On a colorful midweek afternoon in the middle of last October, I was hanging out at Sundown Ledge on Ragged Mountain in Rockport, enjoying the sun’s warmth, the solitude and the great view.
The sweeping northwesterly panorama was bookended by Mt. Washington and the Bigelows, two mountain masses I could readily recognize. But of the many other bumps on the horizon some 80 or more miles distant, I could only guess.
A “aha” moment suddenly roused me into action and I let out an audible “yes” as I snatched my smartphone out of my pocket, tapped a finger on the screen and pointed the device toward the vista. And just like that, the Peak Finder app I recently downloaded but forgot about displayed the names of every major mountain peak out there.
It felt a little like cheating, for sure, but that feeling passed quickly as I gazed through the viewfinder with a measure of awe, methodically matching name to peak in a huge arc from left to right. Wow, I thought, how cool is this? No longer would I reach such outlooks and scratch my head wondering about the name of this mountain or that one far off in the distance.
Peak Finder is just the latest in a whole menu of apps and functions useful for hiking and backpacking that I’ve got loaded on my smartphone, an iPhone 7 Plus. Used to be that I wouldn’t even consider going into the woods and mountains with technology of any kind, convinced that doing so would detract from my wilderness experience, but no more. This hiker has happily embraced technology, and I find my phone to be an enjoyable and indispensable tool on the trail.
For navigation on and off the trail, my go-to app is the pro version of Gaia GPS. With several map options (I use the U.S. Geological Survey topo), the app records distance, time and ascent, provides altitude and speed profiles, and lets me mark waypoints. I also can manipulate the captured data through my online account on the Gaia website.
The flashlight app doesn’t replace my headlamp but serves as a great backup. Same for the compass app; no substitute for the essential baseplate compass stowed in my pack, I often use the phone compass at viewpoints when I’m unsure which direction I’m looking.
The camera and video quality of my phone are so good that more often than not, my Nikon stays home. And what fun it is to post on-the-spot images to Facebook and Instagram for friends and family to enjoy and comment on.
The weather is what it is and that’s why I own quality clothing and gear, but it’s still fun to check in occasionally on the Weather Channel app. The SkyView app demystifies the stars and planets in the heavens above, while the Peterson Bird Field Guide app allows me to more easily identify my winged friends.
I jot down notes and thoughts as needed using the Notes app. When it comes time for journal entries and such, I use a word processing app called Textilus Pro, or when I want to get fancier, the Office 365 Word app.
For entertainment, there’s the iHeart radio app, music downloaded from iTunes, or my favorite podcasts. A Kindle app full of good books pleasantly fills the downtime in camp or while relaxing under a trailside tree somewhere; same for the lineup of audiobooks.
A Mophie Juice Pack Air case not only protects my phone but provides a full charge should I need the extra power on long day hikes and short overnight jaunts. On longer treks, I pack a beefy 5,000-milliamp portable charger that’s about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and provides plenty of extra energy and peace of mind for a week on the trail.
Of the countless smartphone apps available today, the ones I’ve mentioned here just happen to be those that work well for me in the outdoors. I’m curious to know the apps you find useful on the trail, so let’s compare notes.