Enjoy the great outdoors? There’s an app for that

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant

Tuesday, December 26, 2017 8:14AM

Where’s that trail? What’s that flower? What are those stars? What animal made those tracks? How long is that hike? Will it rain when I’m out?

All good questions. And all good questions that a smartphone app can help answer.

Love ’em or hate ’em, a smartphone is a toolbox that you can pack with as many cool tools as you want.

It’s good to keep in mind that they’re just tools. All the cool tools in the world aren’t worth a dime if you don’t know how to use them or lack the common sense to enjoy the great outdoors in a manner that is safe and respectful of others and the environment.

And while it’s good to have all the answers in the palm of your hand, do you really want to be staring into your phone while you’re missing that spectacular view?

With those curmudgeonly caveats, here are a few apps worth checking out.

For the navigator

There are dozens of navigational apps, all with their pros and cons and individual features.

MapMyHike is a spinoff of MapMyFitness, MapMyRide for bicyclists and MapMyRun for runners. It lets you log your hike, check distance, calories burned, pace, elevation gain, and find other nearby routes. And, of course, you can share your hike on others with the app or on social media.

AllTrails has some 50,000 trails, and you can easily find a few near you. AllTrails describes the trails and lets you write your own review. You can find topographical maps, use your phone’s GPS tracker and take photos of your hike. It lets you create your own maps, including map layers.

BackCountry Navigator is one I use a lot, because of its versatility and ability to record tracks and waypoints on different layers. It lets you easily import and export maps and data to other platforms, whether you have different hikes or projects in the field. My trusty handheld GPS affords many advantages over a smartphone, but Navigator can complement that tool and work as a good backup.

For the birder

For identifying bird songs, there are apps like Larkwire, which help you learn the identifying characteristics. Then there are apps like Song Sleuth that can instantly show you the most likely bird that you heard. With both the learning and identifying variety, there are dozens of apps you can choose from – some free, some nominally priced.

A few other good birding apps include Audubon Birds Pro and Sibley eGuide to the Birds, iBird Pro, and Peterson Birds. Some of these are good at letting you keep track of your sightings, identifying birds, sharing your sightings.

For the stargazer

You can point your smartphone toward the night sky and impress your friends with your vast celestial knowledge. Or at least get away with what these cool apps tell you. They’ll help you find and understand the constellations and other heavenly bodies.

SkyView can tell you the paths of objects in the sky. Or it can help you find specific stars or space stations. Google Sky Map will even tell you where an object will be later in the night. The Star Chart app will let you go back to see that object thousands of years ago! Night Sky gives you access to the stargazing community, where you can learn and share tips with others looking to the heavens. Star Walk 2 gives you augmented reality that lets you see the constellations and the rich mythology behind them.

For the survivor

SAS Survival Guide is basically the bestselling book by John Wiseman, covering basic and advanced survival topics, from first aid to edible plants and Morse code. Cairn is an outdoors safety app that does crowdsource information about where you can mobile signal on a map and lets you leave a trip plan with your friends. If you are ever overdue, your contacts are alerted, and are given a map of location data where you were tracked to.

For the New Hampshire-ite

Whether you fish, hunt, hike or enjoy New Hampshire’s great outdoors and wildlife, the N.H. Fish and Wildlife Pocket Ranger is pretty handy. Produced by the N.H. Fish and Game Department in partnership with ParksByNature Network, the app provides all sorts of information on hunting, fishing, boating and wildlife watching in New Hampshire.

Aside from providing news, advisories and weather alerts, it offers cacheable map tiles for offline use. You can record trail distance, mark waypoints and record wildlife sightings. It has a lot of other features that are handy if you don’t want a bunch of other apps cluttering up your phone space.

For the nature nerd

One app that’s growing in popularity is iNaturalist. It lets you identify and keep track of what you saw when and where, whether it’s a track, an animal sighting or a plant. If you find something that stymies you – say, a wildflower or a track – just upload a photo to iNaturalist, along with some data. The app’s own extensive crowdsourcing helps identify your mystery thing. But you don’t have to be stymied to have this app provide useful. It can help you keep track of what you see, when and where, expanding a natural history database in the process.

“It’s a one-stop-shop for all naturalists,” says Dallas Huggins, a student and naturalist from Newmarket. “I am a huge fan of iNaturalist because the app allows you to collaborate with other naturalists in identifying species, offers photo recognition which can also assist in identification, and allows you to create projects that are helpful in organizing data, creating reports, and make it easy to bring in new naturalists to help gather data while also allowing experts to check the work.”

Put the phone down

The two most important apps are the one in Your Head and the one in Your Heart. Your head will tell you how to navigate the outdoors safely and reliably, showing you the coolest places to go, and the places to avoid. Your heart will lead you to the wilderness, where you will enrich your soul, cleanse your mind and help you sort the important from trivial in your life. If your phone dies or you have no cell service – so long as you treat these apps right – they’ll always give you good advice and direction.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock. He can be reached at ericadine@gmail.com.