Outside and Online


The best apps for planning your outdoor adventure

(and having a great time once you’re there)

By Molly Newman

Sunscreen…water bottle…first-aid kit…smartphone? Maybe it’s time to update the classic “10 Essentials” list to include the handy GPS device/camera/music player/information source you’ve already got in your pocket or purse. As these apps show, your phone can be your ticket to a better-planned, safer (or crazier), more memorable outdoor experience.

Oh Ranger app image

Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder

Free for iOS and Android
Half the fun of any trip is the planning and anticipation ahead of time. Oh, Ranger! lets you search national, state, and local parks across the country to find one that offers exactly the activities you’re looking for. Schedule a relaxing river float or a down-and-dirty backpacking adventure. Heading out with the family or a furry friend? You can choose facilities that feature amenities like playgrounds, picnic areas, even dog runs. Trying to make the whole group happy? Share the parks you’ve found with built-in messaging features.

Already know where you’re headed? Know what to expect by searching for the park ahead of time. Check in once you’ve arrived, and contribute a crowdsourced review after your trip.

AllTrails app image


Free for iOS and Android
Sponsored by National Geographic, this extensive database of trails caters to outdoor lovers of all types. After a quick and painless signup process, you can browse trails in your area or around the country. Too many choices? Filter options allow you to search for trails that meet your needs, from length and difficulty to special interests like birdwatching, cross-country skiing, even trails offering disability access.

Once you hit the trail, Alltrails’ Record option is with you every step of the way, keeping track of your pace, elevation gain, and overall progress. Detailed topo maps are easy to download for offline access–a real boon in rugged wilderness areas. You can even share photos and impressions of your hike with other Alltrails users via its easy-to-use review features.

Accuweather Minutecast app image

AccuWeather MinuteCast

Free for iOS and Android
You’ve just made it to the trailhead, but dark clouds are gathering near the peak. Should you brave the trip and risk getting caught in a thunderstorm or bag the climb for another day? MinuteCast offers minute-by-minute weather forecasting, letting you peer into the future to see exactly when and if that storm will hit your area. It also connects you to local severe weather alerts and longer-term forecasts. And, for the true meteorology nerd, it includes radar and satellite maps (so you can take your own stab at predicting the weather).

You may never be able to tell with 100% accuracy whether sunshine, storms, or hail will greet you in the backcountry, but MinuteCast lets you gamble with much better odds.

Mountain Project App Image

Mountain Project

Free for iOS and Android
Whether it’s a casual afternoon of bouldering or an intense week of Alpine climbing, Mountain Project is an invaluable tool for planning, completing, and recording just about any climb. Sponsored by Black Diamond Equipment, the app is an extensive resource for climbs throughout Utah, the U.S., and the world.

Pre-plan your route by selecting it from list, map, or photo views. Then download it to your phone and enjoy offline access to climb data even when you’re out of cell range. Add it to your tick list when you’re finished and share a star rating for other climbers.

All this functionality means the app is not entirely intuitive to use, though—but an hour or so of playing with its extensive feature set should both make you an old pro and inspire you to tackle new climbs near you.

Rustic Run app image

Runtastic Mountain Bike

Basic version free for Android / $4.99 for Pro version (iOS and Android)
Drawing on Runtastic’s extensive experience in fitness app design, Runtastic Mountain Bike includes a full slate of features that make it perfect for planning, recording, and analyzing your singletrack adventures.

Start by browsing for routes in the area you want to ride; each route is clearly mapped plus tagged with categories like “Marked,” “Fun,” and “Family Friendly.” Once you’ve chosen a route, save it for reference, downloading an offline map if you think you’ll be out of cell range. Other notable perks include the super-accurate elevation calculator, in-app weather info, and heart rate monitor integration. You can also use it to play your music and get encouraging feedback from “Julia,” the built-in AI who will talk you through brutal climbs and rocky descents.

first aid app image

First Aid by American Red Cross

Free for iOS and Android
No matter how careful you are, accidents can always happen. Whether it’s a simple cut or sunburn or a serious condition like a broken bone or suspected heart attack, First Aid includes clear, explicit instructions for dealing with just about any medical issue. The symptoms of each condition are described first, followed by directions for handling the issue on-site or contacting emergency services if necessary.

For an ounce of prevention before disaster strikes, First Aid also includes an extensive knowledge base to help you prep for situations ranging from flash floods to wildfires. Make sure your knowledge is up to snuff with the included tests. Plus, in case of an emergency you’re not equipped to deal with yourself, First Aid also includes a hospital locator function and automatic 911 dialer. Know when to call in the professionals!


About Author

Molly writes about fitness and nutrition from her home in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not at her desk, you can find her teaching history, hiking the Gorge, or hitting the archery range.

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