Believe it or not, there once was a time when taking your smartphone with you on an outdoor adventure was frowned upon. The idea was to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life by leaving your devices behind. But as our phones have become more integrated into our lives, we now recognize how valuable they can be even when traveling in the backcountry.
Thanks to the vast libraries of apps at our disposal, smartphones have become as versatile and useful as a Swiss Army Knife. They can serve as our cameras and GPS navigation devices. They provide entertainment in the form of music, videos, and podcasts or share our adventures on social media. And, they can even serve as a flashlight in a pinch.
Perhaps most importantly, our mobile devices can function as a communications tool, helping us stay in touch with loved ones back home or reach out for help in an emergency. These apps offer services and features that are potentially lifesaving, assisting search and rescue teams in locating lost hikers, backpackers, and skiers.
There are a lot of emergency alert smartphone apps out there on app stores for iOS and Android devices. Here’s a handful of apps that have been built with backcountry users in mind. They all work slightly differently. But, they all provide the same safety net should you stumble into trouble when you go off the grid.
The Best Emergency Alert Apps for Your Smartphone
Apple Emergency SOS via Satellite
Satellite Messenger Companion Apps
Satellite messengers — like the Garmin inReach, SPOT X, or ZOLEO communicator — are excellent devices to carry on our backcountry adventures. These gadgets allow others to track our progress and view our current location. They also allow us to send an SOS alert should an emergency occur. But to get the most from these gadgets, you’ll want to install a companion app that unlocks additional functionality.
The smartphone apps that work with a satellite messenger allow users to connect the two devices so they can work in tandem. This allows the smartphone to send and receive text messages using a satellite connection and get updated weather reports. That’s a significant upgrade over previous-generation satellite communicators, which typically only allowed for one-way texts, often consisting of preset messages.
If you own a Garmin inReach device, you’ll want to install the Garmin Messenger app. That app works with the company’s entire line of satellite communicators. For the SPOT X, be sure to install the companion app for iOS or Android. ZOLEO users can find the ZOLEO app on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, as well. Without this additional software, you’re not getting the most out of these potentially lifesaving gadgets.
These are our picks for the best and most reliable emergency comms apps to have on your smartphone while traveling in the backcountry. Each delivers essential features and functionality to keep us safer while pursuing our outdoor passions. Install one or two of these apps for those “just-in-case” moments. Doing so could save your life or someone else’s.