PORTLAND, Maine — Here’s a paradox for you: A good way to get a richer experience when outdoors in nature is by turning to…technology.
No question, there are definitely times when nature and technology should be kept far, far apart. The whole idea of savoring the outdoors is to get away from the screens that suck so much from our lives. And yet…there are plenty of apps that provide fun, useful, and immediate information about everything from tides to trails.
207’s tech guy, Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media in Portland, did some digging and came up with ideas for apps that can give you a whole new appreciation for a favorite outdoor activity. Check out the talking points he provided.
So, for those looking to get outside and enjoy the Maine weather, what did you discover?
Besides the apps I already had on my phone, I asked friends on social media and I was just blown away by how many apps are out there. There are apps for tides and wind that sailors love, apps for skiing, fishing, hunting, biking, for identifying nature, apps for getting lost, apps for getting found, and apps for trailblazing.
That sounds like a good place to start. If we want to go for a hike or find a trail for mountain biking, what app would you recommend?
My go-to app for all those activities is AllTrails. No matter where you are, once you log in AllTrails will give you recommendations for nearby trails. I love their filtering tools as well. You can set a limit on how long or short a trail you want, difficulty level, how busy the trail is, and more.
You can also search for trails that are dog-friendly, allow (or disallow) bikes, or are even wheelchair accessible.
Once you find a trail, you can record your trip to track your activity. This is a popular app, and like Yelp or TripAdvisor, people leave reviews on the views, the difficulty, even the bugs!
The app is free, but there's a paid version that allows you to download maps (always good when you're really off the grid) and a few other bells and whistles. That runs $30/year.
I understand some apps help you identify the natural world around you. What can you tell us about those?
Yes! I've tried out a number of apps that allow you to take a picture of a plant and then the app will identify it. My favorite is PictureThis. In comparing a few apps side by side, my experience was that PictureThis was most likely to pull up the right plant, based on my photo, but the bigger issue was that it would tell me if it was a weed or not! Most of the time I'm using this app around my house, and I need to know if I should let something grow so it can flower or burn it like a witch before it takes over the garden and kills my other plants.
Picture This is one of the few plant ID apps that doesn't have a free version, although there is a free trial. The regular cost is also $30/year. Another one I liked that you can use for free is called PlantSnap. The app limits you to 5 pictures a day unless you upgrade to the paid version which is $32/year.
We get our fair share of birders in Maine. Any apps for them?
Absolutely. Whether you're a serious birder or just wonder who's been waking you up at 4 am in the morning, there are a bunch of apps for identifying birds out there. The one I settled on is called Smart Bird ID.
What I like about this app is that you can identify birds not just by taking a picture of them, which isn't always easy, but also by their bird song. You can also see which birds have been identified nearby and recently, in case you're out to find some new birds.
This app is free, but you can remove ads, add bird sounds, quizzes, and more with a one-time fee of $10.
How about apps that help us identify stars and find constellations?
There are quite a few apps for that as well, including ones from NASA. However, my favorite is one I downloaded probably over 10 years ago and keep going back to: Sky Guide. Wherever you point your camera, it shows you the stars, planets, and constellations you're looking at. You can even point it straight down and it will show you what people can see on the other side of the world. Click on any star, planet, or constellation to get more information.
The app is $3, and it does have a few additional in-app purchases for people who are really into astronomy.
Another good app is SkySafari, which takes more of an augmented reality approach. When you look through your phone you'll see whatever is in front of you, but you'll also see the stars and planets that appear there. There's a free light version or a $3 full version.