Training for Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail: Part 1

I’m not an expert on thru-hiking, but I am familiar with training and training methods.  These are the steps I’m taking.  You may find them useful to guide you on your own journey, but please keep in mind that the opinions expressed are my own, and while I do my best to provide accurate information, I urge you to use your discretion, and check all facts, before using any of the information I present.

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Killing two birds with one stone: hiking training and walking the dogs

Planning to Train

The first things to do are:

1. Take stock of your current physical condition and limitations.  If you are overweight, have heart issues or other serious physical conditions, you should seek a doctor’s approval before starting any training program.  For myself, I bike and climb a few times a week, so I’m pretty fit, but I don’t hike.  My body isn’t used to walking and needs to the trained for that.  I have some injuries which I broke down into ‘Priorities’ and ‘Limitations’.  Priorities are injuries that need to be fixed before starting my thru-hike, and for me, these are tendonitis in my elbow and a stress fracture on the ball of my left foot.  Limitations are long-term injuries like a torn disc in my lower back, which won’t heal and have to be managed – like making sure my core remains strong.

2. Determine how much time you have til the start of your thru-hike.  I had 6 months til the planned start of my thru-hike in April, and I broke that up into 3 training phases:

  1. Pre-Training (1 month) – toughening connective tissue, joints, bones and skin
  2. Building (3.5 months) – gradually ramping up training volume to build endurance and strength
  3. Peak and Taper (1.5 months) – maintaining intensity and reducing volume to finish strong!

Pre-Training

One of the key elements of ‘pre-training’ is to strengthen the connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, fascia), and to get the body ‘ready’ for training.  My muscles can adapt to training stresses perhaps over 3 months, but training connective tissue can take up to 6 months.  Long distance hikers are prone to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, ankle, knee, hip and or other issues.  Usually, it’s a case of too much, too soon.  For example, it’s easy for a fresh, undertrained thru-hiker to push more miles out of Campo than his training should dictate, and if the hiker doesn’t take an early zero day or two, the body doesn’t get a chance to recover.  I’m prone to overuse injuries (that’s how the current situation with the tendonitis in my elbow developed).  I climb and bike a few times a week, so I’m fit, but I don’t walk a lot, so in that sense, I’m starting my program off as a noob hiker.  Here’s what I did and what I suggest doing:

  • I started hiking trails (without a pack at first),  with the shoe and sock combination I plan to use.  This not only builds up connective tissue strength, but also toughens up the skin on my feet for blister prevention.  It also trains up ‘foot-eye coordination’, so trails are better than pavement.  I killed two birds with one stone and walked my dogs at the same time.  I also threw in a few short 1 mile-ish trail runs.
  • I added a light 9 lbs (4 kg) pack when I felt I was ready, being careful with my lower back issues, and added 6.5 lbs (3 kg) on the second week.  I don’t train with hiking poles, and prefer to let my stabilizer muscles do the job.
  • I didn’t go long.  1, 2, 3 miles… whatever was comfortable.  The key is consistency.  A little every day is better than belting out a big one over a weekend which could leave me sore and require more time to recover.  I added some simple bodyweight exercises to warmup with or at the end of the hike, like 10 bodyweight squats, 10 back extensions, 10 knees to elbows, 10 pushups and 6-7 pullups.
  • I was progressing well, and added some strength training.  Walking Lunges, and Wall Balls to start.  Then also Barbell Back Squats and Dead Lifts toward the end of the training phase.

Pre-Training for me took the whole of September or 1 month.  At the end of ‘Pre-Training’, I’m hiking 3 miles with my base weight 3 times a week.  I’ve cut down my biking and climbing to about once a week for each activity, and I’ll do a scaled down Crossfit session once a week, and a strength session once a week.  I’m training 2-3 consecutive days, then taking a rest day.  The condition of both my ‘Priority’ injuries have improved, and I’m feeling good and ready to start the ‘Build’ phase of training.

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Pacific Crest Trail 2018

When I was eighteen-years-old, I made a three-week solo backpacking trip into the backcountry of Yosemite National Park.  Being a wide-eyed, big-city boy from Singapore, I had little outdoor experience.  I was slowed down by a too-heavy backpack; and from the blisters caused by a pair of stiff, new leather boots that were probably a full size too small.  The ultimate humiliation came when a French girl who had started the trail with me offered to carry my backpack for me, and share her stash of weed!

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One night, about halfway into the trip, it rained and I didn’t have a tent. I was cold, wet and miserable.  Fortunately, I was near Tuolumne Meadows, and bought a $5 tube tent from the grocery store there. While waiting for my gear to dry out, I signed up for some rock-climbing lessons with the Mountaineering School there and began a long love affair with climbing.  Despite everything that went wrong, that trip was a very positive experience.  It shaped and changed my life forever.

I’ve decided to attempt a thru-hike of The Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 to revive those positive feelings.  At 4280 km long, it’s a significant challenge.  Only about 20-25% of people who start the PCT thru-hike, actually finish.  To put it into perspective, it’s like starting from Singapore and walking to Lhasa, Tibet, and then continuing on to Kathmandu, Nepal, without reaching the full distance of the PCT.  The trail also climbs a total of more than 149,000m, or the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest from sea-level, almost 17 times.   If all goes well, I’ll start my hike in early April, 2018, and I’ll be home sometime in September.

I wanted a challenge, something outside my comfort zone, with an uncertain outcome.  I think I’ve found it.

Yeah baby… I’m stoked!

Biking Bromo

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Batu, East Java.  One of the trails we rode on this trip.  Photo by Nina FiztSimons

I made a second trip to Mt. Bromo, Java, Indonesia last week.  Unlike the first trip, where we went at the end of the wet season/beginning of the dry season in April, this trip was made smack in the middle of the dry season.  Although the trails were dry, the tradeoff was the dust, and that Bromo Classic trail, which rides across the sea of sand, was too soft to ride.

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Another one from Batu, East Java.  Photo by Ramang Kristian

This trip, most of the riding we did was cross-country, adventure-biking, done downhill style.  Short downhill sections, followed by a vehicle transfer uphill to a different trail.  After our 3 day trip though, we all felt that we spent too much time in the car for the amount of riding we did.

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5cm Trail, Mt. Bromo.  Photo by Ramang Kristian

Unless you like riding a lot of downhill and don’t mind spending time in the car to be shuttled uphill, a better way to do it would be what we did the first trip (see the video below).  We stayed in a primitive homestay at Cemoro Lawang (not recommended, try to find a hotel or upmarket homestay), and on some days, either started the ride from the accommodation, or ending there.  Transfers on the vehicle were far less than on this trip.  Best time to go would be the April-May, which is the end of the wet season/beginning of the dry.

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Stream crossing, Batu, East Java.  Photo by Nina FiztSimons

If you are wondering why there are so many photos of me, and none by me, it’s because the memory card on my Sony RX100 crapped out and I didn’t bring a spare.  Duh!

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Coffee, Java style!  Photo by Ramang Kristian

Here’s the video from my previous trip to Mt. Bromo:

Riding Mt. Bromo from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.

PaddleBoard Krabi

KEN_0816_1Inflatable SUP in Krabi

Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) is the fastest growing watersport in the world and an is a fun an challenging way to get a full-body, core-centric workout.  It’s great for touring, since you can get great views standing at full height, and Krabi, with it’s warm weather and sea cliff scenery, is a great destination to SUP.

By Krabi, I really mean the Railay Peninsula.  The beaches of Railay East and West, Ton Sai and Phra Nang are great places to launch or stop for a break, or some food.  There are numerous little caves, inlets and islands to explore in the area.

Season
Best time to visit is after the New Year Holidays from January to March, although the dry season extends from December through May.  After the new year holidays, it gets a little less crazy, a little less crowded and a little less expensive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWading out to catch the long-tail ferry boat from Krabi to Ton Sai

Getting There
Krabi is the main airport to the region, although it is possible to take a ferry from Phuket. From Krabi Airport, depending on where you choose to stay on Railay, it’s either a long taxi to Ao Nang, followed by a 10 minute ferry ride to Ton Sai or Railay West; or a short taxi and long ferry to Railay West.

Where to Stay
Probably the best, and certainly the most expensive option, is to stay at the Rayavadee Resort, but that is outside my budget.  Second best would be one of the hotels on Railay West, which is also expensive, but it has a great beach, and great views of sunset.  Railay East is set amongst the mangroves, and has a range of accommodation and restaurant choices.  Ton Sai is the low budget option.  Unfortunately, your choices there are limited to the hotels closest to the beach.  Be aware that there is a wall running the length of Ton Sai which means that access to the beach is limited to either the Ton Sai Bay Resort or the Ton Sai Jetty end.  In any case, wherever you choose to stay, it is key to ensure your accommodation of choice is close to the water, and there is room to store your SUP.  We stayed at the Ton Sai Bay Resort, which was both close to the water, and had enough space in the room to store our inflated SUPs.

IMG_3656The Ton Sai Wall separates most of Ton Sai from the Beach

Bring Your Own Board
At present, I don’t know of any place on Railay that rents SUPs, so you will have to bring your own, and given the challenges of bringing a hard board over, the only realistic option is to bring an inflatable.  We bought our Naish One Inflatable SUPs and 3-piece paddles from Rachel at www.RachelCharis.com in Singapore.  It comes in a bag that also has room for the included pump, paddle and your clothes.

Other Things To Do
The are a few shops, massage places and pubs, but it is mostly outdoor activities Rock-Climbing, hiking, snorkeling, diving.  On this particular trip, we did bring our climbing gear as well, so I got a few days of climbing in.

What’s Up With Coconut Oil?

ur1xx9qhopypxbtnp5shPhoto from Gizmodo: Please Calm Down: Coconut Oil is Fine

Should you stop taking Coconut Oil?  A recent article citing a 25-page study released by the American Heart Association say you should. The study itself doesn’t say much about Coconut Oil specifically, but rather looks at scientific studies from people who replaced saturated fat with other things in their diet, and how it relates to risk for Cardiovascular Disease.  The study states that if you replace saturated fat, like coconut oil, with refined carbohydrates, like white bread or pasta, you actually INCREASE your risk of cardiovascular disease.  Since I have replaced refined carbs, like bread, for breakfast, and substituting that for a tablespoonful of coconut oil in my coffee (aka, Bulletproof Coffee), this study was of interest to me.

Note that the study does not differentiate between ‘refined’ coconut oil, which is mainly used in countries like Malaysia, which is one of the reference studies quoted, versus ‘virgin’ coconut oil.

This article from Gizmodo takes a more balanced look at the subject. My own take is that since I am replacing refined carbs, like bread, for breakfast, and substituting that for a tablespoonful of coconut oil in my coffee (aka, Bulletproof Coffee), this is a healthier option.

How to Edit a Photo on Snapseed in 5 Easy Steps

Snapseed is a powerful, easy-to-use, photo editing app that’s available on both IOS and Android.  Best of all, it’s FREE!  Here are 5 easy steps that could benefit just about any photo, that you can easily accomplish in Snapseed in 5 minutes or less.

Below is the original image of me on a slackline captured on an iPhone 6 Plus by my wife, Laura.  It’s a great shot!  Laura captured the moment perfectly, but the image could use a little help from Snapseed to really make it ‘pop’!  Above is the final image after editing in Snapseed and uploading to Instagram.  Wow!  It only took me about 2-3 minutes, and in only 5 easy steps!  Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Straighten and Crop Tools
Straighten the image using the Rotate tool if required, and then crop.  For this image, I cropped in tighter, removing excess ‘clutter’, kept the sun in the image, and had the end of the slackline run out to the bottom right edge of the frame.

 

Step 2: HDR Scape Filter
This is a powerful tool to adjust exposure.  You could adjust the exposure with more control using a number of different controls, but with just one step, this filter will brighten the shadows and bring back some detail into washed out highlights.  You can also brighten or darken the overall image.  Of the 4 settings: Nature, People, Fine and Strong; I tend to use Nature unless there are people in the shot.  But I’ll run through Nature and People to see which one works better.  Most photos can benefit from a little use of this filter, but be careful not to use overuse it, otherwise your image can come out looking too flat and fake.  In general, I don’t exceed 50% with this or any setting.  I used +40% of the Nature setting here, with brightness set at +50%.


Step 3: Drama Filter
This is where the magic happens.  Like the previous filter, Drama accomplishes a lot in one step.  Drama adds local contrast, sharpness or ‘pop’ to an image.  There are a number of different filter settings at the bottom, and clicking each will give you a good idea of what it does, but the default setting is way too strong and the saturation too low, giving the image a ‘gritty’ feel.  You can adjust to suit your taste, but for me, less is usually more.  I generally use Drama 2, but dial the effect down somewhere between +10 – +50%, and then I raise the saturation up until it looks normal.  For this image, I set the filter strength at +25%, and the saturation at -15%.  Toggle the before/after selector on the top right to see how far you have taken the effect.


Step 4: Selective Tool
We are almost done.  Go over the image and have a closer look at the details.  Faces are one area that require special attention, and in most cases, could do with a tiny bit of brightening.  I used the Selective tool to make a little circle around my face, and then I brighten it just a little.  In this case, I used +10% brightness.


Step 5: Vignette Tool
In most cases, I add a vignette to isolate the subject.  Some images look better with it, some look better without it.  In this case, the bright areas to the right are distracting, and I used a vignette and moved it over the left center of the frame.  The default Outer Brightness of -50 was fine, but I raised the Inner Brightness to +10.  You could use some of the other filters, such as the Lens Blur to do it as well, but that look is a little harder to pull off.

The final image, as uploaded to Instagram, is on the top the page.  I use these same 5 steps in about 90% of the images I upload to the web.  Below is another before and after example I shot with my Sony RX100 of Laura at the National Mountain Bike Championship.  Check out my Instagram feed for more examples!

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Shooting Bali Rides

Cool!  I was invited to Bali to ride and shoot a video for Nina FiztSimons and Ramang Kristian who own and operate Bali Rides.  I got to invite four of my friends down for this four-day gig, so I asked my wife, Laura, and long-time collaborator Aloysius Wee, President of the Kuala Lumpur Mountain Bike Hash Scott Roberts, and GoPro Distributor for Malaysia Khoo Boo Hian along for the ride.

As usual, the riding was superb.  We got to ride new singletrack, including a moderate downhill track, which was about the maximum I could handle with my XC bike.  The weather held up all four days, and the views were stunning!  If you get a chance to go to Bali, give these guys a call.

I took what I thought was a minimum of gear for the shoot, but I’ve learned that I can pare it down even further.  For my style of shooting, here’s what I think I need:

Main Camera: 
Sony A7sii.  Full frame for shallow depth of field.  Shoots insane low light.  Useable video autofocus.

Lenses:
Zeiss 24-70mm f/4.  Relatively compact and lightweight.  A good general purpose lens.
Sony 10-18mm f/4.  Useable full-frame at about 16mm for ultrawide and timelapse shots.  Also restores wide to normal perspective at 100fps at which the a7sii crops in 2.2x.

GoPro:
Hero 4 Black.  For POV, drone shots, and anything that is going to get wet.
Essential mounts: Vented Helmet mount, Chesty, Jaws Clamp, tripod mount, Selfie stick.

Tripod:
I use a tiny Slik Sprint Mini with the center column removed and a Really Right Stuff compact ballhead bolted directly to the legs.

Drone:
DJI Phantom.  I’m still using the original Phantom with a cheap gimbal.  I’ve two minds about using a drone.  On the one hand, the drone is bulky, heavy and a pain to carry, set up and fly, but on the other hand, it gets shots like nothing else can.

Sound:
Rode VideoMicro on camera.  I used this for the interview with Scott and also for the temple shots, but I should really use it all the time instead of the built-in mic.  For really light weight adventures, I’m going to leave my wired lavalier mic and Zoom H1 recorder at home.

Slider:
Ratrig Mini 35.  Never used.  There just wasn’t time to set it up.  All the sliding shots you see in the video are hand held and stabilized in post.  That proved to be good enough for me to leave the slider at home for light weight travel.

Simply Awesome: The North Face Waterproof Lumbar

I’ve been looking for a way to carry my oversized iPhone 6+ for the times when I’m out and about, and keep it dry from sweat and sudden rain storms.  Here in humid, tropical Singapore, both are a real problem.  When I added the Sony RX100 pocket camera to my assortment of carry around items, I knew I had to find a solution.

Laura models The North Face Waterproof Lumbar – Medium
Enter the North Waterproof Lumbar Pack.  It is a 4 liter (244 cubic inch) capacity, roll-top lumbar pack with fully taped seams.  When I first saw this, I thought it looked gimmicky and could not be waterproof.  Well, I took it home and held it under water for 30 seconds, and it did not leak.  The pack also has three external pockets that aren’t waterproof, that are useful for things like keys or snacks, but everything you need to keep dry has to go in the main compartment.
It has become my ‘man-purse’ of sorts.  All my electronics and valuables, like pocket camera, cell phone, wallet, iphone lenses, spare batteries and memory cards, sunglasses earphones, and lens cleaner go in the main compartment.  Keys (if your car key has an electronic remote, it needs to go into the mail compartment), lip balm, and other small items I don’t need to keep dry, go in the outside pockets.  In daily use, I tend to just clip the two ends of the roll-top together like a regular dry bag.  It works to keep the bag waterproof, and is quicker to open and close, since I only make one clip, but does not look as neat as clipping the two ends and cinching it down the sides of the pack.
What is also cool is that you can separate the waterproof bag from the hip belt, and you could use that like a regular small dry bag.  It will hold more than the items shown above, but keep in mind that the capacity is only 4 liters.  On my scale, the whole thing weighs 249g, and the separated dry bag weighs 104g, so a pretty lightweight setup.
The roll-top dry bag can be separated from the hip belt

It keeps my valuables and electronics dry, and safely secured around my waist.  It’s the best outdoor ‘man purse’ I’ve ever used… Period.  ‘Nuff said.

The North Face Waterproof Lumbar is currently available at The North Face Singapore Stores.  

Disclosure:  I am sponsored by The North Face Singapore.  As such, I get gear from The North Face at no cost to me, or at a discounted price.  The item reviewed above was requested for my own personal use.  I just like it so much, that I felt I had to share it with you.

Penny Board vs. Oxelo Yamba

I wanted a small skateboard for transport and a little bit of fun.  I’m new to skateboarding and didn’t want to pay too much, in case I found that it wasn’t for me.  I borrowed my niece’s 2-year-old Penny Board, and after a while, decided that pink wasn’t really my colour, so I bought an Oxelo Yamba from Decathlon, which is a Penny knockoff.

Top: Oxelo Yamba; Bottom: Penny 22″

From the outside, there didn’t appear to be much difference.  They are both roughly the same length, 22″, although the Yamba is a little shorter, as you can see in the image above.  The Penny weighs 1920g and the Yamba weighs slightly more at 1980g.

Orange Yamba Wheel left; Green Penny Wheel right

They both use the same ABEC 7 bearings, but the Penny cruised far longer than the Yamba.  When I spun up the wheels, the 2-year-old Penny bearings spun for longer.  Since my niece got a new Penny and didn’t want the old one anymore, I took the old Penny bearings and installed them on the Yamba.  When I spin up the wheels, the transfered Penny bearings on the Yamba spin for longer, but strangely, when I ride the boards, they both now go about the same distance, so something else is going on that works in the Penny’s favor, and I suspect it may be the wheels.  Read on…

Yamba Hardware, 20g
Penny Hardware, 15g

Quality wise, the Penny seems better made all around.  Penny’s wheels have an inserted hard plastic cup where the bearings go, and the Yamba’s wheel is just molded rubber.  The cushions/bushings are taller on the Penny, and the mounting hardware (bolts, nuts, washers) weighs a little less on the Penny.

2-Year-Old Penny cushions left; Brand New Yamba bushings right

Performance wise is where is starts to get interesting.  The biggest difference is in the deck.  While they both flex, the Penny holds its rigidity better in the middle.  I weigh 65kgs, and the Yamba sags under my weight.  While I got used to it, if you are new and hop on the board, the sag is just one more movement variable you need to compensate for in addition to the forward movement, and side-to-side roll.  I also prefer the grippier waffle pattern on the top deck of the Penny compared to the smoother, wave pattern on the Yamba.

Penny left; Yamba right

The wheelbase on the Yamba is a little longer, and I found that it is not as maneuverable as the Penny.  The Yamba tends to understeer, the Penny turns just where I want it to go.  The upside is that because I put my feet on top of the trucks, the longer wheelbase actually gives my feet more room on the deck.

The Penny turns better, rolls better, and because of the more rigid deck, feels more stable too.  Bottom line is that I prefer the Penny.  The Penny costs twice as much as the Yamba though, and if you are lighter weight rider, or are riding to get to someplace as opposed to riding for fun, the Yamba can be good value.  If you can afford it though, go for the Penny.

Amazon usually has the best prices for Penny Boards.
Oxelo Yamba boards are available from Decathlon.com

Best GPS Apps Of 2016

Armed with GPS chips, mobile phones have become increasing powerful, and prices of such devices have fallen to levels within reach of many.  The larger screen and ability to quickly and easily update apps and maps, make them a viable replacement for dedicated GPS devices in many cases.  There are some caveats to using your phone for navigation, such as making sure you don’t run out of power, and having a back-up, such as carrying paper maps or another mobile phone.  Read more here.

There is no one single best app for navigation.  Different apps have different strengths, different areas of coverage, eg. urban vs. backcountry.  In no particular order, here are the GPS apps on my iPhone and my picks for the best GPS Apps of 2016:

1.  Google Maps (Free)

Like it or not, Google is one of the best apps for GPS.  It is extremely powerful with excellent maps, including some offroad trails, a searchable data base, real-time traffic information, and turn-by-turn navigation for driving, walking/biking, and public transportation.  It requires data for use, and it is my default app at home where I have a data plan.  You can store a small portion of a map, like a city, for offline use, but that doesn’t work for me, and so I don’t use this app when I travel.

2.  Here Maps (Free)
Here Maps was originally developed by Nokia and is now owned by three German automotive companies – Audi, BMW and Daimler-Benz,  Map presentation is not as slick as Google Maps, but both app functions similarly.  The big difference is that it can do it Offline – meaning it does not require online data to function.  To have offline navigation capability, you will need to download the map of the country (not all countries are supported) and store that on your phone.  Once the map is downloaded, you will have a searchable data base, turn-by-turn navigation for driving, pedestrian, and public transportation.  You can also get real-time traffic information by choosing to use the app online.  Here uses its own maps, so it may be better or worse than Google, depending on where you are.

3. Maps.Me (Free)

If there is a no-brainer navigation app to download, it’s Maps.Me.  For an offline GPS app with a searchable database, it’s extremely responsive, fast to load app with a very small footprint.  Just to give you an idea of how remarkably compact the map data file size is, Singapore on Here Maps is a 112MB download, while it’s just a 7MB on Maps.Me.  It also claims to cover every country in the world.  It uses the open source OpenStreetMaps data, which can be either good or bad, depending on contributors to the mapping database. Often, I’m able to search out locations like a small hotel or coffeeshop that cannot be found on Here Maps.  Other times, it misses completely where Here or Google Maps will find it. It offers turn-by-turn voice instructions can be enabled for driving and walking/biking, but no option for public transportation like Google or Here.  The map presentation looks quite nice, and various points of interests and landmarks pop up as you increase the scale, which is great for travellers on foot or bike to orientate themselves while moving around a city.  It’s strength is being able to search out and find things that travellers would be interested in – parks, trails, coffeeshops, hotels, etc.  For my use, it has replaced Maplets on my iPhone.  I have not noticed any battery drain for Maps.Me, but I do notice that Maps.Me selects the GPS so it is always on, regardless of whether you are using the app or not. 

4. Gaia GPS (Paid)
For backcountry navigation, Gaia GPS remains my app of choice.  The availability of USGS Topo Maps for the USA and a host of other downloadable wilderness maps, and features such as being able to create a route manually on the iPhone itself, and power saving features make it a clear winner.  Gaia GPS can be used offline, and in addition, also selected for use in ‘Flight Mode’, which means the phone is off.  In the backcountry, this is a good thing, since it is unlikely that there is a phone signal, and your phone isn’t left searching for a signal.  Note that the search function is poor, and it doesn’t do turn-by-turn navigation, so it’s not a GPS app for urban use.  For a write-up on navigating with Gaia GPS on your iPhone, read this.