How To Connect With Other Hikers, Runners, or Cyclists And Get Motivated With Strava

How to use Strava for hiking, running, cyclingIf you’re an outdoor enthusiast who likes to monitor your activities, you’ve likely heard of or tried various fitness apps. Among them, Strava stands out as a top choice for tracking hiking, running, and cycling. It’s designed for those eager to monitor their outdoor pursuits, including speed, elevation, and distance, while also comparing their performance with friends and others globally.

Tip: Join the Explorer Series Group on Strava to meet other local Explorers

Strava serves as both a training tool and a motivational aid, distinguished by its built-in social network. This feature allows you to see your friends’ outdoor activities, photos, and comments, and to both offer and receive encouragement. Additionally, Strava’s “segments” are highly addictive and motivating. These user-created sections of a route allow you to compare your own times with those of other users who have completed the segment—whether hiking, running, or biking. Segments offer a fantastic way to discover who is nearby and to explore the routes others are taking.

Finding and traveling through segments is somewhat akin to geocaching, where the segments are the treasures you find and navigate successfully. You can also earn trophies if you secure a top ten time for a segment. Even if you’re not focused on “going fast” and earning trophies, Strava still offers substantial value. Just make sure not to steal my Wild Hazel trophy! 😉

Using Strava: Getting Started
To begin, sign into, create a free account, update your personal profile (name, photo, etc.), and search for others you might want to follow. If you sign in through Facebook, Strava will identify which of your Facebook friends are already on Strava. You can then connect with those friends or invite any who aren’t already using it. All that’s left is to download the Strava App on your phone, log in with your account information, and you’re ready to record your first activity.

Once you’ve set up your account, follow these simple steps:

  1. Record your activity using your smartphone or a compatible GPS device.
  2. Upload your activity from the device. I’ve set up my Garmin Forerunner 220 watch to auto-sync with Strava. When I save my activity on my watch and am within Bluetooth range of my smartphone, it auto-uploads the data to my Strava account. If I forget my watch, I just track my activity using the app on my phone. (Tip: if you don’t have a fully waterproof phone case, consider putting your phone in a ziplock bag to protect it from sweat, rain, etc.)
  3. Analyze and compare your activity with your past performances and with your friends.

How Do I Get Strava?
You can log into from any Internet-enabled computer worldwide. You can also download the free app onto your iPhone or Android device.

What About Privacy?
I recommend logging into your Strava account via your computer and editing your privacy settings. For example, you can create a privacy zone for your home or office or any location from which you frequently start activities and wish to keep private. Consider using only your last initial instead of your full last name on your account. You can also restrict account views to signed-in Strava members and require people to request to follow you.

What’s Cool About Strava
It’s both cool and useful that Strava allows you to track the age and status of all your gear and equipment. For instance, I can monitor the mileage on each pair of my running shoes to know when they reach the 500 km mark and it’s time to retire them. With the Strava App, you can travel anywhere in the world, find popular hiking, running, or cycling segments, and explore them. For example, if you’re planning a holiday in Maui and aim to hike the volcano or enjoy some sunrise jogs, you can check out the Strava segments on Maui for popular routes, view the elevation gain for each segment, and plan your routes before you leave home. Strava also offers a great way to view photos of all your friends’ activities and your past activities.

What’s Strange About Strava
Sometimes, if I’m feeling curious, I’ll track an activity with both my Garmin watch and my Strava app on my Android phone at the same time just to see how the two different systems record my route, elevation, time, etc. Surprisingly, I’ve found that I get quite different numbers and times on segments when I do this. Typically, my Strava app on my phone will give me faster times on segments, which is odd. Is the GPS on my phone more or less accurate than my watch? I’m not sure. Strava explains that they parse Garmin data and analyze it independently, using their own algorithms to calculate time, moving time, average speed, segments, etc.

My advice is to use the same device consistently so your numbers remain consistent over time. I just stick with my watch for tracking my activities and auto-sync it via my smartphone.

Different Types of Segments
There are different segments for various activities in the same area. For example, on Elk Mountain, there are distinct segments for running and hiking. If you record your Elk activity as a hike, you’ll see hiking segments. However, if you log it as a run, you’ll encounter only running segments. Remember, segments are user-created, so they can be named anything, and just because there’s a “Parking Lot to Peak” segment for hiking Elk, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find the same segment for running. In this case, the most similar running segment is displayed here.

If you start using Strava and become addicted to segments, you’ll need to consider whether you derive more endorphins from the exercise itself or from geeking out on your phone afterwards and seeing that you’ve just earned one or more trophies and a handful of kudos from friends. 😉

Don’t Use Your Smartphone For Backcountry Navigation
Using a smartphone’s GPS can be effective for local hikes, but handheld GPS devices offer several advantages over smartphones. They are typically more durable, have longer battery lives, and can be more accurate. It is strongly advised that you NOT use a smartphone for backcountry navigation but rather reserve its use for emergency calls only. Even if equipped with a solar charger, use your smartphone sparingly, as solar charging technology still has significant limitations as a reliable backup energy source. Both GPS devices and smartphones can struggle to get a location fix in areas such as dense forests and valleys, so always carry a map and compass and know how to use them in case your technology fails. In short, don’t venture into the backcountry relying solely on your smartphone and Strava for navigation. I was a short distance into the trail in Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver recently, and my smartphone’s GPS couldn’t get a signal, rendering the phone useless for navigation, although my route was still accurately recorded in Strava.

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