We’re finally starting to say goodbye to the snow and cold and hello to sunshine, rooftops and patios. Even if you don’t trust there’s no snowstorms around the corner, it’s safe to say we’ve all been thinking spring for a while now, and now that it’s actually happening, it’s time to open the windows, shake off the dust and get outside—for exercise, some vitamin D, and to cure the cabin fever you’ve likely had since late October. As per usual in this digital world we live in, there’s apps that can help you with that, so we picked 8 of our favorite apps for enjoying the great outdoors and getting fit this spring.
Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder—If your thoughts have turned towards wide open spaces, this app can help guide you to them. Using your phone’s GPS, the Oh, Ranger! app locates parks of all sorts for your exploration pleasure—from a neighborhood park to jog in to national parks. You can also browse by state and filter by the type of adventure you want to have- from auto touring to boating, horseback riding or hunting. It has a great deal of information about many parks, with reviews and photos for some locations, and you can call the parks or visit their websites from directly within the app. Oh, Ranger! Is free and available on both iOS and Android, with no additional purchases necessary to use all of its features.
ReserveAmerica Camping—In a similar vein, if you’ve been waiting for milder weather to get out and sleep under the stars, this app will make life easier for you as you plan your next excursion. ReserveAmerica’s app works much like things like Travelocity do for hotels, finding available campsites in your area using your phone’s GPS or a simple city search, and you can reserve with many of the sites through the app itself, as well as look at what amenities each campground or site offers and the fees associated. You can also save favorites to have them handy for whenever the urge to hit the trails strikes again. ReserveAmerica is free and available on both iOS and Android, with no additional purchases necessary for full functionality.
Gaia – Gaia GPS is a robust GPS powered map program for hikers, as well as user submitted trips which often include photos and descriptions of the hikes themselves in the barebones app. Maps are sourced from almost everywhere and come in a variety of flavors, which makes this app a favorite among orienteering clubs and hiking enthusiasts alike, but many of Gaia’s best features come with a price. A $19.99 yearly subscription gets you access to multilayered maps, collaborative trip planning, offline navigation and integration with your other devices, while the $39.99 a year premium membership allows you access to National Geographic’s illustrated maps, expanded European maps and US hunting maps. Gaia is free to download on both iOS and Android but many of its most useful features are locked behind paywalls, either $19.99 for a basic yearly membership or $39.99 for a yearly premium membership.
Cairn–While you may not feel like there’s too much of “the wild” in Illinois, outdoor activities—no matter where they happen, come with inherent risk. Cairn is an app that aims to help you enjoy the outdoors with a little more peace of mind. It’s got a great interface and works simply. You plan a trip by searching destinations in the app’s list or marking your own trail by tracking yourself using GPS. Then, you can download the map to your phone if it’s available for offline use. Put in your trip information, choose to get driving directions to where you’re headed, and also choose to notify your safety circle. Input the information for your significant other, family, friends or roommates, who you can notify by email or text. Input when you’re headed out and the latest you expect to be back and hit send. The “safety circle” you designate will then get a notification of your plans with a map that live updates with your progress when possible. While there are other apps that do this, Cairn streamlines the process and adds one key thing-crowdsourced cell phone coverage spots. Users input data on where they did and did not have cell service, so that Cairn users can tell if they’ll be able to contact someone along the trails or make an emergency call. If you don’t return from your outdoor adventures when you said you would, your safety circle receives a notification and knows that something is amiss, even if your cell phone doesn’t currently have coverage. If you decide to end your journey early, a simple one touch “end trip” button makes sure no one sends a search party in error. Cairn is currently only available on iOS, and while the download is free, premium features, like the all-important safety circle notifications, require a premium membership, which will run you $4.99 a month or $26.99 for a yearly subscription. If you ask us it’s a small price to pay to ensure trail safety.
Couch to 5K—If you’re not quite sure about hitting the trails or sleeping under the stars, and you find yourself binging Netflix more than you work out, but you’d like to change that, try Couch to 5K. This app is designed to help us couch potatoes drop the remote and get outside, and it works you up to being able to participate in the dozens and dozens of 5K events that happen in almost every city, suburb and small town across the nation. You’ll only need to commit to 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week and in 9 weeks you can sign up for whatever holiday/charity/weather related 5K is all the rage right now. It’s an app with an easy to use interface that holds your hand as you go from walking to running in small increments that won’t make you feel overwhelmed if it’s been a while since your Nikes have hit the pavement. Couch to 5K is free and available on iOS and Android, but its premium features, though unnecessary, remove ads and include event fee discounts, free running related goodies, travel discounts and more and require an additional purchase.
Geocaching—Making exercise into a game is a great way to trick your brain and get you moving, and one thing that’s gotten us off our butts and out on our feet has been geocaching. If you’re unfamiliar, geocaching is a hobby that’s been gaining steam for years now and involves the hiding of “caches” in all sorts of locations- from downtown Chicago to the tops of mountains and everywhere in between. Geocachers use GPS to find these caches, which can contain something as simple as a log to sign saying you found it to prizes or actual scannable tags that can be rehidden in new locations. It’s almost like being on a secret mission, and miles will go by before you even realize it as you try to unearth them. The official geocaching app makes basic geocaches available to anyone, as well as reporting finds and chatting with the geocaching community, but additional upgrades at $29.99 for a year or $9.99 monthly allow access to advanced geocaches with higher find difficulty and terrain ratings and more robust features for seekers. The official geocaching app is available on iOS and Android for free.
8Fit—If you’re looking to get much more serious about your nutrition and health, take a look at 8Fit. This app is designed to help you get started on the path to a healthier life by providing as much guidance as possible. You’ll be able to set your goals, enter in your personal health information, and have a customized plan created for you to succeed at those goals. This includes custom workouts, meal plans and even access to one of 8Fit’s personal trainers, and you’ll also be able to choose whatever difficulty level you want to shoot for, with weight loss goals over longer times with fewer active days if you want to take it a little easier, or quicker plans with more strict rules and daily activity if you’re looking to lose the weight faster. Visual guides help you assess what changes you might see in your body, and meal plans come with recipes and shopping lists to get you started at the grocery store. As you might imagine this help does not come free, but 8Fit aims to be a full lifestyle change with personal touches, and its $71.99 yearly price tag may not be too much to pay for that sort of thing. 8Fit is available on iOS and Android as a free download but requires a subscription to unlock any of its features.
Activity Tracker—Activity Tracker might just be the most barebones app on the list. This completely free activity tracker doesn’t have a fancy UI or complicated metrics to worry about. That said, its effortlessness makes it a no-brainer to download. Plain and simple, Activity Tracker records your steps by using your phone’s motion processor. If you’ve got your phone on you, you’ve got everything you need to calculate daily steps, elevation change, calorie burn and time. It’s an app you’ll set and forget, but be able to pick up any time to see your progress or lack thereof. The genius of it is that it makes things simple. Take a look at your phone at the end of the day and see what your activity level was, and shoot for higher tomorrow or congratulate yourself on a job well done. Then go out and live your life the next day and see how you fare. Out of the box you can set it up to work with gadgets like Apple Watch, and find more information through settings, but if you do nothing at all after downloading, it’ll still provide a valuable insight into your activity levels, and that’s reason enough to recommend it. Activity Tracker is currently only available on iOS, but an Android version is in the works.