Backpacker: Top 10 Outdoor Apps

I appreciated the recent Backpacker run-down of “The 10 Best Apps For the Outdoors” (Ryan Wichelns, 11 May 2017).

Some of them–like the SkyView–I’d heard of before, but others were new and engaging. I’ve wanted an app like Leafsnap or PeakFinder. I’m probably the last person to hear of these.

We don’t let our kiddo use a phone yet, but when the time comes, these look a lot better than playing Candy Annihilation.

You can buy all 10 in the list for a total of $31.96 (if I did the math correctly). Looks like it could be money well spent.


Do Much with Little (Smartphone Edition)

This phrase — do much with little — has become a mantra that rolls around in my head. I used to work for a Christian nonprofit that fights human trafficking, and this line was one of our three catch-phrases. “Do much with little.”

Though not very systematically, I have tried to apply this idea to different parts of my life. In order to simplify well, we need the little that remains to be able to do a lot. This could be a pair of shoes that can be used in multiple pursuits, an appliance that can perform more than one function, or a backpack that can work around town, on a plane, and on the trail.

This post is focusing on one such device: the mighty smartphone. Since we still can’t get the Fairphone in the US, I’ve used the two standard options–Android (an early Samsung Galaxy) and the iPhone.

Consider our two week kayak trip. I used the Galaxy to:

  • track our miles with a GPS
  • take pictures and video
  • upload the media to our WordPress blog when we’d get a decent signal
  • watch the weather forecast
  • text trip updates to our team at home who were following our fundraising trip 

0069d-p1150990During the day, we generally used the smallest GoalZero solar panel to charge a battery, which we then used to charge the phone in the tent at night. Do much with little.

I also used that smartphone in my media work. When I went to Europe for 10 days to see some friends and report on a conference for a magazine, I wanted to pack light, so I just took my phone and a Bluetooth keyboard. Each night I’d prop up my phone and pound out my article. Do much with little.

So when I got into podcasting, I was again impressed with the many devices that could be used with a smartphone. At this point I’m back to using an iPhone, so that’s what I’ve been learning about (and thus listing here). Naturally many of the items I’ll mention here could work with iPads as well (and Android phones).

A little background: I started podcasting with a system centered on a mixer and audio recorder that the nonprofit Board approved (SoundCraft EPM6 $220 + Roland R-O5 $200). Then I simplified to only a Zoom H6 ($350, simple & complex configurations). But could it all be done on my phone? 


I have started experimenting with Bossjock (YouTube, $10). Instead of mixing my podcast intro (music fade, voice over, etc.) in Audacity (free and easy to learn software), I’m playing with using Bossjock for this. It’s pretty easy to do, and the auto-ducking is nice. This app includes sound carts similar to the ones offered by Sound Byte. And of course there are a lot of other good apps for recording audio that don’t have podcasting features. Be sure you can record in a high quality format like WAV

An app to record Skype calls would also be useful. I need to do this at times, but I haven’t experimented with it on my phone yet. In the past, I’ve set up a mix-minus on my mixer and compy to do this. Using an app to do this would obviously require turning Airplane mode off (normally have Airplane mode on to avoid interruptions), so incoming calls and texts could interfere with your recording unless Skype blocks them. I need to learn more about this.


Since the mic on the iPhone isn’t going to give you quality sound, you need to connect a good external mic. You have a ton of options here at all price points.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Connection type: 3.5mm (1/8″) headphone/mic jack on older iPhones versus Lightning only on the 7. Buy the right product for your phone or get an adapter.
  • Contacts: TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) on most non-phone connections and TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) on smartphones and some other devices, to oversimplify. Again, consider an adapter if needed. (Wikipedia)
  • Type of mic: XLR, USB, or 3.5mm (connection); dynamic or condenser (power); shotgun, clip-on lav/lapel, or regular studio mics  (location/design). Again, to greatly oversimplify.
  • Note on power: some dynamic mics like the Shure SM7B ($400) need more power. And condenser mics need phantom power. Keep this in mind as you think about the type of cables, adapters, and audio interfaces you might want. A Cloudlifter or Fethead can help in some configurations, but not all.

So buy the kind of mic that you want to use (dynamic or condenser studio mic, a shotgun, or a lav) and then figure out how to get from that type of connector (XLR, USB, 3.5mmTRS or TRRS) to the type of connector your particular iPhone has (3.5mm TRRS or Lightning). Here are a few examples:

In the above picture, you see the setup I’m playing with now. I’m using my Zoom H6 as an audio interface to connect my XLR dynamic mic to the lightning port on my iPhone so I can use the Bossjock app (theme music in one cart). 

Here’s the chain: ATR 2100 mic – XLR cable (low quality build) – Zoom H6 – USB mini out – Apple USB/Lightning camera adapter – iPhone 5S – Bossjock app.

Obviously, I wouldn’t buy an H6 for an audio interface. The other options above are cheaper and as good or better for that. But I already had it, so I’m experimenting with it. 

I like the ATR2100 for a few reasons: it’s affordable, it sounds okay (comparison), and it has both XLR and USB outlets (Ortega).


Use them. While you’re recording. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had.

And use them when watching these YouTube videos about gear. You’ll hear the differences much better. 

Earbuds are better than nothing, but at $25, the Sennheiser HD 202IIs are hard to beat (B&H).


So after you have the audio dialed in, you just might want to see what you can do with video as well. 🙂

These options show the diversity of ways you can maximize your productivity with the phone you already have in your pocket (since a lot of this applies to other operating systems, not just the iPhone). You don’t have to have a mixer, audio recorder, and video camera to make quality content. With the specific tools that fit your phone and your creative projects, go forth and do much with little….

YOUR TURN: What other tools do you use with your smartphone to get the most out of it?

|Power to the Gadgets

We’re looking at what it would take to run our electronic gadgets (phones, compies, camera…) with renewable energy–solar, wind or bicycle.

We have a small Goal Zero kit that we bought a few years ago for camping trips and mini-expeditions–Guide 10 (before the “Plus” was added). Between the battery that came with it and a supplemental battery (Eton Boost 4200), we’re more-or-less able to power our two phones–a smart phone and an old school cell phone.

That leaves us needing AC power for the camera battery, laptops and printer/scanner (no TV). After reading a bit about wind power, it doesn’t look like a good option for our situation (Mother Earth News). That leaves solar and bike.

I’ve looked at a few pedal-power systems:

But I’ve also found DIY instructions for making one (example: Instructables). This is intriguing, though I know I’d need some help to make it happen. On our budget, this option is preferable. If I did make one, this Duracell looks good–Powerpack 600 ($120). It’s used in some of the kits above.

Because we have a small living area, space is one consideration as I think about various AC power generating options. If we had a kit like Pedal-a-Watt, I could bring the bike inside to pedal or take the stand outside to pedal. Either way we wouldn’t need to store a bike inside. But that would mean moving the bike a lot, a step that might limit its use. And if we build one ourselves, it would probably need to stay mounted  to the base as a single package (bike-stand-battery), which would mean we would need to leave it outside. Using it would involve going outside, uncovering the big, and plugging in the battery each time we needed to recharge the battery.

Turning back to solar, we are considering how to “amp” up our camping system so it can charge something like the Powerpack 600, a significant step up from our USB-connected devices. There are a lot of options for this. A lot. Again, we’re not trying to go completely off the grid or even to power all our appliances. I’m just playing with the idea of juicing our electronic devices.

We could get a bigger Goal Zero solar panel, like the Boulder 30 (30 watt, monocrystalline, $200) to power a Powerpack 600. Here is an amateur radio operator who put four Boulder 15s together on a camera tripod (same as two 30s, I presume)–YouTube. Home Depot offers a number of options–Grape Solar 105 Watt ($140), Grape Solar 100 Watt (polycrastalline, $150), Sunforce 30 Watt Amorphous Folding Kit (thin film, $170), Grape Solar 160 Watt (monocrystalline, $230), Ramsond 100 Watt 12-Volt (monocrystalline, $260), Sunforce 80 Watt ($260), Nature Power 65 Watt (monocrystalline, $280). The options seem endless–Ameresco, Value Line, Solartech, Power Up, etc.

I certainly have a lot to learn beyond what I’ve seen on YouTube. In that regard the kits make sense.

Maybe I should start by learning enough to connect my Goal Zero Guide 10 into a proper system (solar panel, charge control/solar regulator, battery, inverter). And maybe I should go study with Bunker Roy and his crew.

|Web Round-up

It’s been a long time since I posted links. Here is the collection that’s been growing in my notebook (categories are arbitrary and over-lapping):


Psychology + Relationships



Culture + Travel



Adventure + Nature

Activism + Social Action


|Friday Web Round-up


Environment + Sustainability

Health + Food

Technology + Science







    |Friday Web Round-up


    Environment (Nature + Sustainability)