For many lovers of nature, one of the best things about heading out into the great outdoors is the opportunity to unplug and leave all the digital devices behind. And while this is a widely shared and well-founded sentiment, sometimes modern technology and Mother Nature can actually work well together, even if the day’s goal might be to get away from the hustle and bustle of connected life.
Case in point: A range of smartphone apps have been created to take outdoor adventures to the next level by delivering benefits like educational content, navigational help and other value-adds, all accessible in the palm of the user’s hand. Consider these five apps that make great digital companions during treks into nature:
- Trailforks: Developed via crowdsourcing and geared primarily toward mountain bikers and hikers, this app gives users easy access to interactive maps of nearly 450,000 miles of trails in 100-plus countries. Adventurers can simply choose an area on their digital map and click the “explore” button to find helpful information such as trail ratings and points of interest, as well as photos and videos uploaded by other users. Those heading especially far off the grid can even download a state’s data before they head out so that all of the local maps are stored directly on their phone, no signal or connection needed. Trailforks is available for Apple and Android.
- LeafSnap: Even for the biggest of botany enthusiasts, heading out into nature can bring exposure to a range of plant and tree types that might not be so easy to ID. But using this app developed by plant experts at Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution, users can simply snap a photo of a leaf, and the app will recognize and identify 90% of all known plants and trees, plus provide a wealth of information about the leafy discovery. This educational app is available for both iPhone and Android.
- SkyView: Especially when camping in remote areas on clear nights, the late-night sky can deliver as much visual allure as the campfire. And for those with an interest in astronomy, the SkyView app can add even more interest to the heavens above by putting a virtual planetarium in the user’s pocket. With this app, when users point their phone at the night sky, they’ll be treated to clear on-screen identifications of all the planets, satellites, stars and constellations that fall within view. This one is also available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, with a free version called SkyView Lite available to both Apple and Android users, as well.
- Cairn: Designed with hiker safety in mind, this app will share users’ GPS location data with chosen contacts throughout their outdoor adventures, greatly simplifying any needed search and rescue efforts should trouble arise. The app also provides users with maps created via crowdsourced data that show where cell phone coverage is and isn’t available along their route, making it much easier to find their way to a signal if needed. Cairn is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
- First Aid: Another digital tool geared toward adventurer safety, this app from the American Red Cross helps guide proper emergency protocol by putting expert advice on how to respond to an array of accident types in the palm of the user’s hand. Step-by-step instructions, videos and interactive quizzes educate and guide users through just what to do when disaster strikes and first aid is needed. It also offers safety tips for natural threats such as severe weather, snowstorms, tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes. This app is available to both Apple and Android.
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