One of the best things about being on the trail, in a tent, or sliding down rapids is the forced disconnection from technology. Even the fastest e-mail can’t catch you when you’re negotiating tight turns on a swift mountain bike trail. But sometimes a little tech can actually be a good thing, helping us access the vast amount of information available about our natural world.
Everyone knows that when it comes to helping you find where to go outdoors, RootsRated is the best resource available. (And you’ve downloaded the RootsRated app, haven't you?) But there are some other outdoor apps that can help you learn a little more about your location once you get there. Here’s four that we really like and some adventures where you can test out your new tech.
1. Scanning the Cosmos at Mt. Rogers
The Mt. Rogers Wilderness Area in southern Virginia is one of the most magical places along the Appalachian Trail. Wild ponies roam craggy mountain peaks, nibbling away at the vegetation that grows there. The resulting balds offer backpackers unadulterated nighttime views of an expansive dome of celestial bodies.
It’s difficult to stare up at such a sight and not contemplate, “What’s out there?” Skywalk from Vito may not provide all the answers, but a catalog of nearly 250,000 stars, planets, constellations, and satellites will fill in a few blanks.
The app, available for IOS, Windows and Android, presents each item in beautiful detail on your phone or tablet. Using your iPad’s camera, Starwalk overlays its augmented reality display on the real-time image captured by your tablet’s camera, making it easy to navigate the stars.
Want to know more about that cluster of lights just above the horizon and how it could possibly look like a crab? Click on the item of interest and the “info” button. Skywalk zooms in on your area of interest, provides a picture, offers general information, and gives a Wiki link. You can even track the path of your favorite star to learn where it will peak over the horizon tomorrow night.
2. ID a Peak at Linville Gorge
Orienteering in a gorge can be difficult. Traversing a trail buttressed on two sides by a ridge a thousand feet up reduces visibility to near nothing. This is the reality when hiking in the beautiful and wild Linville Gorge .
Wouldn’t it be great to know which mountains were ahead or behind you? Unless you’re an expert at the Gorge and know the hills by heart, Peak Scanner from Quantaq can be your guide. Simply aim your smartphone in the direction you’d like to detail, placing the mountain in crosshairs of Peak Scanner’s augmented reality display, and the app does the rest. Providing a name, distance, and height relative to your current position, the app conveniently lists everything you need to know about the mountain in front of you. There’s even a Radar-like display so you can note other peaks in your immediate vicinity.
3. Tracking Bears at Table Rock State Park
Table Rock State Park in western South Carolina is a popular hiking destination. Dense hardwood forests and stunning views are well worth the two-hour drive from Charlotte. But two-legged trekkers aren’t the only visitors to the 3,000-acre park. White tailed deer, gray fox, and yes, plenty of black bears are known to roam on and off the trails that wind through Table Rock SP.
Scats and Tracks of North America, an app by Natural Guides, LLC, can help you ID what walked the trail before you. The catalog of footprints and, well, feces left behind by many of the most common animals you’ll find in the Carolinas and beyond, makes it easy to match what you see in the mud with what made it.
It’s a bit pricey at $6.99, and is only available for IOS, but the app includes a field guide feature that allows you to document your poop sighting. In case that’s important to you.
4. Dodging Storms at Shermans Branch
Thanks to the Tarheel Trailblazers and their sister group, the Dirt Divas , Charlotte is well decorated with a hundred miles of fantastic single-track mountain biking trails. Few rival Shermans Branch for the rapid, rolling hills of the Roller Coaster Trail or the swiftly flowing switchbacks of the Main Trail. But during, and after, a good rainstorm those trails can be dangerous to ride. And not just for the rider.
Aggressive mountain bike tires grind up soggy trail like cake batter, creating a lot of extra work for the volunteers that keep these trails pristine. A good weather app will keep you in the clear of sudden rain showers that like to pop up on summer afternoons. For the ease of access to a wealth of weather related data, WeatherBug by Earth Networks is a great choice.
Quickly switch from current weather to an hourly or 10-day outlook with a single tap or watch how a storm is tracking on the radar screen. The recently redesigned app allows you to search, and store, locations for quick access. It will even provide weather alerts for each area you’ve saved.