An Explorer’s Top 5 iPhone Apps for Adventure

Photo by Jay Simpson. Maps, old school and new school.

Apps for modern backpackers, urban travelers, and even astronauts to get un-lost, document and share their journeys, and enjoy the adventurous life.

I pack my backpack as light as possible and with old, well-trusted gear. Not one to obsess over the latest trends or that loves to shop, I don’t claim to have the best of the best — I have what works for me. Digitally, these Apps have been with me on my adventures for the last few years and I always love to have them with me. Without further ado, I present my top 5 iPhone Apps – but please comment to add yours!

GPS Kit map interface.
GPS Kit map interface.

gpskit1. GPS Kit by Garafa – Get un-lost (for $10)

What it does: Download before you leave or use your phone’s data connection to view maps from Google (satellite, terrain, cycling, hybrid, and street), Open (street or cycling-topo), or Bing (shaded relief, street, or image). Record your movements, drop notes or photo makers, export to view in Google Earth, or share live location online.

My favorite thing: The downloadable maps were critical for navigating in cloud on my trip. What was really useful was the custom download selection tool, which allowed me to combine hand-drawn shapes of where I wanted map data, select which map type, and then select the tile detail level! This App worked like a charm and I will always keep emergency maps on my iPhone when venturing into the bush.View Post for Full Multimedia

Find interactive panoramas by Photosynth on the Rim of Africa Multimedia Trial Journal
CLICK TO INTERACT: Find interactive panoramas by Photosynth on the Rim of Africa Multimedia Trial Journal

2. Photosynth by Microsoft – Share the view (for free!)

What it does: Makes interactive 360˚x360˚ panoramas to share online and on social networks. It saves the panorama as a single image to your camera roll after stitching images. Once you get the hang out how to hold the iPhone and move to take the photos, you can have pretty simple, fast panoramas!

My favorite thing: These panoramas are incredible and so easy to make (view my collection!). I’ve loved getting to know how to use this App on a quick trip to Paris— my favorite panoramas included one in Monet’s painting studio and another from having fun with a friend at Versailles.

3. Soundcloud by Soundcloud – Share the sounds (for free!)

What it does: Basic sound recorder with on-board editing (cutting) capabilities. Upload your recordings to the internet, share on social networks, and listen to and follow others!

My favorite thing: Soundcloud allows for super-simple recording and uploading to the internet. I upload all the sounds as “private” (non-shared) files so I can download them to my computer for continued storage and editing— without ever having to connect any cords to my phone! There is a growing community of users, including Paul Salopek who is walking around the world.

Postagram postcard sample
Postagram postcard sample.

4. Postagram by Sincerely – Send mementos (App is free!/$1 postcards)

What it does: Mails postcards to your friends, family, or supporters right from your iPhone. The even photos pop out from the card for sweet fridge posting!

My favorite thing: There aren’t many post offices out in the mountains, so this can be critical to send a gift home. And even if there are post offices where you are traveling, sometimes its easier, cheaper, and more fun to send your own post card home.

Planets' 3D sky maps automatically calibrate to your current location.
Planets’ 3D sky maps automatically calibrate to your current location.

planets5. Planets by Q Continuum – Love the night sky (for free!)

What it does: With automatic location detection, this basic App offers 2D maps and 3D maps of the sky for identifying planets and stars, gives you the rise/set visibility information for the sun and planets, and even has a few facts and visualizations of the moon and planets.

My favorite thing: This App is my favorite App on this list because it opens up the night sky for exploration in a basic, easy-to-use approach. I first downloaded Planets years and years ago, I imagine there are many more Apps like this now, and it has never failed to bring a sense of endless wonder to the cold nights out in the mountains.

Human Journey


Meet the Author
National Geographic Young Explorer Jay Simpson is part of the Wolf OR-7 Expedition, a 1,200-mile adventure in the tracks of a lone wolf beginning May 2014. Using an estimated GPS track of the lone Wolf OR-7, they’ll have 42 days to mountain bike and hike across Oregon and Northern California. Their aim is to educate and share the story of a real wolf, dispelling myths and misinformation through educational products and presentations. Visit or for more. Jay's previously walked over 400 miles in the mountains of South Africa, completing the first trek of the entire Rim of Africa Mountain Trail, to help educate South African youth on the Cape Floristic Region and conservation through the story of creating Africa’s first Mega-Trail. More at Rim of Africa Multimedia Trail Journal.