Five apps that could help you stay safe outside

How to stay safe outdoors

When it comes to staying safe outdoors, I’m a firm believer in learning directly from experts, gaining experience, and carrying the necessary equipment.

But I don’t rule out using apps for outdoor safety.

Some outdoor apps have their place when it comes to proper planning, and emergency situations.

Apps can help with outdoor safety

Here’s an example

There are some fabulous route finding apps out there. I’m a big fan of Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps, and often use it to plan walking routes before I set out.

But I don’t follow walking routes on my phone.

When I’m out walking, I like to navigate using a paper map and compass. That way I have a better grasp of my surroundings, and possible escape routes should things become tricky.

I also have more freedom to explore.

Conserve your mobile battery

Because I am an outdoor writer, my mobile has to do lots of jobs. Notes, voice recordings, pictures, and occasionally videos, all take their toll on it’s battery.

You know, the battery I might need in an emergency.

So I tend to focus on apps I can use in an outdoor emergency, or apps that will help me avoid that emergency in the first place.

There are apps that can help us all stay safe outdoors.

Especially when we’re out walking alone. In fact, whatever our favourite outdoor activity, hiking, outdoor swimming, wild camping, cycling, running, it pays to have a few digital tools available.

Just in case we need them.

Here are my top five apps that could help us all stay safe outside.

1. OS Maps – Route Planning App

Download? Google Play or Apple Store

Cost? Free for Open Street Maps, subscription for premium Ordnance Survey maps (section downloads available when you buy a paper map).

Note: I'm a Get Outside Champion for Ordnance Survey so they very kindly let me have a free yearly subscription. I would be recommending OS Maps anyway though. It's one of my favourite online tools.

When to use it? At home when you’re planning your walking route. Either look up an existing route or plan your own. Out and about if you need to check your route.

How to use it? I recommend a bit of local practice before you set off on a serious walk. More information on how to plan a walking route with the latest version of OS Maps here.

Great because? OS Maps has lots of tools that will help you visualise your walk before you set off. It will also give you expected timings and let you know how much uphill you’re committing to. All this really helps with sensible planning.

Available offline? Yes but no! You can use OS Maps offline to pinpoint your location but you won’t be able to access some of the extra features, or the premium mapping unless you’ve previously downloaded your route or map area to your mobile device.

Recommendations? Although you can follow a route using OS Maps, you need to be aware of the impact of this on battery life, and your understanding of your location. Learning to navigate using a paper map and compass is great fun, and makes a lot of sense.

2. British Red Cross – First Aid app

Download? Google Play or Apple Store

Cost? Free

When to use it? In an unfamiliar first aid situation (or if you need reassurance).

How to use it? If you’re busy with the casualty, ask someone else to use the app for you. Or brush up on key first aid skills before you set off outside.

Great because? This emergency app has a comprehensive set of checklists for emergency situations, including when to call 999. It also has a learning section to help you build your first aid skills

Available offline? Yes

Recommendations? Consider attending an outdoor first aid course. There’s really nothing to beat the confidence you gain from face-to-face learning.

3. OS Locate – Accurate Location App

Download? Google Play or Apple Store

Cost? Free

When to use it? To give an exact location in an emergency or to check your location when navigating.

How to use it? Get a grid reference from the home screen to locate yourself, or as part of your location description in an emergency. You can also check your direction of travel using the compass.

Great because? If you don’t know how to find a location by grid reference, this app will link through, and pinpoint it on OS Maps (if you have the OS Maps app installed).

Available offline? Yes

Recommendations? Learn how to use grid references on a paper map. In an emergency, give a location description as well as a grid reference.

4. Met Office – Weather App

Download? Google Play or Apple Store

Cost? Free

When to use it? Lots of times! Use the long range forecasts before you plan routes. Check for updates the day before, and on the day as well.

How to use it? Allow the app to give a forecast for your location or search for a location or national park. View the full forecast to take note of ‘feels like’ temperatures, wind speeds (including gusts) as well as visibility, and sunset times. Plan your route accordingly.

Great because? The Met Office App can be pinned down to hyper-local locations. It offers plenty of information, and uses British forecasting (unlike the BBC for example).

Available offline? No, so use it before you set off.

Recommendations? Be aware that weather systems can move through earlier or later than predicted. Always pack for a variety of conditions. Taking wind direction into account can really make a difference to how much you enjoy your outing.

5. MWIS – Mountain Weather Information Service

Download? At the time of writing, MWIS Mountain Weather Information Service is available in web but not app form. We’ve included it here because of its high level of really useful mountain weather information.

Cost? Free

When to use it? When planning a high level walk, run, cycle, scramble or climb.

How to use it? Select your area. Read all of the information then plan appropriately, taking effect of wind, temperature and visibility into account. If in doubt, opt for a lower route.

Great because? Rather than just giving you weather information, this app helps you to interpret its effect on you. Something that can be tricky to do if you’re inexperienced or visiting a new area.

Available offline? No but weather information is downloadable in PDF format.

Recommendations? Get used to noticing the impact of weather conditions when you’re out and about. Always plan for weather changes, and pack accordingly.

What about What3Words?

So there we have it. Five apps that could make your outing more enjoyable, as well as safer. Just as a note, we’re often asked about the What3Words app. This one has caused some issues in the past, and What3Words isn’t always recommended by Mountain Rescue but alongside the apps recommended above, and some solid navigation experience, it might make all the difference, one day. We wouldn’t however recommend it as your first emergency tool.

But hopefully you’ll never need any emergency apps!

Staying safe when you’re outside requires a combination of common sense, prior planning, and expertise. Our biggest recommendation?

Start small, get some experience, then work up to the bigger adventures.

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Komoot or OS Maps. Which app is best for walking route planning?

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