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5 iPhone apps for hiking

Now that the weather is cooling down here in the States, it's time to spend some time outdoors. I love a good hike, and they're made even more enjoyable with a good app by my side. Track distance, brag about your workout or even find a hidden "treasure" during your excursion with these apps. Have fun (all prices are USD).

iMapMyHIKE (Free lite version, $1.99 pro)

I used iMapMyHIKE all summer. When you start out, launch the app and note your location. As you move, the app tracks your course. It's fun to see where you've traveled as well as build a real-time map back to your starting point, should you get confused.

Of course, that's just the beginning. You can share your hiking stats with friends (like distance travelled, pace and so on), spot hiking companions running the app on a map and log your data to keep track of your outdoor workouts. It's a lot of fun and was a good companion this summer.

BoxFinder ($1.99) and Geocaching ($99)

Here's a two-for-one deal. BoxFinder and Geocaching are apps for letterboxing and geocaching, two similar hunt-and-find games that can enhance any hike. Geocaching is the practice of finding small boxes (often Tupperware containers) that have been hidden at specific geographic coordinates around the world. Each typically contains a log book and other goodies.

Letterboxing is similar, but directed at kids. Upon finding a letterbox, the "hunter" marks its logbook with his signature "stamp," while placing the box's stamp in her own log book.

Both apps make the adventures much easier and enjoyable. Since the iPhone 4 is a GPS receiver, finding that box is quite easy. Use the coordinates, description and virtual logs left by other "players" to find just what you're looking for. Both apps offer to find boxes within your area and, in my experience, excel at directing you right to them. If you're interested in either of these pastimes, grab these apps. They truly enhance the experience.

MyNature Animal Tracks ($6.99)

When I was a Boy Scout, I loved making casts of animal tracks we found in the woods. Today my own kids like finding them, too, but I'm out of practice and can't identify them as reliably as I used to. Fortunately, MyNature Animal Tracks is here to help.

This great little app features a huge database of animal tracks, both hind and forepaws. When you come across a track, perform a quick search to find what you're looking for. Once you have, the app provides an image of the animal, plus its gate, call and typical range.

Best of all, the data is all within the app so it works without an Internet connection -- a likely scenario in the middle of the woods.

Star Walk - 5 Stars Astronomy Guide ($2.99)

Staying overnight? Then you must have this with you. There are plenty of astronomy apps out there but this one never fails to impress. When pointed at the sky, Star Walk identifies the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies overhead (including satellites!). It's extremely impressive.

As you slowly move it across the sky, Star Walk points out what you're looking at. A search feature will guide you to a certain object with an arrow. For example, type "Mars" and the app prompts you to face the right direction.

There's also a calendar of celestial events for planning purposes and a red-light "night mode" to preserve your dark vision. It's one of the first apps I use to show off my iPhone (iPad, too).

There you have five great apps to accompany you in the great outdoors. One more thing -- grab an environment-resistant case while you're at it. The rivers, streams and hard rocks are pretty, but they don't care a tinker's cuss about your iPhone.

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