Forrester research recently released  results of a study that showed  17% of US adults used smart phones in 2010 and numbers expected to increase by double digits in the coming years.  Iphone and Android, the most popular devices each have hundreds of apps that can be useful to those venturing outdoors, especially hikers and backpackers.  I’m a big fan of good apps for the outdoors and wilderness.  A good outdoor app allows me to save on weight and combine functions in a multi use tool.  Having said that technology does have limitations (battery life, reception, malfunction, etc…) and you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Here are some of my favorites outdoor App picks:

Cairn - A safety notification App that also shows you were there is cell coverage in the wilderness.  You start a Cairn by letting designated contacts know where you are going and when you are expected back then it starts tracking you.  You can adjust the tracking frequency based on how much battery you want to conserve in relation to how often you want it to track.  During tracking it gathers cell reception at the tracked points and crowdsources the data to build a cell coverage map of the wilderness.  Cairn also notifies contacts with your known points if you don't check in on time.  Download Cairn from iTunes.


Flashlight- Both the I phone and Android have multiple flashlight Apps available.  My droid came preinstalled with one.  I love the simplicity of this app which is just a white screen, but puts out a good amount of light.  The Iphone flashlight even has an LED version with strobe and SOS functions.   My version of flashlight on android uses the camera flash.  Outdoors I wouldn’t use the flashlight over my headlamp for most uses but it has come in handy trying to find my headlamp in a dark tent, to quickly spot and read things, or for a backup light.  















GPS-There’s a dozen fairly decent GPS apps for the Iphone, Android, and Blackberry.  One of my favorites for the Iphone is the MotionX GPS.

MotionX-GPS shows your position and track at all times on street maps, topo/terrain maps, satellite/hybrid maps, or marine charts.  MotionX provides a total of nine map types including Google and Bing satellite and Hybrid maps and allows you to store over 300 waypoints and 0ver 100 saved tracks.  The other cool feature I liked is the ability to easily share and post tracks and waypoints to Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail using Google Maps.  It includes a stopwatch and supports:


  • Compass for orientation in True or Magnetic bearings.
  • Visualize your progress and ETA while navigating.
  • View your SOG, VMG, distance to waypoint, and bearing to waypoint.
  • iPhone magnetic compass integration.
  • View coordinates in Lat/Lon, UTM, or MGRS coordinates.


Testing on an Ipad against my Garmin GPS it was accurate to 40 feet in most cases, more than enough to justify the price at $2.99 .


















For Android I recommend the Backpacker GPS trails put out by Backpacker Magazine.  Record hiking trails, backpacking trips, and camping adventures with the free version of the. View maps, navigate with digital compass, take photos, and backtrack to the trailhead. GPS Trails Lite works in remote places without relying on data and cell reception.  The Backpacker app also allows you to post your trips on Facebook and Twitter.  It also comes in a Pro version for $9.99 which gives you unlimited access to US and CA topos, and worldwide terrain maps which can be viewed offline.  The paid version also included 3000+ trip reports for national parks and major cities.

Download for free from the Android Market.


Packing and Gear-The new Mammut Packing List  iPhone app allows you to compile packing lists, share it with your friends and then start packing. The team works together to gather all the necessary equipment, making sure that nothing is forgotten. Once you've ticked off all the items on the list, the tour can begin! 

    Here’s some highlights:
  • Basic packing lists checked by Mammut Pro Team athletes and the Mammut Alpine School, with the option of selecting the tour type and duration.
  • Any missing items can be added to a list with just a few taps of your finger.
  • Items that have already been packed are ticked off.
  • Distinction made between private, general and team items.
  • Responsibility for team items assigned to a specific individual.
  • Comments function available for each item for important preparatory communications between team members.
  • The Mammut Packing List is optimized for iPhone iOS 4.






Avalanche Safety App by FitClimb for Android- I’ll start off by saying this is a biased review since this App is put out by a site I founded.  For active outdoor enthusiasts, who want to be empowered and better control their risk, provides a tool to better educate users and help  predict avalanches in the field.  The Avalanche safety evaluator features a Clinometer  (slope meter) for accurate slope angle combined with a series of questions to determine risk level and comes with helpful tips to avoid and survive an avalanche.  Here’s some highlights:


  • Avalanche Evaluator - series of questions based on statistical avalanche research  used to determine risk level. 
  • Build-in Clinometer measures slope angle - useful for determining snow slope stability. 
  • Informative video, text, and images on how to avoid and survive avalanches.  
  • Quick links to country and regional avalanche safety bulletin information for 18 most avalanche prone countries. 
  • Windows and Iphone versions coming soon. 
  • No reception needed for the risk evaluator and slope meter functions.
  • Find it on the Android Market.


Astronomy apps are great for clear nights to enjoy the night sky and educate yourself on stars.  One of the most popular apps is STARMAP a pocket planetarium.  It brings the present and future sky map at the tip of your fingers, at any time, anywhere. With the new iPhone 3GS compass, Starmap displays exactly the portion of the sky you are pointing at. Hold the device parallel to your line of vision and discover the map smoothly scanning the sky as you move.  The PRO edition contains more than 2,500,000 stars, NGC/IC catalogues, 25000 objects with detailed information. Starmap PRO reflects exactly what you see in your eye piece. It will help you in planning your observation, selecting featured object and view tonight's sky on a single page. Manage your optics, use the time slider for finding conjunctions. Point easily with the Telrad. Choose the best optics for your camera, use the astrophotos timer with automatic logbook entries. Create notes and alarms related to objects events.  More than the average backpacker needs for $18.99, if you must have it go with the standard for $11.99.


Medical-I’ve yet to discover a good First Aid or Medical app specifically for the wilderness.  In Lau of a true Wilderness First Responder app, I’m recommending the First Aid App put out by the American Heart Association for the Iphone.  The main reason I like it is for design, usability, and the instructional videos.
















Good app developers optimize for battery life and in the outdoors consider lighting conditions like night time and bright areas.  I’d like to see more outdoor apps that take into consideration the users environment and how they would interact.  Like ski and trail apps that you can navigate without taking off your gloves and apps that are able to leverage the uniqueness of mobile to fill needs in innovative ways.  To solve around limited battery life in the outdoors, rather than recommending a spare battery I suggest carrying a solar charger that you can clip onto your backpack as you hike and use on multi day trips to charge all your electronics.


Have a favorite outdoor App?  or want to see one developed?  reply to this post.


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Comment by LV on November 18, 2013 at 7:51pm

While I never rely on electronics when backpacking there is a useful app I use when hiking locally (still carry the map/compass tho).  The app is called Maplets by Zaia Design at  It is available for both iPhone and Android and is free.  This App provides mobile map versions of National, State, Local Parks, Subway and Bus systems, Bike routes, Ski resorts, and much more.  Once downloaded, these maps are used offline and while this is not a GPS many of the maps are "location enabled" and the app will show where you are on the map while using it. It is a quick, handy reference.  New maps are being continually added and if you don't see what you need you can ask Support to add.  If it is available they will add it.  One of my favorite apps.

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