This summer, I’m dedicated to getting out from behind the computer and into nature. My great find of the season is the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s not far from where I live, and best of all, an apparently well kept secret from the masses. It has miles and miles of hiking trails for the public. But please don’t tell your tourist friends at Hanging Rock or Pilot Mountain! Let’s keep it for the nature-lovers.
I have two location app suggestions for hiking off the beaten path.
1. Topo Maps+
When you leave civilization, you have to plan for your mobile phone coverage to be non-existent, or at best, voice only. I discovered Topo Maps+ last month while planning a day hike. Their free subscription is sufficient to get you in and out of the woods, but you can also pay a monthly fee for more fun options.
I tested it because I was looking for an app that allowed you to download map tiles for offline use. I decided on Topo Maps+ because it has a variety of base maps from which to choose for tile download, vector data for trails across the US, and it works reliably. Another pleasant surprise is the creator of the app also sends you a series of great emails with tips on navigating through the wilderness.
We had the chance to put this app to the test on a hike near Badin Lake last week. We inadvertently left the US Forest Service trail and were on a local horse trail for some time. I noticed the landscape was looking wrong, and opened the app to see where we were. The GPS in my iPhone worked great over the offline maps. It helped us make a decision on whether to go back or forward. Since we had our 6-year-old with us, it gave me peace of mind to know we were moving toward the vehicle instead of away from it.
2. Merlin Bird ID
I love watching and sketching birds. The Merlin Bird ID App was suggested to me by a naturalist friend. When you start the app, it asks for permission to use the GPS, or asks you to enter a location manually. Once it knows where you are, it asks you a couple easy questions about the bird you are watching. It combines your answers and your location and gives a very short list of possibilities with photos. You choose the photo that looks right, and you have your bird!
The down side of this app is that it takes up a bit of space on your phone. They mitigate that somewhat by allowing you to choose from among several regional data packages.
I plan to take at least 2 great day hikes per month before the weather cools. I can only stare at maps on screen for so long until I want to be a part of the landscape. What are your favorite hiking apps that can be used offline?