One of my personal favorite things about spending time outdoors, especially extended trips, is the ability to completely unplug and disconnect. The often incessant need to check email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, is diminished to such a degree that after a nominal period of time, it is forgotten altogether. Depending on where you are, it may not even be an option to stay connected because of a lack of cell phone service, barring the latest in hi-tech satellite connections. Yet, while a technological purge is a refreshing and often much needed reprieve for us hyper-connected perpetually plugged-in modern humans, technology can in many ways enhance and augment our outdoor experience through outdoor apps.
The smartphone has a level of processing power and gadgetry built into that can accomplish tasks that used to take multiple different devices, tools, skills, etc. to accomplish can now be completed from one device. The saying “there’s an app for that” might have at one time been only a clever marketing slogan but now, there truly is an application for just about anything one can think of, including outdoor apps. Here are 8 iPhone outdoor apps that I think are at the pinnacle of usefulness on your next outdoor adventure.
1. Trello- is a powerful list application. Packing list for your next extended trek? Check. Planning to-do list for your next trip? Check. The app allows you to make list boards around a given subject. The goal, trip, project, etc. that you are organizing. You can add items to that board either as single text snippets, check lists, due dates, and you can add tags, attachment files, and even include other members in on the board. This application isn’t specifically an outdoor application at all and you might be wondering why I didn’t pick one of the many camping packing list specific apps that are available out there. The reason is because most of them are terrible. First off, they are so niche that unless you are packing for your next camping trip, you won’t be using the app for anything else, and they aren’t even as good at that task. Also, many of them are paid apps, costing anywhere from $.99 and higher, not a lot of money, but with the wealth of quality FREE apps, I better be getting truly superior application if I am paying for it. Trello is FREE and it is absolutely superb. Try it for yourself. https://trello.com/
2. MotionX-GPS- An all inclusive GPS and maps app that is top rated on the AppStore, it is currently listed at 4.5 Stars by reviewers. The app uses the iPhone’s native GPS to track and show your position anywhere in the world. The app shows yo this on a wide variety of maps, including topographic, road, satellite and others. The huge advantage to this app is that all of these functions are available offline when you download a map area in advance. You can download topographic maps for offline use and because it uses the native GPS function you can see your real-time position in relation to those maps without cellular service as well. Note that you do need GPS signal, not cellular, but you will need to get into a clearing or other point where you can get a clear view of the sky. You have the ability to mark and store up to 101 waypoints so that you can mark points of interest and track your progress as you trek. You can even add photos for certain areas of interest so that if you lose GPS signal or want to mark a point of interest that is in a particularly covered area (tree cover or otherwise) you have a picture to remind you of what that point looks like. The app cost $.99 which makes it very inexpensive when compared to other similar apps or purpose built GPS units. http://gps.motionx.com/
3. Survival Guide- Is an app version of the US Military Survival Manual FM 21-76. It is basically an Ebook version of the manual with good menu design and intuitive chapter selection. This version looks to be from a 1970 issued manual but all information contained in the manual is every bit as relevant today as it was when published. The manual includes chapters on all facets of survival including the psychology of survival as well as specific survival advice for varying climates and locals. This app will be just as useful long before your trip as it is on your trip for real time references. All content is native to the app so you don’t have to worry about having any cell service to reference it on the go. So you can look up how to skin that rabbit you snared after 3 days without food. This app is completely free and should be a no brainer. Survival Guide on iTunes
4. Oh, Ranger!- This app is a one stop shop for all of your itinerary planning needs. Using location services built into your smartphone it can tell you what parks are nearby, including really small city and town parks. If you hook up your email in the app settings you can actually report missing parks if you have a hometown little known favorite spot. You can fine tune your results by selecting from a list of different activities and the app will narrow the parks down according to your ability to do those activities there. For camping reservations the app includes the phone number for reservations at that park or you can click a link and it will take you to the American Parks Reservations website which all State and Federal Parks use. Its Free and really easy to use and I am really impressed with the accuracy of the parks that are included. Get it. http://www.ohranger.com/app/parkfinder
5. WhatKnot- Is a animated knot guide by Columbia Sportswear. The app has a very easy to navigate catalogue of useful knots to be used in outdoor endeavors. From a tumbler list you can choose your type of knot, the tumbler can be differentiated by knot name or category. When you select the not to view you get a description of the knot and its uses and also a step by step animated tying guide. The list does not include every knot available to you but the ones included are good and the list covers all of your needs. A cool feature is the ability to add certain knots to a favorite list for quick on the go reference. Best of all, this app is also completely free. WhatKnot on iTunes
6. Sky Guide- Is a fully comprehensive star and constellation guide. The breadth of information included in this app is impressive. It automatically aligns itself properly so that when you point it to the sky in the direction that you are looking, the on screen image is identical to what you should be seeing in the sky (baring cloud cover and other obstructions). This is not augmented reality and the app isn’t pulling up the star by identifying what your phone’s camera is picking up but it is very easy to locate what object you are looking at in the sky in the app image. Once you have used the app to identify the celestial object that you are looking at you can click on the object in the app image and it will pull up a page on that object specifically. This is where the app earns its money. Information about each object includes its sector, type of object, alignment and much, much more. Sky Guide on iTunes
7. Storm- an app by Weather Underground is a powerful weather and storm tracker app. With high resolution (down to 250m) radar this app brings high accuracy weather tracking to your pocket. With the notifications enabled you can get alerts to a variety of weather phenomenon as they are unfolding. Feels like rain? Check storm and you can get a local weather data from over 250,000 personal weather stations. Animated graphics show you events, fronts and other data layers over top of the full screen map. This is another freebie and you shouldn’t hesitate to check it out. You will find that it quickly replaces your native weather app. http://www.wunderground.com/storm
8. Theodolite- Is a great app that serves as a augmented reality viewfinder that works with your phones camera to bring you accurate landscape and navigation data. Altitude, viewing angle, compass, range finder, geolocation tagging with picture all inside of the app and more. You even have the ability to mark your location on the built in map overlay and share that location with a team of up to 20 people. This app is amazing and its functionality and accuracy is backed up by its use by professionals such as surveyors, first responders, military, search and rescue personal and geologists. The technology built into this app and the capability to use it without cell service make it well worth the $3.99 asking price. Theodolite on iTunes