If you’ve been cooped up all winter, like some of us here at Digital Trends, you’re excited that temperatures are finally starting to rise. Winter is releasing us from its icy grasp and the weather is getting nice and warm. It’s time to enjoy the great outdoors. We’ve been scouring the app stores in search of handy hiking aids, camping help, and adventure apps. If you’re heading out into the wild and leaving your modern comforts behind, just make sure you install these apps first, and don’t forget your smartphone!
Updated 5-12-2014 by Simon Hill: Updated text and links, and added the AllTrails app, MapMyHike GPS Hiking, Audobon Birds Pro, and Project Noah.
You’ll want topographical maps and offline GPS navigation when you’re hiking into the wild and Google Maps probably isn’t going to cut it. There’s no multi-platform option that ticks all the boxes here, so we recommend BackCountry Navigator PRO GPS ($10) for Android. It includes a good selection of topographical maps for the U.S. and supports GPS navigation so you don’t need cell service. You can also add and import your own GPS waypoints. The app relies on a number of free map sources, but you’ll find additional maps available as in-app purchases. If you don’t have a dedicated hiking GPS system, this app can transform your Android into the next best thing.
For iOS we recommend the MotionX GPS ($1) app. It offers a good selection of free topographical maps and marine charts. It also supports GPS navigation, without the need for cell service, but you will need to splash out on in-app purchases if you want to increase your GPS waypoint limit (GPS will work without cellular service, but you need to download maps and other data for where you’re hiking in advance of your trip).
If you’re on Windows Phone, try Outdoor Navigation ($5) for a range of free maps and a digital compass. It’s not ideal for topographical or trail maps, but your options are limited on the Windows Phone platform.
Anyone rocking a BlackBerry should try Navigator ($7). It pulls in free map data and can be used for offline GPS navigation.
With 50,000 trail guides in the U.S. and Canada alone it’s not too difficult to work out why the AllTrails app has more than 1.5 million users. It’s an easy way to find trails near you, whether you want a gentle hike, a bone-rattling mountain bike track, or a great spot for some fly-fishing. You can create your own trails with GPS tracking, photos, and text, and save them for later or share them with others. If you are willing to splash out $50 per year for a membership then you get the pro version which takes advantage of a partnership with National Geographic Maps, and gives you the ability to print and edit maps. There are also events, such as the World Elevation Challenge which lets participants to compete and track their progress in real-time as they scale Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro, Mount McKinley, and Everest.
Looking for an app to track your hike or cycle? This one will provide you with detailed feedback on your route, your average pace, distance covered, calories burned, and a whole lot more. It’s geared towards workouts, but it has a number of features that make it ideal for anyone looking to record hiking routes and share them easily. You can also find popular local routes and compete with others to record the best times. If you sign up for the premium version at $2.50 per month, there’s a live tracking feature that lets you keep tabs on your hiking buddies in real time, heart rate analysis, audio coaching, and route recommendations.
If you’re a bit of a twitcher pursuing a list, or you’d just like to learn to identify the birds that you see when you’re out hiking, this app will help. It includes the current AOU Checklist of North American Birds and there are 821 species covered with photos and detailed descriptions. You can listen to the sounds that different birds make to help you identify songs and calls. You’ll even find migratory maps and updated sightings drawn from the database at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. It combines an accessible guide with bird alerts, and it’s great value for money on Android. If you do like it then check out Audubon’s other apps covering everything from trees to insects.
Document all of your wildlife encounters and share them with others using this handy app. It serves as a field guide with photographs of animals and plants that you can filter by location to find what’s been sighted recently near you. You can take and upload your own photos of the wildlife and interesting plants that you find and tag them for submission. There’s also a “Field Missions” section where labs and environmental organizations can appeal for data and assign you a project. The idea is better than the execution, but this still a really fun app and a great way to engage kids in learning about the natural world around them.
You’ll see various recommendations for military survival guides online (including the free Army Survival Guide for Android), but if you want something truly comprehensive that could save your life, you should opt for the SAS Survival Guide. The Special Air Service is a regiment of the British Army and widely regarded as one of the toughest fighting forces on the planet. This app was written by a former SAS soldier and instructor and it combines over 400 pages of text with videos, photos, Morse code and compass devices, comprehensive first aid, and a quiz to test your knowledge. Not only is the content top quality, but the app is well designed and it’s easy to use as a reference guide. The Windows Phone version is currently on sale at $4, the iOS version costs $6, and the Android version is $5. It’s well worth the money. It’s not available on BlackBerry, but you could try Army Survival ($5) instead.
There are 59 National Parks in the United States and this app provides useful information, up to date news, and photos of all of them. This master app gives you a map of their locations and a general overview, but you’ll find that Chimani offers free individual apps for many of the top parks, from Acadia, to Yosemite, to the Grand Canyon. These individual apps include audio tours, hiking trails, points of interest, offline GPS navigation support, and a host of additional guides for everything from the best scenic spots, to Ranger-led events. This is a great app for planning your trip and making the most of your chosen National Park when you get there.
Looking for a great off-road activity near you? With the Every Trail app you’ll get access to over 400,000 user submitted route maps and travel tips for your next adventure. You’ll find maps with POIs marked, photos, audio guides, and travel logs, from all sorts of travelers across the world. You can use GPS to track your route, but you’ll need to pay $4 to get the Pro version for offline use. You can also use this app to create your own guides for future use or for others to enjoy, and it’s easy to share on social media directly from the app. It’s not confined to hiking – you’ll find bike, ski, sail and other trails on offer as well. All of the data is drawn from the EveryTrail.com website, and while there isn’t a version of this app on Windows Phone there is another app called Trailhead which draws on the same source.
You can guess what this app does from the name. It lists over 17,000 campgrounds and RV parks all across the U.S. so that you can find an option near you. You can filter the results to find destinations offering the amenities, club discounts, policies, or activities that you specifically want. The app draws data from the popular CampingRoadTrip.com website and that means you get detailed and up to date information, photos, and reviews for each campsite. It integrates with Google Maps for easy navigation to your chosen destination and you can save a record of your favorite campsites for future reference.
There are few things more enjoyable, after a day’s hiking, than sitting back and gazing up at the night sky. When you’re far enough out of the city the stars are so much easier to see and these apps can help. Once again, there isn’t a great app for all platforms, so we’ve found an option for each one.
Android users are lucky, because the free Sky Map app is really excellent. You can find the positions of the stars and planets by holding your smartphone up to the sky. You’ll also see the constellations marked, and you can even time travel to see the difference in years gone by.
You don’t need to worry if you’re using iOS, because Star Walk ($3) is pretty special. It marks stars, planets, satellites, and constellations, along with a night mode that’s easy on the eyes, and a time machine function to see what the sky used to look like. You’ll also find a community of star gazers, info on celestial events, and some stunning photos in this app.
For anyone with a Windows Phone, SkyMap Free is worth a look. It shows planets, stars, and constellations and there’s support for live tiles. If you want to get rid of the ads then it will only cost you $1.50.
On BlackBerry you can try StarTracker ($3) for a wide range of stars, planets, and constellations, along with the same time machine functionality as Sky Map and Star Walk.
Any suggestions for great outdoors apps that should be added to the list are welcome.
Article originally published 4-27-2013.