I refused to love the iPhone at first. I told myself I did not need one of these tiny computers, from which friends sent e-mails snobbily signed “Sent from my iPhone,” which may as well have said “Sent from the Brave New World where I live and you do not.” I did not need apps, the ability to watch the YouTube on a 3-inch by 5-inch screen in a coffee shop, or a touch screen.
Then I moved into my car for six months, living in campgrounds, coffee shops, and on friends’ couches, and the iPhone changed my life. I drank the Kool-Aid. I did more than drink the Kool-Aid. I am now the Kool-Aid Man, crashing through brick walls and yelling “Oh Yeah,” iPhone in hand, telling everyone about all these great apps and features that make me whole.
1. It’s a Flashlight
Where’s your headlamp? This app has many a time saved me in my tent, digging around in the dark, or in my car with its pathetically dim dome light that shines some places, but not where my headlamp is hiding.
2. It Has a GPS
Not that you’d ever get lost or anything.
3. You Can Listen to Bedtime Stories
The iPhone has a small external speaker that’s loud enough for two tent mates to listen to a couple episodes of The Moth or The Dirtbag Diaries at a backcountry campsite in the Sawtooths before falling asleep. Useful for those times you’re too tired to have meaningful conversation, but can’t quite fall asleep yet.
I’m not the guy bringing the boom box to the crag, but the iPhone speaker can provide just enough music for certain outdoor situations. I have had a dance party in a mountaineering tent at Camp Muir, two-fisted ice cream cones to Party Rock Anthem on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, tried to impress girls around campfires with singer-songwriter stuff, and always find an appropriate time to play Kickstart My Heart.
5. It’s Your Campground Finder
Where are you going to sleep tonight? If you’re in your car on America’s great Interstate Highway system, the Rest Area Finder app will guide you to the nearest “Bathhouse of the New Millennium” — ahem, rest area.
6. It’s Your Park Finder
If you prefer to sleep under the stars instead of under the glow of rest area lights, the Oh Ranger! ParkFinder app will show you the nearest state and national parks for camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, picnicing, et cetera, by map.
7. It Sniffs Out Free Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi Finder app: If you work from the road — and by “the road,” I mean “anywhere with free wi-fi”— this is indispensable for finding libraries, coffee shops, visitors centers, chambers of commerce, and other sources of free wireless. Always nice to have some options, instead of pulling into the nearest Flying J or McDonald’s and thinking your only choice might be to sit in the passenger seat of your car and answer e-mails.
8. It’s Your Camera
For years I lied to myself and thought I needed more than 5-megapixel photos of my adventures. Now I’ve come to the realization that my photos really aren’t going anywhere besides my blog and Facebook. So the iPhone does just fine. Yes, it has limitations, but if you are not a good photographer, your own limitations will stop you far short of the iPhone’s limitations. Plus it can play Kickstart My Heart, and I’m guessing your camera cannot.
9. It Has a Compass
Not that you’d get lost or anything.
10. It’s Your Book
Two words: Kindle app. If you have a full charge on your camera/mini boom box/compass/flashlight/mobile talking device, you’ve got plenty of battery for reading, with no additional weight. Download a book before you hit the trail, put your phone on airplane mode, and enjoy.
11. It’s the Source of an Ungodly Amount of Beta
Every trail, mapping, snow report, avalanche information, climbing beta app and mobile site there is: North Face Trailhead, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the Mountain Project app, Ski Utah Snow Report app, Surfline Surf Report app, to name just a few.
12. It’s a Self-Defense Weapon
Worst-case scenario, you can throw it at that charging grizzly bear.
To check out Adventure Journal’s comprehensive outdoor app review — 107 apps in 10 categories — click here.