Thursday, May 3, 2012

Apps for the Outdoors


Bedford Community TV is showing a streaming video of Apps for the Outdoors: Smart Phone Technology for Fresh Air Activities by Outdoor Steve
Let's use smart phone apps with your outdoor activity. Do you know how fast you ran? How many miles did you bike last month? How far did you walk your dog? How many miles paddled? Can your friends look at a map and tell where you are on a remote wilderness trek? Smart phone apps can provide a fun and easy way to maintain a chronology of your outdoor activities.

Interestingly, as quoted from 6 Ways to Make Exercise More Fun, Effective and Even Tasty, “Multiple studies have found that high-tech gadgets – such as ….., and fitness apps – help people stick to exercise programs.  Who wants to disappoint their iphone?”

Browser Search “Outdoor Enthusiast Apps”
A smart phone with GPS connectivity makes available a wealth of outdoor applications (apps).  Enter keywords “outdoor enthusiast apps” in your preferred search Internet browser and you will see a plethora of web sites and blogs for Android, iPhone, Blackberry and other smart phone outdoor apps.  Refine your search further with specific keywords such as “Canoe Android apps”, “Hiking iPhone apps”, etc.

Here are four smart phone Android GPS apps and two desktop/laptop apps I have used for different outdoor activities. 

Browser Search for Our Breakfast Eggs
On one of our overnight paddling treks we wanted to do a bit of fancy campfire cooking.  We did a Google search and found a site recommending cooking an egg inside an orange, and the result was absolutely delicious (I Never Have to Say, “I wish I had paddled Florida’s Suwannee River” ).  On another trip we further tested my outdoor breakfast cooking skills by cooking an egg inside an onion. Outdoor Steve's Fireside Chat: How to Cook an Egg in an Onion.  Interestingly as of today I have over 13,000 YouTube views.
 Recently I used my iMapMyfitness app with a fellow outdoor enthusiast who carved a walking and dirt bike trail on his New Hampshire forested property.  He asked me if I could give him total distance of the path with turns and hills of this new trail.

At the beginning of his trailhead I opened my app, clicked the Start Arrow, and proceeded to walk into his forest trail.  The app had a camera feature and we took a picture of a tree where a bear had recently clawed.  After meandering for nearly a half hour over this forested trail we arrived at our starting point where I clicked the Pause and the Save button.  We then went to his house, popped a beer, opened his desktop computer, and viewed the statistics of our trek.

There is no extra step to take the map and stats to transfer to your laptop. All your routes and workouts data are stored in iMapMyFitness online servers and not locally on your phone.

Can your spouse/friends follow you and locate where you are on a remote wilderness trek? Yes, if you have WheresMyDroid (WMD) app installed on your smartphone.

  1. Download the Where’s My Droid (WMD) app to your cell phone you will be tracking.
  2. Using the Command feature in the WMD app, go to the Ring Setup and GPS Setup to see the default Attention Words (e.g. Ring Phone, and Find GPS, respectively)
  3. Share the Attention Words with those who will be following you.  To follow you, they simply send a text message from their smart phone to your phone.  The only text sent are the Attention Words.
  4. The sender will get a text message back with your GPS coordinates.  Enter the GPS coordinates into Google Earth, and they will see your Droid’s location.
Where’s My Droid assisted me when I was kayaking and camping on the Maine IslandTrail.  Given my friend and I were off the coast of Maine, we wanted our family to know where we were.  I gave them my Where’s my Droid attention words, and periodically they sent text messages and received our coordinates for Google map.  A real cool and safety feature.

Click the below to see how to download an app to your smart phone (I use Where’s My Droid as an example.
Where’s My Droid Download and Setup Video

Similar GPS location apps to Where’s My Droid are also available for the iPhone and blackberry at and
Google Earth

Google Earth was a valuable tool for me to plan my paddling trek aroundLake Francis in the Connecticut Lakes area of northern New Hampshire.  Before I went to the area we wanted know the paddling distance around the Lake.  Click here to see how Google Earth's Ruler feature  was used for this outdoor trek.

Google Earth Ruler Demo

My Tracks monitors and maps my distance and speed of a power walk, hike, run or any moving exercise.  As the below video will show, a simple Start, and then away I go.  My Tracks has a voice that can be set to announce my distance, speed, and time.  For example, I can set the voice to inform me every 1 minute, 2 minutes, etc, or set it to announce after each mile.  My Tracks can be considered a coach giving immediate feedback throughout your exercise (including your dog walk).

Run Keeper maintains logs of my bicycle rides.  It is similar to My Tracks in that it also has a voice announcement.  I must admit hearing the voice while wind is whistling through my helmet made hearing Run Keeper difficult.  Like My Tracks, the GPS keeps the logs online and so all trips are available on my desktop for each viewing.

Demonstration of My Tracks and RunKeeper Video

Technology Limitations

Battery charging is a major issue with using my smart phone.  As new smart phones are released the length of the battery charge time is improving, but these improved charge lengths are still an issue with my overnight treks – unless I carry a spare battery (but this will have the length of charge issue) or use a solar charge (hmmn – hopefully have sun exposure for an extended period of time, and indeed remain in a so-called steady position to maximize solar charging.)
To my rescue for extending my Android Razor Maxx smart phone battery life has come a company called SOS Ready. Battery recharging is as simple as turning the handle to output stable, voltage-regulated power to my smart phone.  This device weighs less than 4 ounces, is smaller than my fist, is water resistant, impact and shock resistant, and needs no battery or light bulb.  It is a great wilderness piece of equipment, and will shortly be part of my household emergency pack.  The manufacturer does say some phones are not yet ready for this device, so check their specifications before you order.

Another issue I have experienced is losing GPS satellite contact. Loss of satellite contact can  give you weird statistics, such as I was running when a voice announced my pace of 8 minutes per mile for the first mile.  I then walked a bit and the next time the voice reported it told me I was at a 7 minutes 30 second pace.  Is this a satellite GPS issue?  Hmm, remember to weigh and consider the statistical results.  J

Apps Recommendation
This discussion is meant to show how an app can be used to enhance your outdoor enthusiasm and accomplishments.  It is not a recommendation for a particular app. Some apps are intended for one activity; whereas another may serve a variety of activities.  Many apps are free, or have a minimal charge.  The apps here offer a free version and for a minimal cost you can get an upgrade version. 

Share Your Use of Technology for Enhanced Outdoor Activities. 

Share with me your use of technology for outdoor activities at  Or tweet me your favorite outdoor tech activity at @OutdoorSteveYes.  Certainly post a comment on this blog. 

Never say, “I wish I had tried technology…”

Search for an outdoor app related to your favorite outdoor activity;  From within your smart phone, download the app.  Browse through its features – and test each one.  Challenge yourself with all kinds of questions: Does the app provide opportunity to lighten your outdoor experience?  Does the app challenge you in your activity training? Does it offer statistics and opportunities to expand your outdoor experience?

Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” , is now available as an e-Book at Kindle and Nook.