I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: Hikers, walkers, and campers in the past enjoyed the great outdoors without the benefit of weather apps.
A decade or two ago, nature lovers would simply have to check the TV or AM radio in the morning and hope for the best. And your great grandparents would simply have to check the newspaper for predictions; up-to-the-minute updates were still firmly within the realm of science fiction in those days.
But in the 21st century, there’s simply no reason you shouldn’t have the world’s best, most up-to-date weather info in your pocket. Especially when you’re hitting the trail.
And here’s the best bit: Many of the best weather apps for hiking, walking and camping won’t even cost you a dime (though most will offer enticing upgrades or expanded capabilities for a nominal fee).
With that in mind, check out some of the best weather apps for hikers and other outdoor adventurers below!
The 5 Best Weather Apps for Hiking, Walking & Camping
I’ll explain some of the basics about weather apps, talk about whether premium options are worth the expense and identify some of the weather apps that aren’t worth your time in a minute.
But for now, let’s just jump in and look at my five favorites.
1. Weather by WeatherBug: Our Favorite Weather App
WeatherBug is a neat little weather app that provides the kind of basic information most hikers and campers want, as well as some interesting and unusual features too. For example, WeatherBug will tell you the distance to the closest lightning strike in the last 30 minutes, which could be exceptionally helpful for outdoor enthusiasts.
Platforms: iOS and Android
- The free version provides access to all of WeatherBug’s features, but you will see targeted advertisements.
- The paid version costs $0.99 per month and removes all of the ads from the app.
Available for Free:
- Current conditions, including the temperature, precipitation chance, “feels like” temperature, high and low temperature for the day, wind speed, wind direction, dew point, air pressure and air quality.
- Detailed precipitation data, including daily total, as well as the rate of precipitation per hour, monthly totals and yearly totals.
- Additional information includes fire risk, UV index, pollen count, sun rise, sun set, moon phase, cold and flu map, and hurricane information.
- Weather maps with a number of overlays, including common ones (such as radar and satellite) and less-common overlays (such as pollen count, lightning, and humidity).
- Everything included in the free version, but you will not have to view ads (which are pretty numerous in the app).
- The amount of information this app provides is impressive. Only Windy provides more data.
- It utilizes a very simple, intuitive interface that is quick and easy to use.
- This app includes a lot of information that will be useful to outdoor adventurers, including things like wind chill, heat index, and humidity map overlays.
- You can customize the map in several ways, such as making the overlays lighter or darker.
- You can access all of the app’s information via the free version.
- Overall, there’s not much to complain about with this app.
- The user interface isn’t the most attractive one we encountered.
- The free version features more ads than many other apps. Upgrading is likely a good idea.
The final verdict: Ads aside, I really like this app. I’m making it my new go-to weather app, and I’ll likely pony up for the premium version as long as I don’t discover something I hate within a week or so.
2. Weather Underground: Our Second Favorite Weather App
Weather Underground is a straightforward, easy-to-use weather app that is ideal for users who just want basic information about the current and upcoming conditions. This is the ideal choice for hikers and campers who don’t want to endure a long learning curve to use the app’s features.
Platforms: iOS and Android
- The free version provides access to almost all of Weather Underground’s features, but it only provides forecasts for 10 days.
- For $19.99 per year or $3.99 per month, you can access personalized forecasts for up to 15 days into the future.
- Current conditions, including temperature, precipitation, “feels like” temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, dew point, visibility, air pressure, and UV index.
- Map functionality, with several different overlays, including radar, satellite, weather stations, severe weather alerts, surface fronts, and a heat map.
- Weather alerts
- Sunrise, sunset, and moon phase
Weather Underground Premium:
- All of the features provided by the free version, plus you can access forecasts for up to 15 days in advance.
- You can set up “Smart Forecasts,” which allow you to input the ideal weather conditions for your preferred activity. The app will then highlight the times during which those conditions are likely.
- This is a really easy app to use – just download it and access the info you want within seconds.
- We like that the app allows free users access to almost all of the features provided.
- You can choose between light and dark display modes (helpful during low-light conditions), and you can change the units used if you like.
- This app seems to take a bit longer to open and load than some others.
- It doesn’t have the prettiest-looking user interface.
- A few of the icons and visual gizmos are tricky to understand.
- It can be difficult to dismiss the severe weather notifications
The final verdict: I like how straightforward this app is. I will be using WeatherBug as my go-to weather app, but I’m keeping this one on my phone as a second opinion or backup option.
3. AccuWeather: A Decent, No-Frills Weather App
Accuweather is a popular weather app that is designed for the general public, but it should still prove useful for hikers, walkers and campers. Unlike some other apps which only use a limited number of reporting stations, Accuweather provides “hyperlocal” information for 2.7 million locations worldwide.
Platforms: iOS and Android
- A free version is available and provides complete functionality.
- You can upgrade to an ad-free version for $8.99 per year.
- Current weather conditions
- Hourly and daily weather forecasts
- Forecasts include precipitation, temperature, “RealFeel” temperature, high and low temperatures, and rainfall totals
- App provides historical temperature data
- A map function is included, with a number of overlays, including radar, watches and warnings, “RealVue,” enhanced “RealVue,” water vapor, tropical storm forecasts, current temperature, “RealFeel,” 24-hour snowfall forecasts and more.
- Everything you get from the free version, but you won’t have to look at advertisements (which are sometimes fairly large on the screen in this app).
- The user interface is simple and intuitive to use – great for hikers who just want a basic weather app to plan their adventures.
- The hourly forecast provides enough info for planning most hikes or walks.
- Accuweather has plenty of locations, unlike other apps, which force you to rely on less specific weather condition information.
- The free version provides all of the basic capabilities most users will want – you only have to pay to get rid of the ads.
- This app is missing some of the advanced features (such as being able to see the weather at varying altitudes) and information (such as air pressure) other apps provide.
- Anecdotally, I have used this app (and the associated website) for a long time, and the forecasts have proven very inaccurate at times (e.g., experiencing rain when the forecast listed the chance of precipitation as 0%).
- Some of the ads in the free version are pretty big.
The final verdict: I’m keeping this one on my phone for now, but I expect WeatherBug and Weather Underground will eventually convince me to delete it. Even if I keep it, I’ll stick to the free version — I don’t really mind the ads.
4. OpenSummit: A Great Choice for Western Hikers, Campers & Climbers
Open Summit provides forecast data and a number of nifty map overlays. Available in both free and paid versions, this app is set up to focus on nearby mountains, parks and recreational areas.
Platforms: iOS and Android
- You can access some of the app’s features for free, but most require you to sign up for an “All-Access” subscription.
- The subscription costs $29.99 per year for a single person or $39.99 per year for a group of up to four people.
- Two-day hourly forecasts
- Favorite mountains (locations) list
- Five-day hourly forecasts
- Estimated trail conditions
- Offline maps
- Current and forecast radar
- Wildfire smoke forecast maps
- Air quality map
- Real-time lightning map
- Estimated snow depth map
- Estimated 24-hour snowfall map
- Cloud cover map
- Wind gust map
- Temperature map
- OpenSnow All-Access
- The data provided — and the interfaces used to display it — are all top-notch.
- The hourly data (even in the free version) is color-coded to make it easy to digest the info at a glance.
- Paid subscribers can get trail condition estimates (muddy, dry, etc.) based on recent and current weather conditions.
- OpenSummit donates 1% of their “All-Access” sales to carbon removal technologies.
- The locations are limited and specific – you can’t necessarily see a forecast for the little neighborhood park you visit on a daily basis.
- In our opinion, the free version isn’t even worth downloading if you aren’t going to upgrade.
The final verdict: I promptly uninstalled it, as it didn’t provide info for the places I typically go. However, it may be more useful for hikers, campers and climbers living in the western U.S.
5. Windy.com: Super Cool But Complicated
Windy is a map-based weather app that is primarily focused on providing information about the – wait for it – wind. The primary user interface is comprised of a real-time wind display, but you can also access data about weather, temperatures, air quality, dew point and more.
Platforms: iOS and Android
- You can access a number of Windy’s features for free, but a premium version (with more and better features) is also available.
- The premium version costs $29.99 for one year, or you can sign up for an annual subscription for $18.99. The subscription automatically renews each year, but you can cancel at any time.
- Three-hour forecast
- Standard data, which is updated twice daily
- Standard display delivery speed
- Non-commercial use only
- Mercator map projection only
- No technical support
- You’ll see targeted ads
- High-resolution, one-hour forecast
- Precise data, updated four times daily
- Uses premium network for faster display delivery
- Commercial use allowed
- Mercator and 3-D globe views
- Premium support available
- No advertisements or tracking cookies
- The free version of Windy provides tons of useful information for hikers and campers.
- This app provides more data than most other weather apps we examined.
- You can access webcams via the app.
- The graphics and animations are just super fun to look at.
- The abundance of info provided can make it difficult to take everything in.
- The three-hour forecast windows in the free version presents some limitations.
The final verdict: I kept the free version, but I am kind of a nerd. If I end up actually using it frequently at all, I’ll almost certainly upgrade to the premium version. The sheer volume of information this app puts at your fingertips is both impressive and a bit overwhelming.
Weather Apps That I Don’t Really Like
Look, there’s no shortage of weather apps out there.
That’s part of the purpose of this article: to make it easy for hikers and campers (who have better things to do that scroll around the app store all day) to get the app they need and get back outside.
So, I’d recommend sticking with one of the five apps discussed above for your weather-info needs. However, because some readers may wonder why some of the big names in the weather app game are missing from the top five, I’ll explain my thinking a bit below.
- Dark Sky: Likely the most conspicuous absence on our list, Dark Sky is a good app, but it’s only available in iOS form, and it’s going to be discontinued (in 2022) anyway.
- What the Forecast?!: I just think it’s silly. You can tweak the “profanity” settings. It may be great for some, but it’s just not for me.
- Yahoo Weather: Capable, but it doesn’t provide any significant features better apps do. The raindrops are cool-looking though.
- FlowX: This is a good app, and I did consider recommending it above, but it’s a bit complicated and Windy is already listed for those who’re really into weather.
- NOAA Unofficial: I’d gladly include an official weather app produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but this one is not produced by the actual agency. Frankly, I find that a bit sketchy, but it doesn’t seem to bother many others.
- Carrot: An app that seems more concerned with being clever and snarky than necessary, I simply prefer more serious products where safety is concerned. Some people may love it though.
I did download a few of these and play around with them before deciding they weren’t making my shortlist, but I didn’t even bother with a few. Take that for what it’s worth.
To Pay or Not to Pay: Free and Paid Weather Apps for Hiking
You can download most weather apps for “free,” but you’ll need to pay to get rid of ads or access all of the features available in the premium version.
I use quotation marks because it is important to understand that while these apps won’t force you to reach for your credit card, they still cost you. As the saying goes, if there’s no cost for the product, then you are the product.
In terms of “free” weather apps, it means you’ll likely need to share some data with the company providing the app.
Some won’t hesitate to share data or view ads in exchange for an app that doesn’t cost money, but others may be reluctant to do so. Either approach is acceptable — you’ll just have to decide which one is best for you.
Personally, I tend to be more likely to pay for expanded features than to get rid of ads, but YMMV.
Typical Weather App Features
All weather apps differ in umpteen ways, but the majority will provide some or all of the following features and info:
- Current Conditions: This is basically the equivalent of looking out a window. Is it raining? How hot is it? Is it sunny or cloudy? But despite the simplicity of this info, things like the actual temperature and UV index can be very handy to have.
- Near-Term Forecast: Most near-term forecasts are pretty accurate and detail the weather a few hours or so in advance. This is probably the most useful type of information for the average outdoor enthusiast, as it’ll help you determine whether you need to bring rain gear or throw on a sweater.
- Extended Forecast: Though they’re never as accurate as near-term forecasts are, extended forecasts can be helpful for planning a trip several days in advance. Just be sure that you don’t treat extended forecasts as gospel and be ready to adjust and adapt as necessary.
- Radar and/or Satellite Maps: Technically, radar and satellite maps show different kinds of info (satellite imagery yields actual photos of things like clouds, while radar imagery determines things like precipitation). However, they’re often displayed in a composite image that includes both kinds of data. In any event, most weather apps provide maps displaying one or more of these types of data.
- Historical Context: Historical weather data won’t help you plan your next trip, but it is pretty darn nifty info to have at your fingertips. Essentially, this kind of data allows you to see how the current weather compares to the typical weather on a given calendar day. Is it warmer than it was on this date last year? What is the highest temperature ever recorded on this date?
- Sunrise / Sunset: Sunrise and sunset data can be extremely helpful for hikers and campers. But to be honest, you don’t need a weather app to look up the sunrise and sunset times — this kind of info is known years in advance, so you can just download a chart and store it on your phone if you like. Nevertheless, most weather apps also provide this data, which just makes things easier.
- Moon Phase: Moon phase may not be the most crucial info to have at your fingertips, but it can be useful info at times. Nights with little cloud cover and a full moon are much brighter than other times, so you may want to check the moon phase from time to time.
- Hazardous Weather Alerts: This is one of the most important features weather apps can provide for hikers, walkers and campers. Things like thunderstorm and tornado warnings may literally save your life, should you be out on the trail. Fortunately, almost all halfway decent weather apps provide these warnings (and other, similar info), so you usually won’t have to go out of your way to seek such capabilities out.
- Solunar Calendar: Solunar calendars provide predictions for wildlife activity based on the relative positions of the sun and moon. They are a bit controversial, and the jury is still out regarding their accuracy, but there’s nothing wrong with glancing at them and some weather apps include them among the info they provide.
Getting the Most from Your Hiking Weather App: Tips & Tricks
Downloading a good weather app is a start, and that’s all casual walkers and hikers may need to do. But if you take your outdoor time seriously, you’ll want to get the most out of the app and make the best use of the information provided.
To that end, try to keep the following things in mind when using your weather app:
You Have to Stay Online for the Best Results
Most weather apps work in two ways: You can use them while connected to the internet or in “offline” fashion.
- Online weather apps require an active internet connection to function properly. For obvious reasons, they tend to provide more accurate results than offline apps. After all, they can leverage real-time weather info and data to help make the most accurate predictions possible.
- Offline weather apps work without an active internet connection — they simply store info from the last time the app accessed the internet. This is obviously less than ideal (particularly when dealing with rapidly changing weather), but it is better than nothing. And in some cases, using a weather app in offline fashion will be sufficient.
Why would you use a weather app without connecting to the internet?
Simply put, you don’t have access to the web.
This is hardly ever a problem for the average weather app user. You don’t have to think about internet availability when sitting on a bus or getting ready for work in the morning.
But hikers and other outdoor adventurers often find themselves in remote locations, where internet access is spotty at best, and downright unavailable at worst.
Now, it should be mentioned that this isn’t as big of a problem as it once was.
It is now possible to obtain a good internet connection in some pretty remote places, and this is only likely to become even easier in the future.
But at the moment, there are some places in which you simply won’t be able to access the web, meaning that you’ll have to use your weather app in offline mode.
To be clear: Both approaches (online and offline) are helpful. Using a weather app while connected to the internet is obviously preferable, but you will likely still find it useful to use them in offline fashion, should you be unable to connect to the web.
For example, if you’re just trying to determine how hot it’s likely to get while you’re about to leave camp for a day hike, a three-day-old prediction is still probably relatively accurate.
Beware: Weather Apps Aren’t Always Right
Despite the advancements in weather forecasting models and technology, weather predictions are still just that — predictions. Hike long enough and you’ll undoubtedly find that your weather app was tragically mistaken about the local weather.
That’s why it is always important to be reasonably prepared for all possibilities when enjoying the natural world. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to bring a full rain suit when walking your dog around the block, but it does mean you should be prepared for inclement weather or extreme temperatures anytime you’re going to be far from civilization.
But the key word there is “reasonably.” You don’t need or want to lug anything unnecessary with you when you hit the trail. You want to be prepared just enough to avoid a catastrophe — you don’t need to be ready to hike through a monsoon if a little sprinkle is all that’s likely to occur.
So, as always, use your best judgement and just let things rip:
- Going camping for a week? You will be wise to bring along proper rain gear as well as a layered clothing system for adapting to whatever temperatures Mother Nature throws at you.
- Heading on a 2-mile hike at lunch? Eh, as long as strong storms aren’t likely, you can probably just take your chances. But it may be wise to have an emergency poncho on you, just in case.
- Walking your dog around the block? Just grab your shoes and go. Honestly, your doggo may even enjoy running back home if it starts to sprinkle.
But there is one common thread to all of these scenarios: You can help improve your chances of being prepared by simply checking your outdoor weather app before lacing ’em up.
Check Multiple Sources When Possible
Weather apps are only as good as their data feeds and mathematical models. And two different apps will often provide different — sometimes conflicting — information. So, make sure you check several different sources whenever possible.
This means looking at a few different apps, checking both online and offline versions, and checking popular web-based pages. It also means checking the forecasts of other hikers who’ve been out recently.
We hope you’ve found the tips above helpful for finding the best weather app for your hiking and camping adventures. Just remember, if you download a weather app that doesn’t seem to work well for you, just go ahead and try a different one! Life is too short to be locked into an app that doesn’t help you make the most of your outdoor time.
Let us know your experiences with the apps listed above. Have any of these worked really well for you? Have any left you unprepared for a downpour? Have you found another good one that isn’t listed above?
Let us know in the comments below!