I’ve long been an advocate of off-the-grid adventures—getting as far from cell signal as possible, leaving that irritating thing in the Jeep for good measure. I’m also a gear and tech junkie that lives with a non-stop, social media mainline coming through a pile of iDevices. It’s a duplicitous life but, so far, I’ve managed to balance the two sides of my existence.
Lately, however, I’ve heard that blasted little *ding* on high mountain ridges, an island without a cell tower of its own, and deep—and I mean DEEP—in the backwoods of banjo-pickin’, squirrel-and-dumplins, hillbilly territory. It’s inescapable.
Since AT&T and their cohorts have extended my digital tether, I’ve decided to put it to good use on my adventures with more than just the typical Instagram and Facebook posts to show I’m alive and having fun. I’ve run through about two hundred bucks worth of apps that tout everything from comprehensive, emergency medical info to easier national park campsite registration. Some are great; most are worthless, but the ones I use on a regular basis are all free. So, without further ado, here are the eight (free) apps I believe are worth bringing along on your next adventure. Plus an honorable mention.
They’ve rounded up locals from all over the country to give beta on everything from hiking trails and climbing routes to river runs and restaurants. Most of it’s solid too. The nice thing is that they’re still growing so, each time you go back, you’re likely to find some new stuff to explore.
You already have the camera strapped to your head, why not sync and control the shots remotely? That’s the gist. You can also send interns out with a cameras strapped to their heads and (hypothetically of course) get incredible, up-close shots of mating buffalo or rutting elk from the safety of your Jeep.
In 1985, before apps existed, these guys setup a pay-per-call surf report system that allowed wave riders to “know before you go” about conditions at breaks along the California coast. They’ve expanded a bit since then and the app’s pretty essential if you’re headed out on dawn patrol.
I spent a lot of my youth ignoring scout leaders who tried to teach me how to tie knots. Hindsight’s 20/20 but I think I would have been more into it if they’d mentioned rock climbing anywhere in the lesson. I’ve got a few more than the basics down now but, every once in a while, it’s nice to have a refresher for when my fingers just can’t get it right. Here’s that refresher in a beautifully simple, easy to use, visual-learner-friendly app.
More specific crag and route beta, offline use, and the ability to bookmark your favorites? Check. Check. And check. It’s also a tracker for your climbing projects and allows you to rate those that you’ve ticked off the list.
This one’s only sort of free—the app is but it’s not useful without their camera-controlling gadget. It lets you connect a DSLR to your iDevices for hard-to-reach/dangerous shots from weird angles and distant tree limbs leaning over the river.
It’s an app full of topo maps. Download before you go for offline use or pull them up along the trail—either way works. It’s the best one I’ve found outside of buying a trail-specific Garmin or carrying stacks of paper maps. If you want even more functionality, you can download the expanded Gaia App package and it does all sorts of stuff that may or may not be helpful.
They do ask for donations in app, which gets old except for when I remember that a poorly tied knot could lead to use of the ARC’s blood donor services. It’s a fairly basic collection of medical info that addresses all but the weird stuff you might encounter in the woods.
Honorable Mention: PayPal