Surviving the Unwired Wild: 6 Mobile Offline Apps Make a Smart Phone an Essential Part of a Camper's Tool Kit [Slide Show]
Identify local flora and fauna, map your location, and survey the night sky using the power of your smart phone
Credits: COURTESY OF ELZBIETA SEKOWSKA, VIA ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
NOAA RADAR U.S.: NOAA Radar can warn nature enthusiasts about approaching storms and other severe weather in their area. The app includes animated radar data, multiple map styles, GPS locator and many options for viewing the data (zoom in, zoom out, pan and scroll).
Release date: February 2011
How it works: The app allows you to visualize a variety of atmospheric changes, including flash floods, tornados and thunderstorms. The radar data can be viewed as an animated movie thanks to a GPS locator that finds and displays your current location, or set your location by zip code, city name or address. The latest image displayed in the animation is updated every five minutes, and even if you have temporarily lost reception, the app saves and restores your last location and zoom level.
Access: NOAA Radar can be used offline, but it will only show weather radar data from the last time it was started with an active connection. Otherwise, the app requires either 3G or EDGE data access.
Upcoming version: Shuksan Software would not provide the release date.
Platform supported: iPhone, iPad. No plans for other platforms. Shuksan Software, LLC
LEAFSNAP: Campers can use Leafsnap to identify various plant species. Developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution, this app utilizes visual recognition software to name plants based on photos taken by users.
Release date: May 2011
How it works: Use the "Snap It!" button take a picture of a plant. Photos of leaves must be taken against a fully white background for Leafsnap's automatic algorithms to find them. To label a potential match as the correct species, mark it by "swiping" across the result. Note that Leafsnap is the first in a series of visual recognition-based electronic field guides—many of its features are still under development.
Access: The visual recognition component requires a network connection, so the images can be sent to Leafsnap's server for identification. Users can browse through the rest of the guide without a connection.
Upcoming version: The current version includes trees of New York City and Washington, D.C. Species in the Northeast will be completed this summer, and the continental U.S. will be added during the next 18 months.
Platform supported: iPhone, iPad. An Android version is in the works. Columbia University, University of Maryland, Smithsonian Institution GOSKYWATCH PLANETARIUM: GoSkyWatch Planetarium helps users learn about what they see in the night sky while camping or hiking far from the light pollution emitted by urban areas. "The app is specifically made for campers and is designed to be used outdoors for naked eye observing," says Richard Hein, owner of app developer GoSoftWorks.
Release date: July 2008
How it works: One of the app's coolest features is the touchless navigation mode, which lets you point the phone to the sky to identify what you are looking at. Using the finder, select a planet, star or deep space object and an arrow will guide the way. The app shows planets with relative brightness to surrounding stars for easy identification. GoSkyWatch also has a moon phase calendar and a recently added Star Light finder, which describes a star light's journey to Earth based on your birthday.
Access: The app is fully functional offline. All star data and images are contained within the app. A network connection is optionally used to help with finding the user's location or to view Wikipedia information.
Upcoming version: Updates every few months.
Platform supported: iPhone, iPad. No plans for other platforms yet. GoSoftWorks
GAIA GPS: Gaia GPS lets users pre-download topographical maps of any area on their phones. The maps display campsites, trails and other points of interest—a feature rather useful for camping.
Release date: September 2009
How it works: At $25, this app is the most expensive on the list, but it is a small price to pay if you are lost in the woods without cell reception. Gaia GPS is meant to be used offline. You can download and save maps by typing in an address and dragging your finger to select an area. As long as the map has been downloaded, Gaia will be able to locate you via GPS. While hiking through an area, you can also track a trip (speed, altitude, distance) and take pictures along the way. Gaia GPS Lite is a free version of the app, but be warned: It Is missing some improvements and bug fixes, and serves up ads, which can slow things down.
Access: You can get GPS in the woods, but usually no Internet, so the app caches the maps and point of interest data for offline use.
Upcoming version: A new version is in beta now.
Platforms supported: iPhone, iPad, Android. TrailBehind, Inc. Advertisement
MYNATURE ANIMAL TRACKS: Whether fishing, hiking or walking on a snowy mountain, the app could be a lifesaver when it comes to identifying nature's inhabitants. MyNature Animal Tracks can alert campers to the presence of dangerous animals like a grizzly bear.
Release date: Winter 2009
How it works: First, select how you would like to identify an animal—by tracks or scat. The app presents a series of questions and images to help find the right description of the animal. Each description is accompanied by an illustration, a digital image and the animal's gait. Another way to identify creatures is by sound. Overall, it is a comprehensive app and achieves its purpose, although the user interface could use some improvement. Much of the effort has been invested into the app's content, as opposed to its look and feel.
Access: The app can operate offline, but as is the case with other apps, using the social features ( Facebook, Twitter) or posting to the database requires wireless access.
Upcoming version: An update will be ready next spring. It will include additional animals and tweaks to the user interface.
Platforms supported: iPhone, iPad, Android. MyNature, Inc.
SAS SURVIVAL GUIDE: SAS Survival Guide, created by
Trellisys.net and HarperCollins Publishers, is a good companion for anyone who wants to be prepared for any eventuality. "The app has often been described as an 'insurance app' against unforeseen situations," says Rohit Regonayak, director of technology at Trellisys.net.
Release date: April 2010
How it works: The guide is divided into nine categories: essentials, camp, polar, seacoast, desert tropics, wild food, hunting, first aid and urban. Although the app is not meant strictly for campers, it can be used to learn how to make fire, catch fish and signal for help, among other things. It is very easy to navigate within the categories, which mimic the iPhone's home screen. Other icons appear at the bottom, including interactive features like a survival checklist, compass and Morse code tool. (Type your message and the phone translates it into Morse code.)
Access: SAS Survival Guide is self-sufficient. All content is downloaded within the app, including the "how-to" videos. Some online features, such as connecting to Facebook, require Internet access.
Upcoming version: An update with minor fixes, improvements and new features is scheduled for August.
Platforms supported: iPhone, iPad, Windows 7. An Android version is due in August. Trellisys.net and HarperCollins Publishers Advertisement