Free camping apps for your Labor Day weekend
Like many other procrastinators in Northern California, my fella and I were thinking about going camping over the long weekend. While we don’t own any fancy camping supplies like, say, a tent, or sleeping bags, or even a cooler, we’re figuring we can still pull it off last minute with a few well timed phone calls to some generous friends. And being the geek that I am, I’ve already found seven free camping apps that should make our whole poorly planned attempt at a vacation go that much smoother.
Get Camp Sites: Reserve America
The official reservation service for the National Park Service, ReserveAmerica covers over 150,000 campsites in 48 states. The app’s home page asks for location and dates to start the search, then provides a list of results in either map or list formats. Tabs at the top allow you to toggle between All results or Available campsites; choosing a campsite leads you to details about it, your chosen reservation dates, and which sites are available. Tabs at the top enable you to share the information via email, Twitter, or Facebook; buttons on the bottom are designated for making a reservation online or calling an agent to book a campsite. Campsite details include an address and description, photos, and a list of available amenities at the site such as ADA Access, Nature Trails, and Showers. Although the photos are sometimes blurry (and can’t be enlarged), the app itself functions well and is easy to navigate (iOS).
Hitting the Trail: Columbia GPS PAL
From the makers of windbreakers and fleece sweaters comes this impressive GPS-enabled journaling app which uses time and location data to automatically organize entries of text, photos, and video into a handy travel biography. It also automatically tracks and stores information about your route, elevation, pace, and distance traveled to give you a full account of every hike, trail, swim, or cycling adventure. Just tap the “Begin” button to start your journey, then hit “Take a Photo” or “Make a Note” to add information into your route. The result is a beautifully assembled map of pins that highlight every detail of your trip. There’s also the option to share your journal via Facebook or Twitter, of course, and the app is simply designed and basic to operate. I can even see it being useful to track your band’s tour, your family vacation, or a road trip (iOS, Android).
Get Astronomical: SkyMap
This uber popular app, open sourced and donated by Google, will turn your smartphone into a window of the stars and sky. Just open the app and get treated to a complete map of the stars above with information on constellations, stars, planets, and more. Ideal for camping, when you’re generally far from light pollution, the app shines on high-end phones with an internal compass and has the option to search for a specific area of interest, such as Venus, and then use the directional circle to guide you to that object with an arrow until you find it in the sky. There’s also the option to jump through time and view the sky at any time in the past or future, which the app refers to as Time Traveling. Hey maybe you’ll never see 2060 in person, but you can certainly determine where Mars will be with this handy program (Android).
Earth Porn: National Parks by National Geographic
Hands down one of the most gorgeous apps ever, the National Parks app is an interactive guide to 20 of the most visited national parks in the United States. From the top-notch photos you’d expect from the National Geographic name, to activities, park secrets, points of interest, must sees and what to do, there’s a ton of features packed into the app. Each park has a downloadable guide (although you only get one for free, so choose wisely) which visually guides you through the park’s many features. From statistics, weather info, photo tips, galleries, camping and lodging details, and even a Twitter account, there’s not much this app doesn’t provide. If only it covered every national park… (iOS)
Just In Case: First Aid by American Red Cross
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Or has an encounter with a bear. Or gets poison ivy. For all those emergencies, both great and small, comes the First Aid app by those very qualified folks at the American Red Cross. Divided into five sections: Learn, Prepare, Emergency, Test, and Info, the app provides simple advice, video instructions, tips, and FAQs for everyday first aid scenarios. A great resource with a wealth of info, each section provides a list of emergencies from heart attacks to heat wave. Tapping on an item in a list displays video, checklists, and step-by-step instructions (which often end with a Call 911 button) clearly organized for ease of use. If anyone is qualified to give you advice for emergency situations, it’s the Red Cross (iOS, Android).
Mouthwatering: Weber Grills
Sure, this isn’t so much a camping app as it is a grilling resource, but who can resist the delectable images of beef ribs, pulled pork, and beer can chicken? With over 75 recipes and more than 60 guides, tips, and techniques, Weber’s free Grills app has plenty of options for outdoor cooking. The app also includes features like grocery lists, recipe notes, grill set up essentials, knife skills, and video tutorials. While it is pretty thoroughly branded (app includes a gallery that consists of Weber’s top selling grills, accessory lists, and dealer locations), it’s also a good way to find recipes, tips, and how-tos for tasty meals (iOS).
Bone Chilling: Urban Legends
There are two undeniably awesome things about campfires. One of them is smores. The other? Scary stories. If you haven’t told one in a while, let the Urban Legends app keep you up all night with quick tales of men with hooks for hands, ghosts, and car crashes. Sadly, the app only has about 11 tales—but since they’re all shorter versions of the urban legends that get told again and again it shouldn’t be too hard to expound on them. Bonus points for the sepia-colored, comic book illustrations and creepy teeth hiding at the bottom of every tale (iOS).