Obviously, when you’re out breathing in the fresh air and exploring the wide open spaces, you don’t want to be bothered by your phone ringing, getting incessant texts, or any other distraction that takes your eyes and mind off of Mother Nature’s glory. It is especially so in today’s world, where everyone from six to ninety-six has a smartphone that rings, dings, quacks and sings. However, you can use these devices to your advantage. There are a plethora of incredibly useful apps to help you better navigate, understand, and explore the outdoors. Granted, battery life is a concern (take a solar charger into consideration?), but used sparingly and intelligently, you can transform your previously annoying device into a weapon of recreation. Here are a few favorites.
Cost: Free Intro, $9.99 Full Access
If you’re not familiar, Geocaching is a navigation-based activity that is much like a scavenger hunt aided by GPS. Enthusiasts will place a container full of goodies or a sign-in log at a specific place, mark the coordinates, and place those coordinates online with a set of hints, clues, and guidelines. Goodies range from trinkets like keychains or plastic army men to tokens from vacation spots, or really anything that reflects the originator’s personality. The rule is, if you take something you must leave something, so gather up your coolest whatnots from the junk drawer in your kitchen and get hunting. Geocaches are found in any number of different places, from parks to grocery store parking lots. Chances are you’ve walked right by a good number of cleverly-placed caches without even realizing it. The app will show you the nearest caches, hints, previous finds, and many other things. It may drain your battery a bit while searching for a signal, but you can also use it to lead you directly to the cache, as it provides a compass and a rough distance to the cache from where you stand. It’s definitely worth the small fee for the unlimited fun outdoor opportunities.
Whether you’re an astronomy fan, trying to impress someone, or just generally interested in the Great Beyond, GoSkyWatch is a super cool app. Simply point your phone to the heavens (day or night), and it provides you with the name of whatever star, planet, moon, or giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth that you are looking at. It will tell you the name of any constellations said star may be a part of, and even a compass to tell you which way you are facing. One of the neatest features is that it’ll give you a photo of what they look like close up. For those who fancy themselves junior astronomers, you can share what you’re looking at via nearly all forms of social media, email, or text.
National Parks by National Geographic
Developer: National Geographic Society
Cost: Free; full guides for purchase
This app is the ultimate guide for planning and enjoying your next trip to one of America’s coolest parks. It provides all of the general information such as where to stay, what to do, and even local time and weather conditions. Points of interest at each park have been marked and can be accessed via GPS, there are photography tips and examples, and a whole boatload of other options and accessories. If you’re a die-hard American traveler, this app is a must.
ViewRanger Outdoors GPS
Cost: $14.99 for full version
Imagine having a topographic map for every public trail you can imagine right in your pocket, only not nearly as bulky and cumbersome. That’s a rough description of the many things that ViewRanger can do. It can track your speed, elevation, ETA, how far you’ve traveled, and several other statistics. You can share where you’re at, what you’re doing, and pretty much everything you can think of about your trip via social media, whether you’re doing it for fun or for safety purposes. One of the greatest features is that you can actually download maps so that you can use them offline in case you are way out in the sticks. There are an incredible amount of features with this app, and it can only be fully appreciated by downloading it and playing around with all of the features for yourself.