cAPPture the Essence of the Great Outdoors: Essential Apps for Camping
Feb 29, 2020 10:52AM
By Jennifer Monahan
Few experiences compare to sleeping out under the stars, at one with nature. While part of camping’s appeal is the chance to unplug and leave technology behind, a variety of apps—utilized sparingly—can help enhance the entire outdoor encounter.
Recreation.gov is the go-to app for wanna-be campers. The official app of the National Park Service—in collaboration with 11 other federal departments—Recreation.gov offers campers, hikers, picnickers and outdoor enthusiasts real-time access to detailed information about the country’s national parks. Users can check campsite availability, amenities and rates with ease. Reserving a campsite through the app is a breeze and is especially convenient for campers on the go. Many national parks offer historic tours and special events; these options are also accessible via the app. Users can find times, dates and even book tickets or reserve tour spots. Whether a camper’s taste leans towards tents and remote elk sightings or RVs and a tour of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Recreation.gov is the app to help plan the perfect camping experience. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
ReserveAmerica Camping offers online campground reservations for private campgrounds, state parks and federal parks around the country. Users can scout campgrounds to find tent-camping, RV sites, yurts and cabins. The app allows users to search campsites by date, location or amenities to find the perfect spot. ReserveAmerica provides information about whether campsites allow pets, offer electrical hookups or have waterfront beach access. Users laud the app for being a quick, reliable and easy-to-navigate means of reserving a campsite. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
Campendium includes information about RV parks, state and national parks, national forests and free camping areas. Lists of available amenities help users plan for whether a given location offers cellular service, electric and water hookups, playgrounds or laundry service. Campendium’s most helpful feature is the user reviews section. Campendium users often post detailed reviews with helpful tidbits like “good small grocery store nearby” or “campsites too close together.” Campendium functions a bit like Yelp for campgrounds—helping consumers make informed choices—and is well worth the download. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
The BackCountry Navigator TOPO GPS app is a must for any aspiring Bear Grylls-type campers who want to explore parts unknown. The app provides topographical maps that display terrain and elevation. Users can download maps to their devices, enabling use even when in remote areas with no cellular service. The app has two versions, both created by the same developer. Both are highly rated; the free version is sufficient for weekend explorers looking to add an element of challenge to a hiking or kayaking excursion. More serious adventurers who seek the thrill of navigating truly remote areas or spending weeks out on the Pacific Coast Trail should invest in the pro version. (EX version is free; PRO version is $14.99; both available for iOS and Android)
For all those who regularly spend a nature hike wondering if they just walked through poison ivy, the PlantNet Plant Identification app is here to save the day. PlantNet lets users photograph a given plant via smartphone, then find out what it is. For budding botanists, PlantNet can be a great educational tool that allows instant identification of an unknown plant. The app is also part of the crowdsourced citizen-scientist trend; scientists around the world can utilize the data collected by app users to help understand plant biodiversity. Though the app can be a bit clunky—sometimes requiring multiple photos or multiple attempts to get usable images—it is a fun educational tool and fantastic resource for any camping trip. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
Falling asleep under the stars is even more exciting when campers know what they’re seeing. StarWalk2 is the app for that. Instead of wondering whether that bright light in the sky is a star or a planet, users need only to point their smartphone at the sky. StarWalk2 will identify the constellation or object immediately. The stargazing app also pinpoints dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, galaxies, star clusters and satellites overhead. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
The Survival Guide app is based on the U.S. Military Survival Manual FM 21-76 and contains chapter titles ranging from Firecraft to Shelters to Basic Survival Medicine. This app might be overkill for casual campers grilling next to their RV in a state park, but it’s a boon for those looking to survive the elements while camping off the beaten path. The app’s functionality is not its strong suit, but the information itself is invaluable. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
The Hunt & Fish Licensing app can help campers save time by logging on instead of having to track down a place to purchase a hunting or fishing license. The app itself is free but licenses are available only in selected states and licensing fees apply. (Free; available for iOS)
Camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Whether campers seek campgrounds full of convenient amenities or remote areas offering close encounters with nature, rest assured: there’s an app for that.