Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

8 Free Apps to Help You Connect to Nature

Whether you’re into skiing, surfing, or strolling to get away from your desk, there are a lot of ways to get outside. Using technology thoughtfully can help you have a deeper experience with the wild. Here are eight outdoor apps to learn about the natural world on iPhone or Android.

Merlin Bird ID

Apple
Google Play

It’s common to see a bird and think, “I wish I knew what that is!” Download the Merlin Bird ID app to identify the species quickly. Input where you made the sighting, what colors you could see, and compare its size to common species like a songbird or robin. You can also take a photo of a bird, and the app may identify it! Sharing this information will create a list of birds you may have seen. Learn about the species’ habitat, what it eats, and listen to their calls to further confirm you’ve found the right bird. The Audubon Bird Guide app is another one of the best apps for birding!

Geocaching

Apple
Google Play

Geocaching is a crowdsourced treasure hunt for all ages. Use the app to see nearby ‘caches’ with hints for how to find them. There are millions around the world, some caches larger, like an old ammunition box, and others the size of a matchbox. As you get closer to the cache, your phone will tell you when you’re near. Just be sure no muggles (non-geocaching people) see you! Inside the cache, you’ll find a log of people who have also recently found it. Larger ones have small toys and trinkets. Bring some tiny action figures or game pieces to leave as you take one! You may be surprised to find several caches in your hometown, on the trail, or at your favorite park.

Star Walk 2

Apple
Google Play

Try your hand at identifying constellations with Star Walk 2. Perfect for a night out camping and stargazing, this app uses your location to show stars and planets regardless of cloud cover or light pollution. Learn about planets and track nearby satellites by holding your phone to the night sky and matching it with what you see.

Gaia GPS

Apple
Google Play

Gaia GPS is useful for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, backpacking, backcountry skiing, and hunting. Use Gaia to pinpoint your location and follow a route or find nearby hiking trails, whether in a national park or on a remote outdoor adventure. Hikers can also use the app as a fitness tracker, logging your pace, moving time, and altitude. Rely on the free version for maps when you have service or upgrade to a membership to download maps in case you need navigation help while offline.

WeatherBug

Apple
Google Play

Being aware of the weather is critical for outdoor safety and comfort. WeatherBug shows all the usual forecasting information and maps, plus extra real-time alerts. Set up the lightning notification so you’ll know about a local storm with time to get down the mountain or off the water. Check out the fire alerts setting to ensure you can hike or drive through regions with potential wildfire danger.

Poshmark

Apple
Google Play

Expensive gear can be a barrier to getting outside. While you don’t need top-of-the-line equipment to get started with an outdoor activity, it is important to have clothing that will keep you safe and comfortable. Poshmark is an excellent place to find down jackets, sun shirts, bathing suits, and even winter boots. Some listings are even brand new, with the tags still attached! Set the parameters to the item type, brand, and size of clothing or accessory you want, and you’ll soon have a list of options to help you recreate safely.

Seek by iNaturalist

Apple
Google Play

Naturalists typically carry notebooks and field guides to log their finds. Join online citizen scientists with iNaturalist! Take a photo of a plant, insect, or animal and add notes such as the location and time of day when you saw it. Use ‘Explore’ mode to see what others have observed near you. You can automatically share your entries with other users to help them identify interesting species, and users can comment on entries to crowdsource IDs and discuss finds. Check out the ‘Missions’ feature for recommended wildlife and plants to watch for nearby. It’s like a nature treasure hunt!

Hipcamp

Apple
Google Play

Thought we wouldn’t? The Hipcamp app is the best way to plan and book your next outdoor adventure, whether you’re planning months in advance or out on the road deciding where to post up for the night. Discover campsites at private vineyards, animal sanctuaries, country farms, secluded lakes, luxury yurts, and rustic beachside cabins, then filter by price, group size, pet-friendliness, and more to find exactly what you’re looking for. You can also see real-time availability in top national parks like Zion, Joshua Tree, and the Great Smoky Mountains.


Looking to get out and use these apps?

Technology isn’t all bad! Skip social media and try these apps to learn more about your surroundings next time you’re out in the wild.

Hatie Parmeter is a Midwestern writer. She is the creator of Whoa Mag, an online publication about womxn in the outdoors. You can find her paddling or walking her hunting dog.

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