9 awesome free iPod/iPhone apps to bring with you into the great outdoors

by Shea Gunther

It’s nice to get outside and disconnect from the world, but it’s not a bad idea to have your powered-down iPhone or iPod Touch tucked away in a zippered pocket in your backpack. You never know when you might need to figure out how to tie a good knot, double check that those thunderclouds don’t mark the front of a killer Nor’easter, or find a good place to eat a good meal after a few days on the trail. We sifted through hundreds of apps to find the best free outdoor apps and have been putting them through the paces over the last week.

Here are nine great free apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch for helping you have a good time in the great outdoors.


It’s hard to think of something that has as big of an impact on our time spent outdoors than the weather. A day can go from epic to tragic with a single storm front so it’s important to know what’s going up there in the clouds. AccuWeather offers a well designed interface and easy access to more information like both the hourly and 15 day forecasts as well as indices like UV, Air Quality, Running, Fishing, Hiking, and even Kite Flying. For the record, today is a “very good” day for hiking here in Portland, Maine.

Snow Report

In the winter time you want to know about both the weather and the snow. That’s where the North Face Snow Report comes in. This beautifully designed app gives you instant access to all the information you want to know before heading up to the mountain. You’ll find current weather and trail conditions, any recent snow accumulation, quick access to a more detailed 15 day forecast through WeatherUnderground, and, at least with some resorts, detailed trail maps. It does a nice job of incorporating social media and pulls in both the official resort Twitter account as well as all public mentions of each resort.

Park Guides

The National Parks Conservation Association put together the Park Guide app and packed it full of knowledge and information about a ton of different National Parks, from Acadia to Zion. Each park listing has information about the local plants and animals, poisonous and dangerous features to watch out for, and threatened or endangered species. The small photos that accompany the plant and animal listings are big enough to be used to identify any species you might stumble across on a hike.

Chirp! Lite

Chirp! Lite is a great tool to use in the field to help identify bird calls. You start by selecting which part of the country you’re in before choosing for a list of local birds. Each bird comes with a large photo and a looping recording of its call. If you want to learn more about the birds you can click through to the birds Wikipedia entry. The list of birds is sortable by first name, second name, commonness, and song style, which can really come in hand when you’re trying to identify an unknown chirp. If you hear a squawky bird with short phrases, you might just be hearing a Red-breasted Nuthatch. For $2.99 you can upgrade from Lite to the full version of Chirp! and gain access to more birds.


Flashlight is beautifully simple- it displays a white page on your screen, allowing you to use your iPhone or iPod as a light. You can choose other color screens, have it flash through other colors, and change the intensity of the light with the swipe of a finger. It won’t replace your headlamp, but it could really come in handy in an odd spot when you’re in need of a quick light.

What Knot

Columbia Sportswear sponsored the WhatKnot app, which, like its name suggests, will teach you all about knots. You can choose a knot by category- is it a Binding, Stopper, Bend, or Hitch- or find them in an alphabetical list. Each knot has clearly illustrated step by step instructions on how to tie it.

Camp Recipes

Most cookbooks don’t have offer much in way of options for cooking on a campfire, grill, or in a dutch oven. Coleman’s Camp Recipes is written for its target audience and is a great companion to have both before and during your trip. It has a cool menu planning feature that lets you map out your meals and even compiles a shipping and equipment list once you’ve figured out your meal plan. The recipes are helpfully split up between the things you have to do before your trip and those that are done in camp.

Google Earth

There are a lot of good GPS and map programs out there, but in my book nothing beats Google Earth when it comes to just browsing around the world. It’s a powerful feeling to send the globe a twirling with just a flick of the finger. Google Earth is useful for checking out the lay of the land and for getting the overall context of your trip.


Sometimes one of the best parts of heading into the woods is coming back out, at least around meal time. There’s nothing like saddling up to a restaurant after a big hike or day spent at the crag and Urbanspoon will help you find the right table for you. It scans your location and pulls together a list of local restaurants. You can browse the selection of restaurants as a list or have it offer up a suggestion using their unique and fun-to-use Shake Roller. It’s like playing the slots in Vegas, except it’s free and your prize is a good restaurant at which to nosh.

Did we miss any good ones? What are your favorite apps to take hiking, biking, climbing, or spelunking?

Photo credit: Christine Zenino/Flickr

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