Before we begin discussing smartphone apps, we want to reiterate what we say on the emergencies page: carrying a cell phone is no guarantee of safety. People like to bring cell phones into the wilderness because it makes them feel safe. But cell phones don't make anyone safer — just the opposite. Having a cell phone creates a false sense of security and leads to risk taking. By believing cell phones are a safety net, people take dangerous leaps.
Most days you will not be able to get a cell signal and the places where you would likely encounter trouble and need to call someone — the most isolated and remote places — definitely do not have cell service.
That said, we understand that most thru-hikers will be carrying a phone with them and there are many smartphone apps that can be useful or fun while on-trail.
If your bank has a mobile app, then it's wise to install it so that you can check your account, move money between savings and checking, figure out if you're on budget, et cetera.
Your Credit Card
If you are using a credit card rather than a bank-issued debit card, then it's a good idea to install your card's mobile app. Use it to make monthly payments, check balances, et cetera.
US Postal Service
If the person handling your maildrops texts you the tracking numbers, you can use the USPS app to see if the package has arrived before you do. Bouncing something forward or mailing it home? Keep an eye on it using the app. Also use it to check post office hours and find phone numbers.
There are lots of weather apps out there, but our favorite is from Weather Underground because it is hyper-local. This is important to people traveling on-foot since there can be a big difference between the weather where you're standing and the weather thirty miles away.
Weather Underground crowd-sources its information from a 100,000+ community of weather enthusiasts reporting live data from weather stations in their own backyards. This fills in the gaps between the airport weather stations used by standard weather services.
Key features include:
Rise - The Sunrise Sunset Calendar
Many thru-hikers like to rise at dawn and get moving at sunrise. And while the old Boy Scout trick of holding your hand out lets you estimate when the sun sets, you don't know when the last light of dusk actually fades. Use the Rise app to find the sunrise and sunset times for any day and any place in the world as well as the first light and the last light times, which can be quite different from the sunrise and sunset times.
There are other apps that do this, often targeted at photographers, but what we like about Rise is the incredibly simple, no-frills user interface.
There are many different kinds of ticks and tickborne diseases. Was that a lone star tick or a dog tick? Do I have STARI or Lyme? Figure out what bit you and what you might have with this app. While the CDC created it for doctors, it is useful on a thru-hike too because it helps you:
You don't need to own a Kindle to use the Kindle app. Just download it, shop for books via the app, and read on your phone. That way you don't carry the weight of a book.
If you do already own a Kindle and want to read on the Trail, don't bring the extra weight of the Kindle. Instead, download the Kindle app and read on your phone. All your existing ebooks can be synced to your phone.
Kindle app features: