Five helpful apps to navigate the outdoors

We are a connected society. I totally admit that if I lost my phone, I would be lost myself.

We use technology on a daily basis to manage schedules, pay bills, conduct banking business, communicate with others, search for information, find directions and shop. My children attend public school online. And even though we find escape from electronics and our heavily technology-dependent lives in nature, there are some apps that are very helpful when navigating the outdoors. The following are five apps that I recommend, because they are some of the most useful tools available today.

Everyone venturing into the great outdoors needs a reliable and comprehensive GPS. Gaia GPS (iOS/Android, Free, Member: $19.99, Premium Member: $39.99) is one of the best cartography apps today. Users can switch between satellite, USGS topographical maps, cycling and road maps and National Park visitor maps.

My family visits Acadia National Park every summer, and we find the hiking trails maps included in this app very useful. Users can sort trails by rank, time, difficulty, and length. While Gaia GPS can be used as a hiking app, it can also be used to download hunting maps, off-road maps and special information like public and private land ownership. Heading into the backcountry to hike, hunt, camp, ski, or 4×4? Membership allows you to download as many maps as you want, and Premium Membership includes NOAA weather forecasts and access to Gaia’s expanded outdoor maps catalog. You can sync your GPS data and maps seamlessly between all of your phones, tablets, and computers using the mobile app or gaiagps.com. Users can also record trips, share trip plans before departure, and track where they’ve been.

The price tag may look a little steep, but GPS apps with similar capabilities typically charge a recurring fee for this level of mapping nirvana.

If you or anyone you know is as interested in our universe as my youngest daughter is, SkyView® Explore the Universe (iOS/Android, $1.99) is a must-download.

This app is as close as most of us will ever get to stargazing with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Just point your phone at any star or object in the night’s sky (or during daylight) to find out exactly what it is, or search out planets, galaxies, satellites including the International Space Station, or entire constellations.

Plus, you can see where certain stars will be at any given time, making it an invaluable resource for aspiring night sky photographers. Users can capture and share beautiful images with friends and family on social networks, and WiFi is NOT required, making this the perfect app for camping, boating, or even flying.

If you have culinary adventurous children like mine who want to eat the entire forest, or if you have ever walked along a hiking path and wondered, “What is that plant? Are these mushrooms edible? Those flowers are so pretty, what are they?” PlantSnap (iOS/Android, Free version contains ads) has over 625,000 worldwide discovered plants, trees, and mushrooms in its current database.

Not only does it identify plants instantly wherever you are, but also trees, flowers, succulents, cacti, and mushrooms, too. There is a new update of auto-detection for seamless recognition – just tap one of the detected plants on your device’s screen and it will be identified in the blink of an eye.

Their plant species list updates automatically, and is free to use but requires an email registration. Your email login is used to store your anonymous photos and plant details in your own secure PlantSnap account, allowing you to access your account from any device.

For best results, make sure to watch their instructional photo-taking video and check your email after registering for more detailed information.

My family is a shooting family and when we moved to the Berkshires, Where to Shoot (iOS/Android, Free) was a lifesaver.

Where to Shoot is the web’s most comprehensive directory of shooting ranges in the U.S. and Canada. The app is managed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms industry, and is updated frequently with range information in every state.

Range information can be entered or updated online free of charge to ranges. Users can search for shooting ranges close to their location, view video shooting tips, and find other resources for shooters, such as shooting news and related articles. Users also have access to information including facility details like indoor or outdoor, handicap accessibility, firearm type, shooting discipline, services, competitions, and range distances. This app brings a comprehensive directory right into the palm of your hand. Where to Shoot is a great resource for all gun owners, hunters, and shooters.

Fishbrain (iOS/Android, Free, Premium: $5.99/month) can help anglers of any ability find great fishing spots and get tips, photos, news, and updates. Fishbrain is a social fishing app that allows anglers to share their fishing activity and connect with others.

Users have access to local catch data, including exact catch positions, local fishing maps, top lures and baits used, live bait recommendations, and top hotspots on the map in real time. The free version allows you to step up your game with a fishing forecast and calendar, providing real life catch data for over 130 species, including bass, trout, catfish, carp, and other fish species in your area.

You may want to share your most impressive catches, and this app lets you log your catches, see a statistics report on your historical performance, and connect across multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, and Twitter.

Additional features include up-to-date weather forecast information, pro fishing tips from choosing the best fishing tides, hooks, and barometer to best fishing times and spots, and relevant updates on various fishing methods like ice fishing, sea angling, and trolling. This app works on most devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.

As cell phones and other wireless electronic devices have become ubiquitous, software engineers have partnered with outdoor experts to develop applications that will help users in amazing ways. Gaia GPS, SkyView® Explore the Universe, PlantSnap, Where to Shoot, and Fishbrain are five great examples of such apps.

All of these apps incorporate outdoor recreation and social interaction really well, and offer plenty of options for any level of user from novice to professional.

Stephanie DuPont is on the board of directors for the Lee Sportsmen’s Association and a columnist for the Berkshire Record. You can contact her at dupontfam5@gmail.com.

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