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Heading to nature to unplug doesn’t mean you have to leave your phone at home. In fact, you shouldn’t.
Technology has become ever prevalent in the outdoors these days. Maybe you’re that person who has to get on their Instagram Stories the minute they make it to the summit because “Instagram or it didn’t happen” — right?
Or maybe you need to listen to music through your earbuds rather than listening to the rustling of the leaves around you (no judgement here). And sometimes, it’s a safety net to let your partner know that you made it back to the trailhead.
Regardless of the reasons you bring technology out into the wilderness, why not add some apps to your phone to make the most out of your day? The list below is perfect for any adventurer whether you’re a bird nerd, culture aficionado, safety geek, or a dreamer staring into the skies.
These are the must-have apps for any outdoor enthusiast.
Related read: AllTrails vs Gaia Reviews: Which Hiking App is Worth It?
Why you need it: to understand the original land stewards and Indigenous Peoples of North America.
Not many who seek adventure know the original landowners of the places they recreate on. Before European settlement was established throughout North America, the land was dominated by Indigenous Peoples. This app allows users to know whose land you are currently recreating on.
When you open the Native-Land.ca app (and if location services are enabled), you’ll see several layers of varying colors that show you the extent of the different Indigenous communities and the land they once occupied. For example, I live in southern New Hampshire so when I open the app I see that the Pennacook, Wabanaki, and Abenaki tribes were once dwellers of this area.
2. Seek by iNaturalist
Why you need it: act like a plant expert in the wilderness — even if you don’t have a botany degree.
By far, this is the most used app on my phone. If you’re an environmental nerd like me, look no further than the Seek by iNaturalist app. It identifies pretty much anything. Did you see a cool insect on the trail? Try the app.
Is there a mushroom and you’re not sure it’s toxic? Try the app. Or maybe you need to make sure that the plant your child just touched isn’t poisonous. Try the app.
It’ll identify any animal (although be safe when trying to get a picture), fungi, or plant! You might not get an exact (or even correct) identification on the item in question depending on how good the photograph is and if it’s detailed enough.
But many times it’ll narrow down your search where you can look it up later. Plus, this app works offline!
Related Read: 12 Epic Hiking Camps & Summer Backpacking Trips
Why you need it: if you’re a digital girl in a digital world.
This is one of the few apps that I would recommend paying for the upgraded Pro version. For those that are not familiar with this app, it’s known in the outdoor world as the “go-to” for trail maps. Any regular user of the app will tell you that AllTrails gets it wrong all the time but it’s the only national app that gives you an idea as to where you might be on the trail.
The reason I recommend buying the Pro subscription is to download the maps for offline use and their Lifeline feature. If you’re like me and spend a lot of time in areas where there is little to no cell service, both of these perks are essential.
You can download maps prior to your adventure to make sure you’ll have navigation even when cell service is spotty. The Lifeline feature allows you to share with friends and family where you are while you’ve enabled the app. This is especially nice for those who prefer to solo adventure.
If you’re looking for a more high-tech navigation app, I’d suggest Spyglass. Its range of uses far outweighs that of AllTrails. Regular users include bikers, pilots, sailors/boaters, as well as hikers.
5. The Dyrt
Why you need it: for the overnight adventurer who’s always frantically trying to find a campsite.
Whether you are an over-planner or last-minute guru, The Dyrt app will allow you to have a stress-free overnight adventure. The app has a sexy interface that empowers the user to choose their preferences for an overnight stay.
It has tens of thousands of campsites across the United States within national parks, state parks, public lands (like on Bureau of Land Management land), KOA, and even private parks.
This is another one of those apps where it might be worth the upgrade to the Pro version. The Dyrt’s Pro Trip Planner is one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen in an app. Basically, you input waypoints for your roadtrip (i.e., starting point, ending point, potential stops along the way), vehicle information, and other options (e.g., avoiding highways, budget, etc.).
The app then outputs the ideal roadtrip and campsites to hit up along the way. It takes the worry out of trip planning!
Why you need it: in case you need to know exactly what mountains surround you.
There are several apps that identify the mountains that are on any horizon but most either cost money or are only available on one platform.
PeakVisor checks all the boxes (although the free version allows only one location per day). It even works for non-North American peaks so if you’re a European resident or a frequent adventure traveler, this might be the app for you.
7. Merlin Bird ID
Why you need it: in case you are deathly afraid of all noises in the woods.
Have you ever heard a bird while out on the trail and asked yourself “what the heck is that?” Well, with the Merlin Bird ID app (built by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) you will finally be able to identify it! All you need to do is record the sound.
This is KEY since you’re more likely to hear a bird rather than see it. Although, to be fair, if you snap a photo of it, this app will also identify it that way. No more worrying about that weird scream (it’s just an Eastern Screech Owl) or that shrill (it’s just a catbird).
If you’re a true bird nerd, you can even start saving birds to your “life list”.
8. Weather Underground/Wunderground
Why you need it: the most accurate weather app for outdoor recreationists.
I know that Apple and Android phones all come with their version of a weather app. But for any adventurer out there, you’ve definitely realized how limited they are.
The Weather Underground/Wunderground app sets itself apart from other apps through its Smart Forecast feature. You can choose different weather conditions (like wind, temperature, precipitation) and the app will tell you when to go for your ideal conditions.
Say you need a clear night for snapping the Perseid meteor shower, Wunderground will give you the exact times to do it. Or maybe you are aching for a fourteener summit and not sure when the best time will be.
Wunderground will help! If you are specifically looking for fourteener weather information, I would also recommend getting OpenSummit which gives exact weather conditions for over 1,000 different peaks across the United States.
Related read: 5 Things You Might Not Know About Wildfires
9. Star Walk 2 Ads
Why you need it: to impress your date when you bring them on a moonlit walk or to keep your kids entertained prior to bedtime.
This is an app I would NOT recommend paying for the ad-free version. There is no difference between the two apps other than that. The Star Walk 2 app is a great app for those with kids because it’s so easy to use.
All you have to do is lift your phone to the night sky and the app will do the work for you. It identifies all the constellations currently seen in your neck of the woods. Plus it’ll tell you about the latest astronomy events like lunar eclipses, northern lights displays, and meteor showers.
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