It’s easy to take for granted what a powerful tool our phones are. We’re literally walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. While many of us venture into the outdoors to escape technology, some apps on our phones can actually help enhance our outdoor experiences. Below are four outdoor apps that accompany me on almost all my adventures.

Mobile app in the mountains
Credit: Tim Peck

Four Must-Have Outdoor Apps


I’ve been using the GPS app Gaia for over a decade—it’s likely the app on my phone that I’ve used the longest. One of the great things about Gaia is that it works both online and offline, so you can download maps and routes online, but navigate offline (i.e., in places with no cell service or in airplane mode). The app also covers an abundance of trails, something other GPS apps just can’t compete with.

Another nice feature of Gaia is the ability to create a route and mark waypoints before an adventure. This allows you to see the mileage and elevation before setting out, and provides you with a trackable path if you somehow get off route.

Over the years, I’ve put Gaia app to the test everywhere from the snowy slopes and high altitude of Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch to the less-traveled trails of Kilkenny Ridge to the deep woods of western Massachusetts. It is now something I use on all my trips and is a vital tool in everything from planning a trip to navigating in the backwoods.


I regularly use Garmin’s Earthmate app with my Garmin inReach. The app allows me to take advantage of all the features of my inReach, but on my phone. This is super convenient and much more user-friendly, since I can do everything on my phone’s big screen while leaving my inReach in my pack. My phone is always handy and if I need my inReach it’s only an app away.

Although the Earthmate app has many features, the one I use the most is for texting. Through the app, I can type a message on my phone and send it via Bluetooth to my inReach. The inReach then sends it out, regardless of whether I have cell service. This allows me to stay in contact with my friends and family, no matter how remote my location may be.

Another cool feature of the Earthmate app is its navigation and tracking. It’s significantly easier to navigate using an inReach via my phone’s bigger screen. Also, if someone asks where I am, or I need to tell someone where I am—like in the event of an accident—I can quickly send them my location.

Mobile apps on the summit
Credit: Tim Peck


The Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell Lab is a free bird identification app that makes my hikes way more interesting and informative. It identifies birds in four ways: via photo, recorded sound, live sound, and/or description. These features are so useful and interesting that the Merlin app has become my go-to hiking partner.

My favorite function is the live sound identification tool. While I’m hiking, I challenge myself to guess the bird by the call I hear. Then I use the app to see if I’m right. The app listens and then displays any and all birds that are calling, highlighting each as they sing. This helps me understand when certain birds are active and the habitats they like to occupy.

The photo ID function is great, too. I’ve snapped my fair share of bird photos and the app has proven spot-on at identifying them. It’s pretty impressive how accurate it is, especially considering my subpar photographic skills.

Plant ID for iPhones

Sorry Android users, this look-up feature is exclusive to iPhones*. Plant ID makes it easy to identify plants—just take a photo of the plant you want to ID on your iPhone and tap the info icon. Your phone will show you an image of a leaf. Tap on the image and, like magic, you’ll get a ton of information about the plant you photographed!

I recently used this app on a hiking trip in Virginia. Unfamiliar with the area’s flora, I had a blast discovering plants I’d never seen before and it made my trip much more informative.

Plant ID is also a handy tool for those interested in foraging. It can make it easier to identify plants, including those you’re unsure about. That said, it’s not always 100% accurate and I wouldn’t totally trust it to determine if a plant is edible or not. Take some classes or consult a few other sources before consuming something questionable.

PicureThis is a good alternative outdoor app and is available for both Android and Apple operating systems.
What’s Your Favorite Outdoor App?

Checking an app while hiking
Credit: Tim Peck

What’s Your Favorite Outdoor App?

Do you have an outdoor app you can’t live without? If so, we want to hear about it! Let us know what your favorite outdoor app is in the comments below so we can check it out.