Do High Adventure Apps Belong Outdoors?
For this writer, as a Boy Scout in the new millennium, one rule reigned supreme. That rule didn't concern knives, fire, or pitching tents — it was the ban on electronics. "You have to enjoy the outdoors," adult leaders would say. "None of this electronic nonsense." True, if you're in the mountains you don't want your eyes glued to the latest Pokemon game. But thanks to smartphones, plenty of applications now exist that can significantly enhance a trip outdoors. In particular, four types of apps stand out.
Would you utilize any of these apps on a camping trip? Let us know in the comments.
Despite their utility, birdsong apps are slightly controversial. First the pros: You can use nifty apps like Audubon Birds to attract birds, by playing back recordings of species when you hear them in the wild. But critics say the proliferation of these types of apps can negatively influence the mating and survival of rare birds. It's a classic environmental quandary: Single offenses pose little threat, but habitual abuse does. For what it's worth, the American Birding Association encourages use of these types of apps so long as birders limit their use, especially in conjunction with rare birds. Lots of birders now swear by using their phones, and you can too, so long as you use the technology sparingly. National Geographic and Sibley both produce high-quality apps, but they're pricey ($10 and $20, respectively). Go classic with Audubon Birds, currently on sale for $3. Audubon comes packed with information about 820 species, eight hours of bird sounds, and seasonal and migratory maps.
The National Parks Service doesn't support using technology to lure animals in any capacity, meaning that both old and new school methods are banned. That being said, the NPS loves educating its guests (have you ever met a park ranger?) and this extends to their affiliated apps. For $3 a pop, MyNature Inc. has created apps to guide nature lovers through local tracks, scat, tree, flowers, and animals. Locations include Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Glacier, and Grand Canyon. If you're trekking outside of the National Parks, or just want something more comprehensive, try iTrack Wildlife. At $15 the app does have a hefty price tag, but like many outdoors apps, it's worth the cost. iTrack includes tracking information for 66 North American mammals, 700 track and animal photographs, 120 skull photos, and track drawings. Plus, the company also notes the ease and searchability of a mobile app over traditional tracking books.
Many developers are still working out the kinks in trail apps, with one of the biggest hangups being cellular coverage: Chances are that by the time you figure out you're lost, you won't be receiving the best 3G service. That being said, these apps specialize in preventative measures. Most of them feature downloadable maps, often curated by users, so that you can essentially replace your paper maps with digital versions. A magical GPS to get you out of sticky situations? Not quite. But a convenient upgrade to keep you out of them? Precisely. The category's gold standard is Gaia GPS, a $20 app that comes with tons of bells and whistles: unlimited downloadable maps, coming with topographic, satellite, and local road modifications; the ability to record paths and take geo-tagged photos; and reviews about local waypoints and places. If you're looking for something easier on the wallet, try EveryTrail Pro, which costs $4 but sports many of the same features as Gaia.
First aid and safety
Smartphones have increased our access to reliable safety information, and this utility be put to work in the field. Not surprisingly, the app to beat is the American Red Cross's First Aid. Free and well-reviewed, the app comes brimming with information, including step-by-step instructions, safety tips for natural disasters, videos and animations to learn first aid, and a nifty feature that fully integrates 911, in case you decide the emergency is out of your hands. And, of course, most of this information is available offline. All you need to remember are the Band-Aids. In case you get lost, the $1 Yodel app is a great tool to have. Yodel users can curate a list of contacts to send hiking updates to - bragging during the good times, and a critical safety beacon during the bad. The app's SOS function also provides a useful (though alarming) feature: When activated, Yodel will send an emergency message to all of its users contacts, and then auto-dial 911.
--Image by iStockphoto/eldadcarin
Eric Brown is an editorial intern at Sierra. An Eagle Scout who has hiked in Denali National Park and kayaked down the Snake River, Eric thinks the world is worth saving, even if it has given him his fair share of sunburns. In the fall, he will be a senior at Northwestern University's Medill School, where he enjoys writing about music and editing for North by Northwestern.