The Strava app for iPhone and Android users has become one of the leading fitness trackers for runners and cyclists worldwide. Built for go-getter athletes and everyday recreationists, Strava is king when it comes to creating and utilizing those coveted heatmaps to boost your workouts.
Strava effortlessly turns your iPhone or Android into a refined and full-functioning cycling computer that utilizes smart GPS tracking built right into your fitness wearables.
Start Strava before an activity to get detailed performance measures that help you and allow you to post and share metrics with other like-minded adventurers and add to Strava’s global heatmap and your personal heatmap.
Strava is truly a social network for active individuals to explore, connect, and compete with a global community.
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What is a Heatmap?
One outstanding feature that Strava offers its iPhone and Android users is the visually impressive (and extremely useful!) heatmap.
In general, the heatmap collects data from logged public activity over the past year and highlights it all together on a digital map that is viewable via a web browser.
Strava shows its most well-traveled roads, trails, and general routes as increasing hot spots depending on the activity level or “heat” generated by users.
After a major overhaul and update to the app in recent years, Strava’s heatmaps can now accommodate a cool variety of different activity options.
As a Strava user, you have the choice to log under the category of:
- RIDE (ride, handcycle, wheelchair, velomobile, E-bike ride)
- RUN (run, walk, hike, rock climb)
- WATERSPORTS (swim, kitesurf, windsurf, kayak, row, stand up paddle, surf, canoe),
- WINTER SPORTS (alpine ski, ice skate, backcountry ski, Nordic ski, snowboard, snowshoe, winter sport).
You can view a heatmap for all of these activities together or select one specific activity to display its own individual heatmap. This upgrade added to the inclusivity of the app and encourages athletes of all activity types to capture their fitness efforts.
To date, you cannot view heatmaps within the actual Strava app. You need to use the browser version of Strava. So open Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or your internet browser of choice and log into Strava’s website first.
What’s the difference between Strava’s Global and Personal Heatmaps?
The global heatmap is the mecca of publicly logged activity information crafted by athletes for athletes worldwide. Strava essentially creates opportunities for others to discover new places to be active, whether via bike, run, swim, or ski.
This digital interface shows “heat” or highlighted routes made by thousands, if not millions, of Strava users straight from the Strava app on their iPhone, Android device, fitness tracker, or smartwatch.
The brighter and bolder the route, the more popular and widely used it is (and hint, probably a great starting point to find a route that is guaranteed to be a stellar workout and adventure).
You can see below that the more illuminated cycling routes through northern Italy course from San Marino to Parma and from Milan throughout the Italian Alps. These are popular rides that you can rest assured of knowing others have cycled them again and again.
Strava’s global heatmap is updated monthly to reflect the ever-changing activity log and to keep the most preferred routes current. All users do have the option to opt-out of public tracking if they wish.
When I first relocated for a job after finishing grad school, I used Strava’s global heatmap feature to find popular road cycling routes that would soon fill in my personal heatmap. They go hand in hand, and one often builds from and benefits the other.
Strava’s personal heatmap is similar to the global version, but it exclusively tracks and visualizes your own personal routes and activity around the world.
Your most favorited and regularly visited routes burn brightest on your personal map.
How can I access and use Strava’s Heatmaps?
Taking advantage of Strava’s heatmap feature is two-fold.
Half of its use comes from just putting in the work to cycle a particular route or paddle a portion of a lake. The other half, and maybe the cooler half, is viewing your results.
- After completing (and logging) a workout or activity, jump over to Strava’s website using your browser of choice on your phone.
- To see your personal heatmap, log in to your account, head to the Dashboard tab, and choose Heatmaps.
- To see Strava’s global heatmap, go to the Global Heatmap site. You do not need a Strava account to see the global heatmap, although you get greater detail with a paid account.
- Select the sports group of your choice (e.g., ride, run, water, winter) and then opt to either view all activities or just a specific one.
- You can also change the heatmap style, i.e., heatmap color, map styles, opacity, and 3D terrain.
Some additional cool specs worth mentioning when using and viewing your Strava heatmap include the latest option for 3D terrain.
From the sidebar, you can toggle on and off the 3D map, which brings hills and mountains to life for a more immersive and realistic experience.
Also, note that you can change the color of your heatmap from a fiery “hot” orange, to blue or purple, among others.
Pick your heat opacity depending on how muted or bold you want the logged routes to be displayed, add labels of major cities, towns, and regions for great geographical reference, and select a map style that can range from dark to light or satellite view to hybrid.
Strava has really honed in on the customizable features that make using and viewing a heatmap more fun.
Strava also allows you to view activities from a particular time period, such as the current year or total activity from years past.
Only you can see your personal heatmaps. Though you can’t formally share them with others as part of Strava, you can always use your built-in screen capture feature and share your stats and visuals that way.
Five tips for using Strava Heatmaps
- Use Strava Routes to discover new routes via Strava’s heatmaps suggestions. You can specify the elevation, terrain, and distance you want to conquer, and Strava searches your area to find something that matches your preferences.
- Be sport-specific. Select your activity of choice to highlight only the routes you wish to see to avoid unnecessary clutter on your screen.
- Choose safety first. Focus on the brightest areas to help you find the most well-traveled and safest routes that other athletes have completed.
- Zoom way in to find smaller trails around popular areas, like a park that may initially be hidden from view. This is great for the adventurers looking for something more off the beaten path.
- Look for ovals. These help you locate running tracks at parks, schools, or other recreational facilities if you want a more structured workout.
How do I keep my data private when I use Strava?
When it does come to sharing personal data, privacy and security should be at the forefront for consumers in a digital world.
As mentioned earlier, you do have the option to opt-out of sharing your whereabouts with the global community.
To do this on the web version:
- Go to your Settings from your profile picture in the top right corner.
- Click on Privacy Controls from the left side of the page, and scroll down to Metro and Heatmap.
- You can then deselect. Include my activities on Metro and Heatmap.
On the iPhone or Android mobile app:
- Select Settings (gear icon in upper right corner) > Privacy Controls > Metro and Heatmap
- Deselect (toggle off) Include my activities on Metro and Heatmap.
Alternatives to Strava Heatmaps
Strava is an excellent app for your iPhone or Android if you’re an avid fitness nut who sees the value in tracking your exercise metrics.
While there is a free version of Strava, the paid version gives you access to more features. As of 2021, the premium Strava Summit costs $5/month or $59.99/year.
But what are the options if you’re not a Strava enthusiast?
Trailforks is a great alternative that offers both a desktop web version and a mobile app for iPhone and Android.
Trailforks has built a massive network of trails across 95 different countries, with nearly 400,000 logged routes just waiting to be explored.
Though Trailforks does provide routes of all kinds, they have a greater focus on mountain biking, hiking, trail running, horseback riding, dirt biking, and ATV use.
They promote trails for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, backcountry trekking, and various forms of skiing for the winter months. Their three largest categories (and most logged routes) are mountain biking, hiking, and trail running.
Like Strava, you can use Trailforks to find and plan routes and record your own as part of a larger network.
Additionally, Trailforks is loaded with all sorts of features from topographic layers to trail conditions and, of course, the trail popularity heatmaps.
One cool option that Trailforks offers its users is the ability to display trails ranked by color for either their difficulty or popularity.
For example, green highlighted trails are the least ridden on any given heatmap, and red is the most popular. Yellow and orange trails are also listed in between those two extremes.
So, if mountain biking is your jam, Trailforks prides itself on being the largest database of mountain bike trails in the world – and it just may be your perfect app for logging those off-road adventures.
Garmin Connect also offers its popular heatmap in a limited capacity, which may be news to many users.
It has yet to be made available for its iPhone or Android apps, but you can view the desired heatmap via a web browser on your mobile phone (like Strava.)
- Open a web browser on your phone and go to the Garmin Connect website. Sign in to your account and tap the hamburger menu button.
- On the left side of Garmin Connect’s website, click on Training then Popularity Heatmap.
- It asks for your location to display a local heatmap. You can also change the location manually in the location search bar.
- Popularity heatmap options to pick from include road cycling, mountain biking, gravel cycling, running, and trail running.
- If you can’t access the controls or see your map, swipe the screen with your finger or rotate your screen to landscape view!
Currently, Garmin Connect heatmaps are only available for more major cities in the United States.
Though Garmin’s heatmaps are less robust than the world-renowned Strava, their heatmaps still provide you with hidden gems, like local routes, just waiting to be explored.
Suunto also offers heatmaps within its app!
Like Strava, Suunto’s Heatmaps highlights the trails based on Suunto’s user community. You can access these heatmaps with the Suunto app once you set up an account, even if you don’t own a Suunto device!
You can view activity-specific Heatmaps as layers and plan your route all within the Suunto app.
Activity-specific heatmaps show you the most popular routes and there’s a new popular starting point feature to help you decide where to start your activities.
And for folks that own a Suunto 7, you have the option to see heatmaps on your watch and even when it’s offline, when not actively connected to the internet.
Offline access for Suunto 7 owners, includes both Heatmaps and detailed terrain maps so you always know where you are and where you were. You can even follow your trail back to where you started from.
Regardless of what application you use, heatmaps are an excellent resource for discovering and exploring new routes across many locations worldwide.
So if you’re ready to find some new “hot” places to play, don’t hesitate to use, connect, and contribute towards this active, global community of heatmap users.