contacts can even receive a GPS tracking map so they can check in on your progress as you complete your route.

Advanced analytics: And if you’re a data nerd, you’ll want to consider getting a subscription for the advanced analytics features. Power training analytics is especially useful for cyclists who want to train more intelligently. You can get insights on your training load to help you determine rest periods, intensity to see how difficult your rides are, your overall effort (weighted average power), and your best efforts (power curve).

Using a pre-created segment.

Using a pre-created segment.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

Segment leaderboards add another competitive element.

Segment leaderboards add another competitive element.

Image: mashable; elise moreau

Premium vs. free version: Which is better?

If you’re looking to just track your runs or bike rides, participate in a challenge, or try out a segment ever so often, you’re good to go with Strava’s free version. But if the thought of competing in segments and creating your own custom routes excites you, a subscription is worthwhile.

It really depends on what kind of activity you primarily do, what you want to track, and what features matter to you the most. I personally prefer to vary my workouts with other types of activities that are more stationary, like yoga and weight lifting, so the premium features aren’t as useful for me.

But as someone who lives in a bike town, if I ever finally get a bike, Strava will definitely be my go-to.

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