By Ted Levin
Any backpacker knows that one of the best parts of venturing into the backcountry is escaping from the world. Whether that’s escaping from the 24 hour news cycle, the unavoidable occurrence of a ringing cell phone, or just the world altogether, hiking deep into the wilderness in search of peace and quiet is what it’s all about.
Part of that search means leaving the smartphone at home, or at least that’s what I thought when I first got mine. I believed it to be an abomination to travel out into the backcountry with my smartphone in my pocket.
When downloading apps started to take off a few years ago, I found a few apps related to my outdoor interests that seriously changed how my expeditions went. Once I realized I could turn off the calling features of my smartphone and instead use it as a standalone tool, I ended up taking it with me a lot more. And no, I never played Angry Birds while lounging in my hammock on the trail.
I’ve now downloaded more than 50 outdoor related apps. While it would take me a while to tell you about each one, I can sum up my top five and why I like them. In fact, let me do just that…
Once you download Peaks, your expeditions will change. Ever been backpacking through a new area only to constantly find yourself curious as to what peaks are surrounding you? This app makes it easier to find out.
I heard about Peaks last summer, and downloaded it before a trip through the Cascades in Central Oregon. It was an area I’d never been to before, and Peaks proved to be quite the companion. It allows you to hold up your smartphone in the direction you’re looking at, and you’ll instantly get information about the peaks in front of you. And you’ll get all kind of information about the peak, including longitude and latitude, altitude, distance from you, and even the weather forecast.
Peaks uses augmented reality technology to help identify more than half a million peaks around the globe. Additionally, you can snap images of the peaks which are then overlaid with the identifying information. This is a great feature, as it allows you to go back after your trip and make a more detailed outline of what you experienced. It’s an app I’ve used quite a bit, and one that I wouldn’t hesitate calling my favorite.
2) What Knot to Do (in the Great Outdoors)
Another app I’ve found useful when it comes to the great outdoors is What Knot to Do. Remembering knots has always been something that I struggle with, and I barely even remember some of the most basic knots I learned in Boy Scouts.
Fortunately, What Knot to Do makes it easy to reference any knots that might be needed (particularly useful if you’re hammocking with climbing rope!). In fact, the app contains seventy knots, and references the revered “Ashley Book of Knots”. Having this reference on my smartphone means I don’t have to lug a book of knots with me in my pack.
To me, there isn’t anything much more enjoyable than setting up camp, starting up a fire, lounging back in my hammock and gazing up into the stars. While I can definitely point out the major constellations, I’m far from being an expert on the stars. This is where I’ve found the app Star Walk to come in handy. Just like Peaks, Star Walk uses augmented reality to display information on what constellations, stars, and planets you’re looking at.
What I like so much about Star Walk is that it has a “Night Mode” that lets you preserve your night vision, so the light from the screen doesn’t mess with your eyes. This is a key feature that’s missing from some similar apps, and it helps you to be able to see a lot more at night.
4)The Backpacker Checklist
I’m a forgetful guy; I’ll admit that. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been backpacking for twenty years, I still usually end up forgetting something of chief importance. That’s why I’ve found having an app like The Backpacker Checklist to help me make sure I’ve got everything I need is incredibly useful.
Not only will The Backpacker Checklist give you an estimate of how much your camping gear will weigh, it also helps you plan where you can pick up items. One feature I’ve found very useful is the feature that allows you to save lists, as I can create lists based on how long my excursions are going to be and thus plan accordingly.
Ever since part of my sixth grade science curriculum focused on local birds, I’ve considered myself a birder. One of my favorite parts of backpacking through new parts of the country is the excitement of catching a glimpse of a bird I’ve never before seen, and then identifying it. This is where I’ve found the app BirdsEye to be very helpful.
Although BirdsEye is expensive when compared with other apps, I’ve found it to be worth every penny. It’s essentially a bird reference book that fits in your smartphone, but it also does a lot of things that old fashioned bird reference books can’t.
With BirdsEye, you can use the included maps to pinpoint the birds that you are in search of. It even helps you plan trips based around birding, which I’ve done a few times. One feature that I really enjoy is all the detailed bird calls that you can listen to; this has helped me identify new species many times.