Travel news and advice

18 apps for outdoor adventures, nature lovers and hiking trips – just don’t forget a spare phone battery

From AI photo software that will identify the creature you just saw to portable survival guides that could prove vital in a pinch, these apps will make you a master of the great outdoors in no time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 9:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2018, 6:45pm

Hiking boots? Check. Waterproofs? Check. A basic knowledge of flora and fauna and some idea of how to survive in the wild? Hmmm.

If you lack an understanding of all things outdoors and it is holding you back from planning exciting day trips and mini adventures, fret no more. These smartphone apps – free and available for both iOS and Android phones, unless otherwise stated – are here to help.

Apps for birdwatching and wildlife-spotting

If you’re heading to the countryside to spot birds, there are lots of apps that can replace a heavy guidebook.

The eBird and BirdsEye apps give you a list of birds recently spotted in your area, and at specific locations nearby. You can log your own sightings for yourself and for others. There are similar apps for the rest of the animal kingdom.

Three best travel journal apps for logging trips and sharing your adventures

iNaturalist is a community-based app where members identify photos of animals and plants uploaded by other users. The app uses artificial intelligence to provide identification suggestions.

The same AI advances have ushered in new plant recognition features in apps such as PictureThis, PlantNet, Plantifier and PlantSnap (HK$28). They give you a shortlist of possibilities alongside images and information that together make identification easy. 

Apps for backcountry navigation

Is it time yet to leave paper maps and compasses at home? If you are venturing off-grid then perhaps not, but with map data downloaded to your phone there are some advanced apps that use its built-in GPS sensor to pinpoint your every move with no data charges.

Outdoor navigation apps such as Gaia GPS, ViewRanger and Spyglass (HK$48 on iOS) provide access to topographical, satellite, road and hiking maps, together with statistics on distance, elevation and pace. Map My Hike, which also measures pace, will even bark out statistics on your progress every 30 minutes.

There are even apps that will recognise surrounding mountains. PeakFinder AR (HK$38) and PeakVisor (HK$28) use GPS and detailed 3D mountain panorama data, so all you need do is point your phone’s camera at the peaks around you to get their names and altitudes.

Apps for nighttime navigation and stargazing

Navigating the great outdoors by day is one thing, but how about at night? If the sky is clear the stars will always lead you home, but knowing which one is which is a rare skill.

For everyone in the northern hemisphere, Polaris always appears above the North Pole, so this is the one to look for. Sadly, as only the 48th brightest star, it is not immediately noticeable, but astronomy apps like Sky Live (iOS only), Star Walk 2 and the Stellarium Mobile Sky Map (HK$23) will make things easier. They will also open your eyes to what else is out there in the celestial sphere, a bonus for any outdoor overnight stay.

Apps for outdoor survival

When travelling alone and off-grid, it pays to have some medical knowledge in case of emergency. The American Red Cross’s offline-friendly First Aid app – which comes preloaded with the sort of information you might need – is just the thing for such trips.

TrailWatch app for Hong Kong hikers doubles as conservation tool

For a more comprehensive approach, Survival Guide and SAS Survival Guide (HK$48) will teach you the basics of bushcraft – from building a fire to constructing a shelter – as well as how to deal with medical emergencies and natural disasters.

Speaking of disasters, what if your phone runs out of power? Whatever apps you fill your smartphone with, don’t forget to pack the ultimate backcountry travel gadgets – a waterproof phone case and a portable phone battery.

For the latter, go for something with a 10,000 mAh capacity as that should give you enough to recharge your phone four times over – allowing you to learn the ways of the wild way beyond sunset.