Although summer is over, and with it warm comfortable hiking weather, there is still some time to go before the onset of winter. So nature lovers planning to go hiking this fall need these 12 useful iPhone apps to make their excursions less prone to the dangers of the wilderness.
This map comes with GPS coordinates and doesn’t need to be folded. Download your neck of the woods for $1.99 or get unlimited access to all maps for $4.99. The app tracks your trail as you hike, allowing you to place markers at significant points along the way and review your hike duration, distance, pace, and elevation gain at any point. All maps are stored in your phone’s memory, so no reception is no problem.
2. Star Walk
Scroll through a virtual copy of the sky so that you can better appreciate the real one. Star Walk maps the sky from your viewpoint. If you’re facing south, for instance, you can find the map for the constellations and planets in front of you by scrolling to the south arrow on the Star Walk map. Clicking on stars provides coordinates and more information. It’s an easy way to start learning about astronomy for $2.99.
A night mode tints the screen red and makes it easier to read on an otherwise jarringly bright screen in the dark.
Some people yell, “Hey, I found a footprint!” You can be the person who yells, “Hey, I found an eastern chipmunk footprint … or maybe it’s an eastern gray squirrel!” Scats and Tracks provides everything you need to decode what animals leave behind on the trail. It includes illustrations of all footprints, animals, and yes … scat types. The backyard version is free. Guides to specific regions cost $3.99.
This $0.99 app is pretty simple. It tells you what your current elevation is. Of course it’s an essential component of any decent bragging tales you plan to tell after your hike. Elevation includes two different calculations. One is the ground elevation using USGS data at your current location. The other is a calculation using the GPS on your phone.
There’s also a tweet button, so you don’t need to waste any time with that bragging.
5. Park Maps
Imagine that you drove to every notable U.S. State Park and picked up a map at the entrance. And then you carried all of those maps around with you wherever you went. This app would be the paperless version of that. No bells or whistles, just every hiking map you need for $.99.
There is always a chance that you will become hopelessly and desperately lost for days. If you have the Army Survival Guide on your phone (and a bit of battery life left), you could potentially avoid the embarrassment of perishing in the wilderness alone.
More likely, you’ll find the $1.99 guide to be appropriate entertainment and conversation kindling.
This free lantern is shameless advertising, but it’s also pretty cool. Choose from a selection of classic and modern-style lanterns and adjust the light for your needs. At full blast, the lantern throws out a decent amount of light. Like other flashlight-type apps, it does use a lot of battery and is probably best used as an entertaining addition to your primary light source.
Bird guidebooks are probably most useful when taken into the woods, but its hard to justify carrying around a huge tome when you plan to walk all day. The iBird guides are just as good as hardcovers, but much lighter.
iBird apps include detailed bird portraits, range maps, taxonomies, key factors for identification, and song and call recordings from the Macaulay Library at the Lab of Ornithology. Fifteen common birds of North America are free, but more extensive guides by region cost $9.99. The true bird fanatic can opt for the $29.99 pro version, which has info on more than 900 birds.
Conservation organization The National Audubon Society knows its trees. And you can too, with its tree reference app. Browse trees by family (like Maple or Beech) or by name. If you’re not sure what kind of tree you’re looking at, there’s also a quick guide that helps you identify the tree based on its shape or leaves. GPS allows you to plot your sightings, and you can use the app to file your tree photos (or enjoy the 2,000 color photographs included in the app). At $9.99, this is probably an app reserved for avid tree enthusiasts.
This $1.99 app is as beautiful as it is useful. An elegant index of butterflies fills the home screen. Scroll for more index pages or tap the butterfly that you want to identify. You’ll get an animated close up of the illustrated butterfly and learn its name.
When you spot something on the trail that looks like the tasty (but expensive!) Morel from last weekend’s farmer’s market, it can be tempting to snag it for your dinner. But amateur mushroom hunting can be a dangerous sport.
So dangerous, in fact, that the user agreement for this app guide to mushrooms includes an “important poisoning disclaimer.” In other words, it can’t hurt to double-check.
Roger Phillip’s guide includes a searchable database of mushrooms with photos and important details like each fungus’s location, normal size, and edibility. You can also locate the unknown mushrooms you encounter with a visual key or filtered search. The lite version is free, but considering the possible consequences of eating an unknown mushroom, it might be worth springing for the $1.99 full version, which includes more listings.
12. Chirp! USA Lite
Tune in to bird songs by training yourself with this free app. Select your region to see the birds that are commonly heard there. You can sort the birds by name, how commonly they are seen, or their song style and listen to each bird’s unique tweets. The app also provides a picture of each bird to make spotting nearby tweeters easier.
Once you’re learned the calls in your area, you can test your knowledge in a challenge that asks you to match each song with the appropriate bird.