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Handy Smartphone Apps for Outdoor Adventurers

Smartphone users, you now have more app choices than ever to satisfy your outdoor interests. But which ones are worth your while? Here's a quick look at some of the leading apps. (If you don't yet have a smartphone, a fair warning: The coolness of these apps may convince you to pony up for one.)

Of course, with all of these apps, keep in mind that smartphones depend on cell towers and batteries. While they can be fun and useful, you never want to rely on one in the backcountry. After all, nothing beats your go-to gear and satellite-based GPS technology.

Survival Pocket Reference is a reference for first-aid techniques, creating outdoor shelters, building fires and more (based on a U.S. military survival guide, no less). While it's chock-full of juicy outdoor survival skills and tips, this Apple app reads more like an e-book than the über-interactive app format we're used to. You'll get a great education (possibly more than you really need to be prepared for the outdoors), but you'll need to sift through the table of contents to find what you need.
Price: $0.99

WeatherBug app screenshotWeatherBug offers live local weather through the largest network of U.S. weather stations. This Apple/Android/BlackBerry app is a whiz at finding my nearest station quickly and shares an easy-to-read forecast. I especially like how its video feature offers me a real-time visual of sky status.
Price: Free

Flashlight lights your smartphone screen in a customized color and brightness to match your outdoor nighttime activity (e.g., the red flashlight is perfect lighting for stargazing). Thanks to my large iPhone screen, this Apple app seemed to distribute light more evenly and with a wider scope than my small lightbulb flashlight.
Price: Free

MyNature Tree Guide app screenshotMyNature makes Apple app field guides for identifying trees and animal tracks. I found Tree Guide's clear, simple pictures made tree labeling a cinch. The app even did the hard part for me—leading to the tree result with a fun, no-brainer quiz.
Price: $6.99

Audubon Birds is a nifty handbook for identifying North American birds. I liked that this Apple/Android app lets beginners like me identify birds simply by shape. Plus, verifying birdcalls against the app's recording library is oh-so-satisfying. (Psst, I liked this app's format so much that I added Audubon Wildflowers to my next hike and tracked wildflower sightings with the built-in GPS. Looking forward to comparing my flower trail in later seasons this year!)
Prices: $14.99 (Birds), $9.99 (Wildflowers)

TrailBehind app screenshotTrailBehind shares user-generated trail maps with info about trails, summits, streams and park landmarks. My favorite aspect of this Apple/Android app is its recommendations for the best hiking spots based on my location.
Price: $0.99

Topo Maps offers GPS-accurate topography maps of the U.S., Canada and beyond for bikers, campers, hikers, etc. I liked that the Apple guide let me see what kind of terrain was ahead of me on my hike, but I found myself wishing that its offline maps were a little crisper visually.
Price: $7.99

Moon Atlas app screenshotMoon Atlas is a great Apple app to let you explore the moon's phases and surface in 3D, according to your location. This app has a very responsive scroll and zoom, so it was easy to scan the lunar globe for craters and shadows that have always puzzled me.
Price: $5.99

Starmap is one of Apple's easiest-to-use star-finder apps. It can identify constellations in seconds, but I found myself wishing for more information on stars and planets.
Price: $11.99

This is the first post in a series about handy smartphone apps for outdoor use. Are apps a part of your outdoor adventures, too? Join the conversation and tell us your favorites.

Posted on at 12:54 PM

Tagged: apps, electronics, gps receivers and smartphone

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Please be sure to check the Chimani apps for National Parks. One user of my apps just alerted me to the article, and stated the following:

"Wow. Hard to believe this article didn't contain the @Chimani apps for National Parks."

To learn more about the apps, go to:

The Yellowstone app is currently free until July 17 (

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Dan Geo

my absolute favorite is Columbia's "Take Ten" for iPhone. It is a customizable packing list for outdoor trips that take the guesswork away from "did I pack everything I need?" You can make separate lists suitable for different trip types. Never fear leaving something behind again.

Narnian Rockhound

Should have entitled this article "iphone" rather than "smartphone".


Considering the iPhone is a smart phone and almost half the apps are compatible with Android, the title seems appropriate.


Great suggestions. With the flood of mediocre apps seen today, it's great to have good reviews that pinpoint the good ones. Thanks!


Great suggestions. With the flood of mediocre apps seen today, it's helpful to have good reviews that pinpoint the good apps. Thanks!


Great suggestions. With the flood of mediocre apps seen today, it's helpful to have good reviews that pinpoint the good apps. Thanks!

Iain Frew

You should check out Spot Locator App that runs on the Windows Phone 7 that I developed at

I'm a paragliding pilot and use the SPOT satellite messenger device for piece of mind if I get into trouble. It's becoming popular amongst other paragliding pilots to track the location of where other pilots are flying or have landed and gives directions to go and pick them up. However, the app can be used for any outdoor activity where the person is using a SPOT device and allows other people who don't have a SPOT device but a Windows Phone 7 device to see where they are and even get directions to them.


Thanks, Francesca, for the link to GPS technology @ REI. Going to be heading out on my first geocaching adventure soon and this will be helpful. Have you, or has anyone out there, used the I phone GPS app for geocaching? How did it work?

Jessica Dally

Great list! Just shared it with the community on Appolicious here: I was trapped in June up in Leavenworth due to the Icicle Creek landslide and these are the apps I found really useful: The knot one is something I pull out every camping trip these days. Really awesome app. Coverage is also nice for finding the nearest spot of coverage for your phone. Helpful for the "running late getting back, don't freak out" call... assuming you don't have a spot!

A few other camping lists: with Smokey the Bear! and with a good trails app though frankly it's not as good as most of the guidebooks I've picked up from REI. Campwhere is pretty worth it for finding campsites.

Also fat thanks to the others here who have posted other apps to check out. Looking forward to these!

Ben from Colorado

Also, be sure to check out for an iPhone app that will give you weather reports specific to 14,000'+ peaks in the US. Handy and simple to use, plus once viewed info is kept local on the device for when you invariably loose your cell signal.


Check out "My Tracks" by Google.

A beautifully and simply made GPS tracker that is easy to use, and still extremely versatile. And of course it's from Google, so it's free, reliable, and only available on Android.


Good article. Here is my take on the same topic. I use a different set of apps than mentioned here.


Great Article- Another one for your list is bikesavr an Iphone app.
For people that transport their equipment on a roof rack. The bikesavr alerts the user just before they get home so they don't forget about their gear and crash into the garage.


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