How to Turn a Smartphone into a Survival Tool

Be Prepared with Survival Apps


Stuck in the desert or backcountry? What you do next can turn a potential problem into one of those sad news stories we’ve all read, another somber, cautionary tale of people that perished in the wilderness. The actions you take in the next hour may make the difference between getting home alive and not getting home at all. How you got into this situation is not that important, but how you get out is.

You may be surprised to find out that your most important survival tool is your smartphone, your iPhone or your Android, providing you have taken a few preliminary steps. If you have had the foresight to keep your phone charged and if you have preloaded several applications, your chances of getting home safely have just improved dramatically.

In isolated areas where there is no cell service available, many of the features of your phone will not function. Calling 911 is impossible, and maps will not download to your phone. GPS will work, but all you’ll see is a blue dot on a blank screen. Without directions, most of us will walk in a large circle, due to one leg being stronger then the other, or not the exact same length. Next time you’re in a large open area, walk with your eyes focused on the ground about 10 feet in front of you and see what happens.



Fortunately there are now many tools that can assist you if you find yourself stranded in the backcountry or isolated in the desert. Before you go on any trips, you need to preload these apps on your phone. Several apps below have preloaded maps and work with your phone’s GPS chip to show you where you are with or without cell service.


For Android – iPhone – Window8 Phones

Avenza Maps™ app - Get offline maps for your iOS, Android, and Windows devices. Some of the maps are free others need to be purchased. They have maps for most of the parks. I have found this one to very accurate. The BLM has developed georeferenced maps compatible with any georeferenced map mobile application. Click Here

CoPilot apps - Combining advanced navigation technology with breakthrough design, the new generation of CoPilot apps get you where you need to go, via the way that suits you best.

For iPhone

Topo Maps app $7.99 - Once you have installed a map it can be viewed without any network connection. So download your maps before you leave home, and then don't worry about needing cellular or WiFi coverage. Topo Maps map downloads are free - all you pay is the initial price of the app.

For Android Phones

ViewRanger GPS & Topo Maps GPS mapped location, even without mobile signal - Offline map mode* – store in advance using “Create Saved Map” - Access to thousands of route guides - Track recording – view your path on map to keep or share, even add Flickr photos

CoPilot apps - Combining advanced navigation technology with breakthrough design, the new generation of CoPilot apps get you where you need to go, via the way that suits you best.


What if you can’t get out quickly and you have a medical emergency?

Red Cross First Aid App - iPhones and Android Free

The official American Red Cross First Aid app puts expert advice for everyday emergencies in your hand. Available for iPhone and Android devices, the official American Red Cross First Aid app gives you instant access to the information you need to know to handle the most common first aid emergencies. With videos, interactive quizzes and simple step-by-step advice it’s never been easier to know first aid.


Ok. You’ve handled the First Aid problems, and it looks like you’ll be out in the wilderness for a while -- now you need to go into survival mode.

Army Survival App
The U.S. Army knows how to train their personnel to survive. Their field manual is the most authoritative guide on survival. This app is over 1,400 pages and provides a complete reference guide on basic survival, evasion, first aid and recovery information. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, this app may be essential to your survival. Edible and medicinal plants - poisonous plants - dangerous animals, snakes, lizards, fish, insects and arachnids.

These apps will help you to handle most emergencies, and to get back safely. Download them now so you can be prepared; no one knows what will happen tomorrow. Remember to keep your smartphone charged, this will help you with that.


What's your favorite app? Let us know and we'll add it to this article. Send to - put the words "DesertUSA Feedback on Apps" in the subject of the email.

By Jim Bremner





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