You could argue that most of us spend too much time on our phones and that summer vacation presents the perfect opportunity to unplug. It’s a solid argument, but do you remember summer before the advent of the iPhone? We basically just wandered around the beach hoping to find a decent surf break or drove into the forest hoping to stumble on a nice campsite. Too much was left up to chance. But not anymore. We’re not saying you need to be glued to your phone, but when used appropriately, your mobile device can make your summer adventure easier and more fun. Need proof? Check out these five apps.
The Dyrt (Free)
Not all campgrounds are created equal. Even campgrounds within the same national park can vary in quality. Hell, even sites within the same campground can occupy opposite ends of the awesome spectrum. To ensure you always land in the right spot, we recommend The Dyrt. This web-based app gathers user-created reviews of thousands of campgrounds from all over the U.S. Browse through the database and find info on the amenities and recreation at each campground, along with user-generated photos and reviews. Some of the reviews are cursory (and full of exclamation points!) but you can find solid tips, too. During a search for sites near Shenandoah National Park, I found a campground on a lake I had never heard of and discovered some worthy beta regarding reservation quirks of a popular site outside the park. The database is still young and needs more user-generated content, but it’s slowly getting better. The developers have an insanely good reward system, where users who review campgrounds can enter to win hundreds of dollars in gear and gift cards every month. The Dyrt is only web-based right now, but the site works seamlessly on your smartphone, and a mobile app is slated for August.
Waterkeeper Swim Guide (Free)
Waterfall swimming, river tubing, and boogie boarding at the beach: that’s what you want to do during the summer. What you don’t want to do is tube, boogie, or swim with fecal matter. The Waterkeeper Alliance is a nonprofit focused on clean water issues, from curbing urban runoff to monitoring large-scale farming practices. Their swim guide app aggregates the data from regular water sampling performed by Waterkeepers and Riverkeepers across the country, allowing you to check the water quality at your favorite beaches, rivers, or lakes to make sure it’s safe to take a dip. Search a city, forest, or coastline, and you’ll get a list of beaches and access points. A simple green swimmer or red swimmer icon lets you know if pollutants are above the recommended levels. Click on your destination, and you can also see when the last time the beach was tested, and study a graph that shows how often that particular beach falls into the “red swimmer” category.
Surfline (Free; $70/year for Premium Version)
Other surf apps have come and gone, but Surfline has withstood the test of time, providing reliable surf conditions for your favorite breaks. The app is loaded with beta: low and high tides charts, current wave size, swell directions, water and air temps, wind speed, and direction. The free version of the app gives a three-day forecast, so you can make a decision about whether you should call in sick for work tomorrow, but with the premium version, you get a 17-day forecast, allowing you to monitor developing weather patterns. If your break has a live cam, you’ll get that feed on your phone, too. In addition to accurate surf conditions, Surfline also delivers a news feed with videos and stories from the world of professional surfing, so it’s a great way to postpone that looming work deadline or pass the time while waiting for high tide at your favorite beach break.
Cairn is an app designed to show you where you can find cell service in the backcountry. Enter the trail, forest, or park you’re going to explore, and you can peruse a map with little blue dots that represent verified cell service from other Cairn users. Click on one of those dots and it shows you which provider has solid coverage. Since the app is crowd-sourced, the cell coverage feature can be a bit thin in certain places—the more people who use Cairn, the more robust the data. But a secondary benefit of Cairn might just save your life. Tell Cairn where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and the app will alert your emergency contacts via email if you don’t check in on time. In that email, Cairn sends your contact a map that shows exactly where you’ve been throughout your adventure, so if a rescue is necessary, the first responders will have good beta on where to look. You can also use the app to send emails to your contacts throughout the trip so they can keep track of your progress.
You’re camping and you forgot the tent. You remembered the cheddar seasoning for the Jiffy Pop, but not the damn tent. Relax, it happens. But it probably wouldn’t if you used Moonlight, an app that allows you to plan multiple facets of your camping trip, from the meals you hope to cook to the gear you need to sleep comfortably. Like that tent that’s sitting in your garage. Moonlight really shines if you’re planning a group camping trip with multiple people, as the group can all sign into the trip and divvy up shopping lists and figure out who the hell is going to bring the tent. Think of it as a Google Doc where everyone can shape and edit the itinerary and gear check list. Because there’s nothing worse than showing up at a bitchin’ campsite with two Coleman stoves but no tent. Available for iOS.